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Experts try to define ‘safe’ for a self-driving vehicle


A panel of experts highlighted the need for the autonomous vehicle industry to take a proactive approach to defining safety and educating the public about the technology and its potential to save lives.

 “This is the biggest barrier from going where we are today to commercialization,” said Amnon Shashua, president and CEO of Mobileye, an Intel company that focuses on driver assistance tech. “If we don’t solve it, we won’t see any commercial deployment.”

Earlier this week, a group of public and private organizations announced the development of a coalition called Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE). The first-of-its kind campaign aims to inform public and policymakers about advanced vehicle technologies and self-driving vehicles.

 “It doesn’t take legislation for industry groups to come together, “ said Debbie Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “PAVE is a big tent focus on education.”

Consumers aren’t just scared of self-driving vehicles; they are also scared of the software-laden cars they are driving today, said Hersman, who will transition into a safety officer position with Waymo next week.

 A Deloitte survey showed that 50% of those polled didn’t think autonomous vehicles are safe.

The panel discussed a few other ways to solutions.  Jargon is a big problem: The SAE standards defining levels of autonomy are meant for engineers and are like Greek to most consumers, panelists said.

Intel’s RSS (Responsible Sensitive Safety) model for safer AV decision-making was introduced in 2017 and has been adopted by other autonomous vehicle enterprises. The latest to sign on was European auto technology supplier Valeo, who this week at CES announced it has adopted the framework and will collaborate on standards development in Europe and elsewhere.

 “The most interesting part is our competitors are joining,” Shashua said. “It’s an initiative that benefits everyone.”

Shashua said creating “an RSS for humans” might help get more people on board. He said there are two revolutions taking place around self driving technology: one is how autonomous vehicles are remaking cities and the business of car sales.

“The second is a revolution in saving lives.”  But companies have yet to coalesce around messaging explaining the potential safety benefits of driverless cars, said Shashua.

How safe robotic vehicles need to be before people will accept them is a philosophical and mathematical question. Chris Urmson, co founder and CEO of Aurora, a self-driving tech firm,  said making autonomous cars twice as safe as humans might be a reasonable standard.

Since around 40,000 people a year die in auto crashes, a twice as good metric means 20,000 people would still be killed annually driving.

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Linda Baker, Staff Writer

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves staff reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes early-stage VC, freight-tech, mobility and West Coast emissions regulations.