Science and Technology

Is autonomous a dangerous word?

Automotive research
Image courtesy of Thatcham Research

Thatcham Research, a UK automotive research centre for the insurance industry, has published a report highlighting what is sees as a dangerous gap between the term autonomous as used in marketing material, and the driver assist technology actually on offer in some modern vehicles.

Thatcham’s main concern is that the marketing of vehicles as autonomous is lulling drivers into a false sense of security when behind the wheel of a vehicle with some automation technology. This follows a period in which there have been several high profile incidents involving automated vehicles.

“We are starting to see real-life examples of the hazardous situations that occur when motorists expect the car to drive and function on its own. Specifically, where the technology is taking ownership of more and more of the driving task, but the motorist may not be sufficiently aware that they are still required to take back control in problematic circumstances. Fully Automated vehicles that can own the driving task from A to B, with no need for driver involvement whatsoever, won’t be available for many years to come. Until then, drivers remain criminally liable for the safe use of their cars and as such, the capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold.”

Matthew Avery, Head of Research at Thatcham Research

“It begins with how systems are named and described across carmaker marketing materials and the driver’s handbook. Names like Autopilot or ProPilot are deeply unhelpful, as they infer the car can do a lot more than it can. Absolute clarity is needed, to help drivers understand the when and how these technologies are designed to work and that they should always remain engaged in the driving task,” continued Avery.

Thatcham’s report also makes the claim that governments around the world have “… applied a light touch in the control and use of these systems so far to avoid stifling innovation.”

Inside the report are suggested 10-point features and performance criteria for what defines assisted driving, and what defines an automated vehicle. This provides both a framework for what insurers will require, and also for drivers to know what they are responsible for when using these technologies, and to stay safe behind the wheel.

Download the report here

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