Uncharted territory: how should vehicle safety and data be managed ethically and legally?”  

By Carl Anthony, Co-Founder & Managing Editor of AutoVision News.

AutoSensONLINE will take place over seven days throughout May, June, and July. The virtual conference series is a free resource for the engineering community during this challenging and uncertain time. AutoSensONLINE for May begins on the 12th and runs through the 14th. Live streaming takes place each day from 2:45 pm to 5:15 pm BST.

On the agenda for Thursday, May 14th is a panel discussion about managing data ethically and per government policy. Panellists include Bryant Walker Smith, associate professor in the School of Law and (by courtesy) the School of Engineering at the University of South Carolina; Xantha Bruso, Policy Manager on the Autonomous Vehicle Strategy team at A3 Ventures, the innovation lab of AAA Northern California, Nevada, and Utah; and Dr. Stephen Zoepf, Chief of Policy Development, Lacuna.

Moderating the panel is attorney Gail Gottehrer, founder of the Law Office of Gail Gottehrer LLC.

Uncharted Territory

The AutoSensONLINE events consist of a different theme. For the May event, the discussions and presentations focus on the changing dynamics of ADAS and autonomous vehicle development. In June, the agenda examines the advances in sensor technology, while the July event covers the importance of managing data.

While the panel discussion mentioned above would fit nicely on the July agenda, AutoSens organisers felt compelled to include it on the itinerary for the May event.

“What data to collect and how to manage it is one of the major areas where we are venturing, as an industry, into uncharted territory,” explained Robert Stead, Managing Director of AutoSens. “The potential risk to society from not managing safety during the testing and roll-out of high-level ADAS and autonomous vehicles is significant, so it’s important we take every opportunity to make sure regulators and industry are joining up in their thinking.”

The Legal and Regulatory Discussions Return to AutoSens 

At AutoSens in Detroit last year, Gottehrer and Walker Smith were part of a panel discussion on the regulatory landscape for autonomous driving and testing in the United States. Forbes contributor Dr. Lance B. Eliot joined the panel discussion with Gottehrer and Smith, later penning an in-depth feature on why we must consider the legal implications of autonomous cars.

“If we have robot cars driving on the road, we need to have an excellent understanding of what decisions they are making, how well they are performing versus expectations, and what might go wrong,” Stead added.

Dr. Eliot notes that as of last summer, 29 states have some type of legislation on the books regarding autonomous vehicles. While there are benefits for states that allow autonomous testing (which Dr. Eliot explains), his article also examines if jurisdictions are liable if an autonomous car crashes and causes injury. Dr. Eliot references a newly-enacted Florida law at the time as one of the foundational points for his article. The law raises some legal implications as a human operator (or safety driver) is not required in Florida to operate a fully autonomous vehicle.

ADAS & Autonomy Initiatives Move Forward   

While maybe not as far-reaching as Florida’s law, states like Michigan are going forward with their plans for autonomy. According to the Detroit Free Press, regulators are now considering modifying some of the current standards in Michigan to make it easier for automakers to test their self-driving fleets. That decision has raised concern among some automotive safety experts, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and how hard the Wolverine state was hit.

Looking at Dr. Eliot’s research, however, we can surmise these states have a vested interest in welcoming autonomous technology (and in the case of Michigan and California, not only welcoming it but being an outright leader in ADAS development).

We can also surmise the industry, in general, is pushing towards ADAS and autonomy. According to research from Statista, Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous cars will represent a U.S. 60-billion-dollar market by 2030. By current estimates, about 30 percent of the world’s automated vehicles will be on North American roads. China and Western Europe are only slightly behind at 24 percent and 20 percent, respectively. If these estimates hold, autonomous vehicle production could reach nearly 800,000 units globally by 2030.

Say the current trends do hold, and these figures come to pass, even with COVID-19. Let’s imagine states continue their autonomous driving initiatives whatever they might be (vehicle testing, connected infrastructure, et al.). And say the industry does produce 800,000 highly-automated vehicles in the next decade. How to manage all of the data ethically and lawfully is suddenly top of mind, since nothing (not even COVID-19) seems to be slowing down the progress of ADAS technology.

The Power of Collective Thinking 

If there is a silver lining to the significant task of managing data, it is how we have become resilient in this community of ADAS and autonomy. “We are all in this together,” Stead said. “I know that’s a common phrase with the current pandemic situation, but it could never be more true than with the development of ADAS and self-driving cars.”

No engineer or automotive professional among our ranks is disillusioned, and we are aware of the challenges from every angle, including how to manage data ethically and legally. While it may seem daunting now, we will find a solution as we have done for the challenges we faced yesterday, last month, a year ago, and so on.

Regardless of what the future projections say, we know that, as a community, we will always engage in sound science. And, in the case of this upcoming panel discussion, we will lend a welcome ear to the legal counselors who can further guide us in an age of autonomy.

“We need the power of collective thinking and coordinated approaches to managing the huge volumes of data that are generated,” Stead added. “This panel will dig into those pressing issues and also help to identify other areas where we can improve safety by working together.”

How should vehicle safety and data be managed in line with ethics, and government policy is set for Thursday, May 14th, as part of AutoSensONLINE. The panel discussion live streams from 4:30 pm to 5:15 pm GMT +1 or 11:30 am to 12:15 pm Eastern.

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