FIM Brussels: an overview of recent news on Autonomous vehicle and PTWs
Developments in vehicle automation are consistently proving sceptics wrong through ever-increasing progress. Undoubtedly imperfections remain aplenty, but the relatively sudden emergence of viable autonomous passenger cars and trucks in particular have indicated that an autonomous reality is far closer on the horizon than expectations suggest.
Over the past few months, several countries publicly stated their intention to further stimulate the deployment of autonomous vehicles by implementing new legislative initiatives. Significantly, the UK government proclaimed last November that it would ensure that driverless vehicles will be operating on public roads by 2021. Additionally, a recent report by PwC claims that half of all the distance covered from 2030 in the EU, US and China will be by autonomous vehicles.
While the deployment of autonomous vehicles offers great opportunities for road transport, there are still many challenges to be addressed in order to ensure safe and peaceful coexistence with other road users. Recent developments demonstrated that the coexistence of autonomous cars and PTWs is and will become an increasing challenge in the years to come. In late 2016, the Norwegian Motorcyclists’ Union contacted Tesla following an incident on a Norwegian motorway after a Tesla vehicle in ‘autopilot’ mode struck a motorcycle from behind causing the rider severe injuries. In late December, a low-speed collision also occurred in San Francisco between a motorcycle and an autonomous General Motors Cruise vehicle due to confusion caused by the car switching lanes before returning to its prior lane.
The first example indicates a basic, more fundamental vehicle recognition problem, while the second demonstrates some of the more complex potential interoperability issues. Taken together, both incidences show that, driverless cars are not fully capable of successfully detecting motorcyclists and other Vulnerable Road Users (VRUs) yet. These incidents have aided the propagation of concerns surrounding automation generally.
One can expect that technology improvements and regulators’ increasing awareness of the issue, should benefit the detection of VRUs and more specifically motorcyclists. The increasing use of connected technology such as sensors, cameras and other driver-assistance tools in cars, trucks and other vehicles, can bring real long-term added value for all road users. This should result in increased visibility and therefore enhanced safety. Additionally, Cooperative-Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) also have the potential to greatly improve motorcyclists’ safety through real-time information.
As autonomous vehicles become more and more common on public roads, information will become an even more vital tool. This will not only be in terms of ensuring the safe interrelation of motorcycles and other road vehicles amid increased automation, both now and in the future. It will also help to improve the safety of motorcyclists relative to road conditions, weather and a host of other unexpected occurrences and factors. Presently, motorcycles are lagging behind other vehicle types in terms of their uptake of autonomous technology. However, increased automation and connectivity across all vehicles will ultimately help to secure better and safer vehicle coexistence.