The Road Ahead (Part 3): The time to act is now
AD is approaching a dilemma: what happens if the technology is ready, but the law prohibits it? In part three of our tech talk, experts Andree Hohm und Björn Filzek make an urgent plea towards governments.
When it comes to advances in automated driving, the impatience is palpable among engineers. Already today, many car manufacturers are in the starting blocks with features or software updates that would equip their cars with new levels of automation. However, the law situation around these developments is discussed controversially. And this is not the only issue that makes engineers call upon politics.
Automated cars won’t hit the roads without the proper legal framework in place. The rulemaking moves at different speeds in different countries. Do you see a danger of Europe falling behind the US or Asia?
Hohm: I do think we need to watch out here. If I look to North America, I see some states that have been moving fast and courageously to create frame conditions which are very beneficial for the development of AD. I think those are great examples that should serve as a stimulus for Europe to show the same kind of speed, courage and pragmatism. It’s certainly not too late to catch up. In Germany, there have been very promising political initiatives lately. But we must ensure that these initiatives don’t get stuck at the level of good intentions. The time to act is now!
“Legal restrictions are the biggest roadblock”
What do governments need to do? What is the most pressing matter?
Filzek: We see the legal restrictions as the biggest immediate roadblock. In Germany for example, it is prohibited to use an automated steering system at speeds over 6.2 mph (10 km/h). This is a problem you don’t have in, for instance, Nevada. This needs to change. And we need those changes across Europe. It doesn’t help if the automated drive always ends at the border.
Hohm: In addition to that, road traffic regulations need to be adapted to the new technology and questions of liability need to be resolved. I see it as the job of politics to provide the groundwork for the introduction of a technology that will be beneficial to society.
“Political processes must adapt to the pace of technology.”
Why are politicians having such a hard time doing that?
Hohm: The speed at which technology progresses has increased tremendously in recent years. The political processes to regulate such progress have not yet adapted to this new pace. Just as technology evolves, regulatory processes also need to evolve. Politics must be able to allow for fast and pragmatic rulemaking.
Rules are not the only thing governments have to provide. How about infrastructure?
Filzek: That is another key issue. If a car is to drive autonomously, it is important to improve our traffic infrastructure. An example is a gapless coverage with high speed internet access to ensure a stable inclusion of the car to the server. We need to meet certain requirements when it comes to road markings and street signs. We even need to enable infrastructure elements to communicate actively with the vehicle. Vehicle to X communication is the keyword here.
Hohm: Germany has moved forward here with a great initiative: the digitized testing area on the Autobahn A9 in Bavaria – where these technologies can be tried in real-life conditions.
Autonomous cars: The question is not “if” but “when?”
How about honing talent? Do we need a change in education to make AD a reality?
Hohm: Absolutely. Today, about 80 percent of innovations in a vehicle are based on software and algorithms. This means we need way more software engineers than we needed 20 years ago. This is an urgent call to action that goes to universities: their programs need to adapt to that new demand. It is a university’s job to not only do research but also to train professionals. Obviously this requires the help of governments. They need to support the modernization of education plans according to the shifted balance in the industry. Again, this is an issue we need to watch closely in Europe if we don’t want to fall behind other parts of the world.
We’ve reached the end of our tech talk! One final question: if you look into the far future – when will fully autonomous cars be cruising our roads – without the need for a person inside them? Will you and I live to see it?
Filzek: The question is no longer if that happens, it’s only a matter of when it happens. But that will probably take longer than 15 years.
Hohm: We will see it earlier in specific cases, for instance on highways. But I’m with Mr. Filzek: it will be after 2030 that we witness cars really driving fully autonomously in any situation. We will, however, live to see it. I’m determined to experience that!