Challenges to the introduction of #autonomous trucks

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Uber’s autonomous trucks; photo credit Uber ATG

The promise of #autonomous vehicles and trucks is great, but so will be the challenges to implementing the technology. Here are the main ones:

Public acceptance and ethical issues

  • A DHL Trend Report, Self-Driving Vehicles in Logistics, found the public has mixed feelings about autonomous vehicles. It found two-thirds of those polled would travel in a car without a driver if there was an option for someone in the car to re-take control in an emergency. However, three out of four would not trust their children to travel in a self-driving vehicle to school. The biggest hurdle to public acceptance is likely ethics, according to DHL’s report. While automated vehicles can detect instances that would lead to a collision, they do not yet have the cognitive ability to think like humans. Ultimately, it will become an ethical “programming issue.” As pointed out by White Paper on Automated Vehicles in Canada prepared by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA), an automated vehicle might place more value on its occupants’ safety than those of other road users, or it might be programmed to value human safety over property damage. Such these could become a source of “ethical liability,” if not carefully considered. Given the size and weight of large trucks, the ethical issue dealing with crash programming will be critical.

Regulatory environment

  • The development of consistent, nation-wide regulatory standards for autonomous vehicles will be a major challenge. U.S. states currently decide whether #driverless trucks can operate within their borders, and regulations vary state by state. Those inconsistencies could limit the movement of autonomous trucks across state borders and frustrate #interstate shipment of goods.
  • Similar issues could arise in Canada, where a national policy on automated or connected vehicles has yet to be developed. Autonomous vehicles are regulated by the provinces, with #Ontario being the first to set a pilot regulatory framework to permit testing. In February 2016, #Transport Minister Marc Garneau saw the need for federal action and asked the Senate’s Transportation and Communications Committee to launch a study of the regulatory, policy and technical issues that need to be addressed so that Canada can safely manage the transition to self-driving vehicles. Work remains on going.

Privacy and data sharing

  • Automated vehicles will generate huge amounts of data and the challenge will determining who owns the data, how it’s used and how to protect it. The issue is already top of mind for the #Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), which in May 2017 said connected vehicles now in use on highways already amass huge volumes of data. In future, autonomous vehicles will generate even more data. “…At CAA, we believe one of the pressing, current issues in the area of connected and automated vehicles relates to transparency and consumer control over vehicle data.” The same issues will apply to ownership and control of data generated by trucks, trucking companies, and to their customers.
  • In a February 2017 CAA national opinion poll, 49 per cent of Canadians said that they were not aware of the range of data being collected by their vehicle. And, when it comes to sharing of that vehicle data, nearly 90 per cent of Canadians agreed that the consumer should decide who gets access to their vehicle data.

  Cybersecurity and terrorism

  • Researchers have demonstrated it is possible for a #hacker to access to motor vehicles’ electronics systems for malicious purposes, according a study, Identifying Autonomous Vehicle Technology Impacts on the Trucking Industry, prepared by the American Transportation Research Institute. As vehicles are more accessible via the internet, and more reliant on software and computer systems, greater hacking opportunities will arise, with associated questions regarding public safety. Security for this software will be the responsibility of the vehicle manufacturer, with the attendant responsibilities and risks. In Canada, the federal government is overseeing a cybersecurity strategy. It has requested the Ministry of National Defence, Infrastructure and Communities, Public Services and Procurement, Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and the President of the Treasury Board, to lead the review of the Canadian cybersecurity landscape, including current gaps and opportunities.

Police enforcement

  • In addition to normal police enforcement of highway codes and impaired driving, the challenge for police will be dealing with a range of new issues related to liability, cybersecurity and data protection. In an accident, how will police assess whether the responsibility lies with the driver or vehicle? Also, should police be allowed to remotely take control of a vehicle in certain circumstances?

Cold weather performance

  • Currently, there is uncertainty regarding automated vehicle performance in poor weather, cold, snow or other less than ideal driving conditions, according to the CCMTA’s study. To address this, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau asked the #Canadian Senate’s Transportation and Communications Committee to examine the potential for Canada to set standards for the development of automated vehicles so that they can operate safely on icy winter roads.
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