The advancing technology that enables vehicles to complete journeys without human input, crucially, does not yet allow them to do so legally and safely.
The vehicles use sensors to assess the surrounding environment – for example, to detect signs, pedestrians and other vehicles. Radar tracks an object’s direction and speed, cameras view it, and Lidar measures the distance between the vehicle and it. This information is relayed to the car’s computer enabling it to brake or steer appropriately and it must function, without human input, in different environments and in all weather conditions. Currently, the accuracy of the sensor capabilities can be severely affected by external conditions – so guaranteeing all-weather capability throughout the world’s vastly differing environments is a significant issue.
AI will be used in most autonomous vehicles to process the data received by the sensors which enable the vehicle to respond accordingly. However, there is no current industry agreement or standardisation of how the AI should be tested, trained, and proved. Once this has been resolved, autonomous cars will continue to learn as they come into contact with new events, and therefore will need updates to software which must not be able to override previous safe behaviours.
Currently, autonomous vehicles are not sufficiently standardised and regulated (though regulations for particular functions such as automated lane-keeping systems are appearing). Obviously, recognised standards and regulations are necessary before self-driving vehicles are allowed on the road.
There is also the question of whether all road users will be comfortable with the adoption of autonomous vehicles so ongoing dialogue may need to include the public in discussion and subsequent decisions. Otherwise, despite its advances, the technology may not be deemed acceptable overall.
The best way forward would appear to be collaboration between all parties in solving these problems if autonomous vehicles are to be approved for the open road.
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