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Posted on May 20, 2016

IET response to Queen's Speech: driverless vehicles will need software

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The Modern Transport Bill has been introduced in the Queens Speech which promises to ensure the UK is 'at the forefront of technology' with nods toward driverless cars, drones and the UK's first commercial spaceport. It also hopes to reduce congestion and make 'more efficient use of our roads, railways and airspace' to boost the economy.
 
Ministers claim the Bill will make the UK a world leader for autonomous and driverless vehicle ownership. It aims to encourage investment in the technology and ensure appropriate insurance is available to support the use of such vehicles.
 
"Insurers are already working on how to shape the right framework to keep insurance as simple and straightforward as possible for the future of driving," said James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the Association of British Insurers. "The transition from conventional vehicles to a world where drivers become passengers will be the trickiest stage but insurers are committed to supporting the roll-out of this important technology." Trials of automated and driverless cars are currently taking place in Bristol, Greenwich, Milton Keynes and Coventry.
 
The Bill also features proposals to ensure the safe use of technology in the drone, autonomous car and space industries. There have been dozens of reports of near misses involving drones and airliners near airports in recent months, leading to calls for unmanned aircraft to be licensed.
 
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The government is also aiming to have an operational spaceport by 2018, which could be used to launch tourists into space as well as commercial satellites.
 
This cautious approach follows a recent survey which found that 70 per cent of Britons would not feel confident being a passenger in the first wave of driverless cars. But Philippa Oldham, head of transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, largely welcomed the changes proposed in the Modern Transport Bill.
 
"Great Britain has the opportunity to become a global leader in developing autonomous vehicles as we have some of the most open regulation in the world with the Department for Transport issuing its Code of Practice for testing last year," she said. "In addition this open regulation should attract investment to the country encouraging others to come and test and develop their solutions here." But she warned that safety concerns needed to be taken into consideration, "we need to make sure that the integration of these autonomous vehicles into current fleet is done with the utmost care," she said. "Bringing together industry, legislators, regulators and members of the general public will ensure that we integrate and implement new regulatory regimes at the right time."
 
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Hugh Boyes, the IET's cyber security expert, said: "Driverless vehicles have huge potential to transform the UK's transport network and are a great opportunity to test the technology so that the UK can remain at the forefront of research and development."
 
"However, we must ensure that cyber security is carefully considered. It is not just about the threat of a car being hacked, it also relates to the overall security and safety of the vehicle's operation."
 
"For that reason it will be crucial that the Government introduces proper regulations for autonomous vehicles, which should include the need for a software MoT to be performed on a regular basis. This should help to assure the ongoing trustworthiness of the vehicle software and systems."
 
"Operation of an autonomous vehicle will be heavily dependent on a lot of software embedded in the vehicle, which provides very complex functions that are currently performed by the driver, e.g. interpreting potential hazards, changes in vehicle direction and speed (both of the vehicle itself and of adjacent or approaching vehicles), and responding safely to vehicle faults or malfunctions."
 
"It will be vital to ensure that this software runs smoothly so, in the same way as we take our cars for annual MOTs at the local garage today, in the future we will need to include a check on the software to ensure defects and vulnerabilities are addressed. How these checks happen - and who is responsible for them - is something we should be thinking about now."
 
"While we are used in our daily lives to putting up with software errors in non-safety critical situations, such as when our computers freeze and require a reboot, we cannot tolerate such behaviour in autonomous vehicles as this could put the safety of the vehicle's passengers and those outside the vehicle at risk."
 
Source and top image: Institution of Engineering and Technology
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