Safety, Security In Autonomous Vehicles

The technology, legal, insurance, social and other issues associated with autonomous vehicles continues to evolve.


As the buzz, excitement, anticipation and development around autonomous vehicles continues, so do the lessons.

Last week, Tesla reported that the NHTSA was opening a preliminary evaluation into the performance of Autopilot during a recent fatal crash that occurred in a Tesla Model S — the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Tesla’s Autopilot was activated. The crash occurred in May, in Florida.

Robert Bates, chief safety officer, embedded systems division at Mentor Graphics‘ automotive division observed that while autonomous technology is extremely promising, the safety and security sides are probably a little further away.

“Things like this are going to happen [referring to the Tesla tragedy], and from a safety perspective, it’s probably going to be something we’re just going to have to accept and let the lawyers deal with because for the amount of miles that Tesla has already driven in their semi-autonomous mode — the percentages are certainly good but it’s always tough to talk about. I’m not an actuary so it’s always tough to talk about percentages when we are talking about this.”

To be sure, while terribly tragic and unfortunate, these events are unavoidable during the technology ramp up. They are going to happen, and he feels there are a lot of practical considerations that the technologists are behind on.

Still, Bates is optimistic. “It will get there, and I think the new companies are actually playing a little bit faster and looser than the entrenched companies. I think the newer companies are going to be ahead at least for a while. As far as the entrenched companies are concerned, you’re going to see more things like what Volvo is doing with the Drive Me project where they are going to have 100 autonomous cars on the road, and they are self-insuring so if anything goes wrong, they cover it. They’re not asking insurance companies to take care of it.”

According to the Volvo webiste: “So we can create a self-driving car that is perfectly in tune with both your needs and society as a whole, we are developing the world’s first large-scale, long-term test of autonomous cars. The Drive Me trial starts in 2017 when 100 of our customers will drive IntelliSafe Autopilot-equipped XC90s on Swedish roads.”

When it comes to other automakers looking to gain a foothold in the autonomous market, there may be more self insured activity from automakers when it comes to autonomous vehicles.

“The insurance aspect is interesting in that there are a lot of things that aren’t worked out,” Bates noted. “Tesla right now is saying it’s not fully autonomous: The driver has to be aware, and if something goes wrong, it’s on the driver. But when I look at Level 4 Autonomous Driving, you already see videos of people just totally not focusing on the road when the car is driving itself. And that’s not the answer. When you get to Level 5 Autonomous, like Google, there, what can the driver do? So there are a lot of questions that have to be answered. One of the models is going to be the manufacturer taking responsibility.”

At the same time, the autonomous industry is burgeoning, the playing field may look different by the time there are a significant number of autonomous vehicles on the road.

One thing is for sure. Autonomous vehicles are indeed revolutionary. They may be evolutionary in the technology, but they are revolutionary in the way our lives will be impacted.

“The ramifications of that no one knows. 20 years from now, are you going to own a car or do you use services that are controlled by the automakers or companies like Uber or Lyft? Does it make sense to own a car when you only use it, say, 7% of the time especially when a service can flood the roads with self driving cars on demand?” Bates added.

These issues will take a number of years to get settled. And in the meantime, it might be wise to buckle up for a bumpy ride.

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