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ANCAP moots autonomous technology testing role

Chicken and egg: Australia’s safety watchdog, ANCAP, is calling for more unified global regulations before a wider roll out of autonomous tech.

Industry, regulators needs to build public confidence in autonomous vehicles: ANCAP

27 Sep 2017

THE Australasian New Car Assessment Program will include the testing of autonomous safety technologies in its rating process from 2018, an intelligent transport systems conference has been told in Brisbane this week.

Announcing the expanded range of safety testing, ANCAP chief executive James Goodwin also said car-makers and regulators needed to proceed carefully to ensure that consumer confidence in the new autonomous technologies was not undermined.

He said an independent system for testing the new technologies by an independent body would provide valuable guidance for the car-makers and eliminate the need for constricting regulation that could hinder the adoption of autonomy.

Speaking to GoAuto before an address to the ITS Australia Summit in Queensland, Mr Goodwin said ANCAP would be happy to play that role in future if that is what its members and stakeholders wanted it to do.

“It may mean our role in the future is different to what it’s been in the past,” he said.

“We are a consumer advocate. We test safety technology. In the past we have done that through physical crash testing but in the future there is nothing stopping us just testing (autonomous) technology.”

Mr Goodwin said that, before manufacturers introduce more advanced autonomous systems, the industry and the regulators should ensure that consumers are comfortable with the Level One and Level Two systems now available in some vehicles.

“The car of the future will look very much like the car of today. However, what it will have is some level of automation that will help you as a driver.

“We have Level 1 and Level 2 technology in some vehicles: automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane keeping, intelligent speed assist, adaptive cruise, steering assist and AutoPilot in a basic form. But a lot of that is untested and unproven and in the development stage.

“That’s the technology we should be focusing on immediately, because they are the building blocks. If we get that wrong, that will stymie the next phases of development and the ultimate goal, which is full driverless technology.”

Some of the development responsibility falls on the road authorities, he said, because autonomous systems would work best when road infrastructure, such as painted lines and speed signs, was uniform.

“The immediate priority needs to be, let’s build the system, and that will help promote confidence in the current technologies we have got before we start going any further.”

80 center imageLeft: ANCAP chief executive officer James Goodwin

A key element would be increasing the uptake of the Level 1 and Level 2 autonomous technologies that assist the driver so that more drivers are familiar with a vehicle that can do some things without driver command.

Only 21 per cent of the top 100 models in Australia offer AEB as standard equipment across the range even though 40 per cent of new-car buyers rated the system as a safety must-have, Mr Goodwin said.

He said regulators should not rush in with a range of regulations mandating that systems should be able to do specific tasks. Rather, they should be guided by the results of real world testing by independent bodies.

“We know that every road is likely to have some differences, which makes it very difficult to be so prescriptive that you can regulate for all types of circumstances when you are on the road.

“How do you regulate for when the line marking on the road is starting to fade, and so on? Infrastructure is going to be much more important in the future than it has been in the past.

“In the future, certainly with automation, having the best infrastructure is going to make the vehicle work better as well. That is something that has not been considered in the past.”

Mr Goodwin referred to a recent finding that a lane-keeping system in a prestige German car did not recognise the yellow lines Victorian road authority VicRoads uses when roadworks make it necessary to divert traffic lanes.

“With yellow lines around roadworks in Melbourne, should we be regulating so that all autonomous systems recognise the yellow lines or should we regulate so that there are no yellow lines? It’s a chicken and egg problem, but we need to have a consistent approach, hopefully an internationally consistent approach, as to how we solve that problem.

“At the moment, the vehicles are having to work out all those options and the solutions themselves.

“In most of regional and rural Australia there won’t be any line markings on the edge of the road at all. They are then having to design lane keeping systems that can recognise the edge of the road rather than a line marking.

“It underlines the need to maintain an Australian understanding of these issues.”

Mr Goodwin said local independent testing of autonomous systems when they are released will help regulators identify issues and also help guide car-makers towards the standards that are desirable for Australian consumers.

“The car brands need regulators to understand some of the limitations that exist because of, in particular, our Australian-specific or State-based infrastructure like line markings and speed zones.”

Mr Goodwin said ANCAP publishes its testing protocols, enabling car-makers to more accurately meet local requirements. They know the expectations their products will be tested against.

“The protocols are published and the vehicles should be tested to the protocol before they are delivered. We also talk to car-makers ahead of a launch. We speak to brands about what future protocols might be, and to also look at some things like calibrating AEB for Australasian conditions.

“In one instance, an AEB system was not satisfactory. It came down to the heat in Australia which was preventing the AEB operating as specified. They fitted a fan behind the unit to reduce the heat.”

Consumer confidence would also be helped by the gradual introduction of autonomous vehicles on relatively simple roads like highways, where all the vehicles are going in the one direction at around the same speeds and where the line markings are relatively good.

“That’s the starting point. Let’s get some of that right.”

ANCAP’s members include all the state-based motoring clubs such as the NRMA and the RACV, the NZ Automobile Association, the federal department of infrastructure and all the Australian state road traffic authorities, some state insurance agencies and the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society.

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