Roadmap to success: Five challenges facing the autonomous vehicle sector
Despite the hype surrounding AV technology, new research shows the UK is still a decade from mass adoption
Photo by Jean-Frederic Fortier on Unsplash
Look at the tech news on any given day and you’d be forgiven for thinking that driverless cars, or Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs), are already part of everyday life.
But a new report by PA Consulting Group—Autonomous Vehicles: What are the roadblocks?—has found that, despite significant investment and innovation in recent years, it’s likely to be ten years before CAVs are widespread on UK roads.
This is because so much effort is being focused on the technology and the vehicle, rather than the other areas that need addressing, said Charlie Henderson, roads expert at PA Consulting Group.
"While manufacturers and the media talk enthusiastically about mass uptake of autonomous vehicles, the reality is that there are a number of significant technological, legislative and public confidence barriers,” Henderson said.
Despite the promises of CAV networks—think everything from user freedom and increased safety to less congestion and lower greenhouse emissions—the report highlights that innovation must extend far beyond the technology aspect for adoption to be seamless and widespread.
“Nothing is solved until everything is solved,” the report cautions. This begs the question—what are the areas that need addressing in the coming decade? And who is responsible for overseeing this challenge?
For all the hype in this area, AV technology in the UK continues to lag behind that of its Nordic neighbors by approximately seven years. And while technology is the overwhelming focus of public discourse, discussions on purpose and development are pertinent to overcoming the range of issues facing driverless cars.
Read more: Autonmous vehicles—what are the roadblocks?
Additionally, the growing demand for the right skills to develop, test and validate CAV technology puts the onus on governments to consider opportunities to educate and upskill, and manufacturers to invest in talent.
Regulation and laws
Deemed the second largest roadblock to success, regulatory systems and laws present a nuanced challenge for almost every stakeholder in the CAV ecosystem. The report, which drew on research with over 100 experts involved in the emerging driverless sector, found that this challenge may take as long as 25 years to resolve.
According to Henderson, key questions that need to be addressed include:
- What right does the government have to access and interrogate CAV data?
- How can police and law enforcement hold driverless vehicles to account?
- Who is responsible in the event of an accident, threat or suspicious behavior?
Once these sorts of questions are answerable, integrating CAVs into existing transport networks will become easier.
"Some of our roads regulation is dated, the legislative process can be slow and difficult in comparison with other countries and we have a large number of bodies involved in managing our roads network,” said Henderson. “Despite the ambitions of our politicians, we are a cautious country and this makes it hard to move at pace."
Concerns over data protection and privacy are an implicit challenge as far as the experts are concerned—especially with the increasing capability to track vehicle routes before they happen.
“The more we connect things, the more susceptible we are to large-scale cyber attack,” Henderson notes. Overcoming this will be no mean feat given that AI makes continual self-improvement possible, meaning that safety features will need to allow for vehicles to learn on-the-job.
While the majority of experts (74 per cent) believe that exploratory testing and thinking is underway in AV security, only 15 per cent said that the building blocks are in place for a security framework.
In addition to the development of new technologies, infrastructure—including both roads and roadside technology such as electric vehicle charging points—is essential for the integration of CAVs on a national scale.
Photo by Adam Grabek on Unsplash
Present upgrades to local roads aren’t taking into account driverless vehicles because of tight budgets, the report found. While smart motorways will bring widespread benefits and quick wins, the onus is on federal government to create a long-term vision that local governments can align to in their priority planning for roads and infrastructure.
“The UK is around 10 years away from having confidence around adoption of autonomous vehicles,” said Henderson. This is despite the fact that, “the full benefits of AVs will only be realized when the vast majority of us are running them,” he added.
For this to change people will need to be sure of three things—the change is worth it; insurance covers them; and regulations protect them. This puts the onus squarely on key players at all points in the driverless ecosystem to communicate the social and economic benefits of CAVs clearly, according to the report.
Read more: Autonmous vehicles—what are the roadblocks?
For example, the mobility benefits that widespread adoption of CAVs will bring promises access to larger sections of society, while the potential to synchronize vehicle networks could eliminate human error resulting in increased user safety in the long-term.
Additionally, there’s a lot of talk about people not owning cars in the future—but that’s already a reality, said Henderson. “So what is the real advantage of having an autonomous vehicle? We need to be able to answer that.”
A clear road forward
For all the questions it raises, the report is clear on one thing: The challenges are numerous, complex and interconnected. Henderson concludes, “We need to start to think about these things in an integrated way, rather than individual issues for individual organizations to look at.”
Download the report today to find out why driverless cars are not going to be on our roads any time in the next decade.