Government criticised for ‘no clear strategy’ on driverless vehicles

SUMMARY:

The Science and Technology Select Committee has said the government mustn’t let media hype interfere with the potential benefits of driverless vehicles.

Driverless vehicles carsA report released today by the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee criticises the government for a lack of strategy and poor coordination of information sharing across industries, as we prepare for the introduction of autonomous and driverless vehicles.

The Committee’s report said that the government mustn’t let media hype distract from the benefits that could be gained in a broad range of sectors, not just private vehicles.

It adds that the government must not delay in setting up a Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) leadership council, which should play a key role in developing the strategy for connected and autonomous vehicles.

Earl of Selborne, Chairman of the Committee said:

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles is a fast-moving area of technology and the Government has much to do, alongside industry and other partners, to position the UK so that it can take full advantage of the opportunities that CAV offer in different sectors.

In order to ensure that the UK can benefit from emerging CAV technologies the Government must continue to take action to close the engineering and digital skills gap. We welcome the focus on skills in the Government’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper and urge the Government to find innovative solutions to this problem.

Long-term developments in CAV have the potential to bring about transformational change to society but these changes will only take place if society is willing to both pay for and to adapt its behaviour to fit the technology.

Too narrow a focus

The reports primary criticism is that the government has been too focused on the benefits of highly automated private vehicles (of which there are many), and should not lose sight of the gains that could be provided in areas outside the roads sector – such as for public transport and lorries.

The Committee said that autonomous vehicles are being used, or have the potential to be used, in the roads, marine, agricultural and other sectors. However, it added that “there is no clear coordination of strategy or information sharing across the different sectors”. The report reads:

The Government must broaden its focus so that its work on connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) cuts across all sectors and does not focus so heavily on road vehicles. This will require greater coordination across Government and the involvement of more departments in the work of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV)

The Government must not allow hype and media attention around driverless cars to cause it to lose sight of the many potential benefits that CAV can provide in areas outside the roads sector and within the roads sector for public transport vehicles and lorries.

That being said, the Committee also warned that whilst there is some evidence to suggest that CAV could have huge economic benefits, it is not convinced that the statistics provided have been properly substantiated.

It added:

We recommend that the Government should commission a detailed cost-benefit analysis to provide a realistic indication of the economic benefits CAV could provide in all sectors, differentiating clearly between the different applications of CAV, actual monetary gains from deployment, estimated job creation and social benefits. This will help the Government decide where the focus of its efforts should be.”

It is unclear whether CAV will lead to job creation or job losses overall. The cost benefit analysis that we have recommended should include detailed consideration of the impact of CAV on jobs; specifically whether this will include job losses, job creation or job shifts.

Research and testing

The Committee has urged the government not to invest in taking the lead in development of autonomous vehicles, as it believes that this is best left to industry. However, the it wants the government to continue to invest in the fundamental scientific research in robotics and information technology that underpins autonomous cars and other CAV – as well as the social, human factors and network management problems that must be understood for deployment.

Criticism was also laid on the government for delaying a world first testing facility for CAVs, which has been promised since 2013, but has yet to develop into anything substantial.

It also said that it agrees with the House of Commons Transport Committee that the government has not implemented a coherent, joined up transport strategy, and recommended that it should bring forward a wider strategy that places the development and implementation of CAV in the context of wider policy goals, such as increased use of public transport and the reduction of congestion and pollution.

This was a point that has also been urged by Matthew Evans, executive director of SmarterUK and IoT at techUK, a lobby and membership group for the tech industry in the UK. Upon the release of the report, Evans said:

techUK supports the Committee’s recognition of the efforts that the Government, and specifically the Centre for CAVs, has made recently. Similarly, we also share concerns about the delays in announcing a new flagship testing facility and call on Government to set out its approach in real world urban and rural areas as well as enabling a virtual test environment. As highlighted by the Committee, cybersecurity is critical in ensuring the safety of CAVs and building public confidence must be part of that. This is an area that the UK can specialise in.

The Committee has acknowledged that connectivity underpins the safe and efficient operation of CAVs and that today’s mobile coverage of major roads needs to be improved. It is essential that consideration of future connectivity requirements be baked into the design of upgrades to ensure that we have the smart infrastructure required to take advantage of the rapid developments in this area.

Data planning

Finally, one other critical area that the report picked up on was the use of data that will be collected from vehicles as they become more popular. The Committee said that whilst it is essential that any data gathered from CAV are used in accordance with data protection law, it will be unlikely that all data collected from CAVs will be considered ‘personal’. The report states:

The meaning of personal data is unclear in the context of CAV. It will be important to achieve privacy for individuals and communities, while using data to achieve efficiency and safety of CAV operations. Data relating to an individual’s CAV in terms of position, speed and performance on the road cannot be regarded as entirely personal—such data is needed for public benefit if a CAV system is to operate as a whole.

Good data governance will therefore be needed to secure appropriate protection of personal information while safely using and linking open and non-sensitive data. Distinctions will need to be made between commercially sensitive data owned by technology providers and open data.

Image credit - Images free for commercial use