VIEWPOINT: The auto industry can learn from rail in autonomous vehicle safety

20 December 2016

David McShane – VP of business development, Ricardo Inc

There can be little doubt that the world is urbanizing fast. According to United Nations statistics, more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and this number is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. By 2030, it is projected that there will be 41 so-called ‘megacities’, and managing these fast-growing, densely populated conurbations will pose numerous challenges – including meeting the need for efficient transportation.

Today’s world of mobility is thus dramatically changing in response to this increasing urbanization and the increased traffic congestion it generates. We urgently need to improve the efficiency and sustainability of transportation, and we need to make it safer. The rapid development of autonomous vehicle technology – both by the major established automakers as well as by a number of new market entrants – is clearly underway. With many partial autonomy systems already implemented in products that customers can buy today, the drive towards conditional and then full autonomy is clear, with many predicting that the first fully driverless commercial passenger cars could be on the road by 2025.

A safety assurance gap – where lessons can be learned from rail
Around the world, safety policies and regulations are evolving fast to keep pace with advances in autonomous vehicle technology, and this is something that presents a need for new processes to achieve safety assurance. In many respects the international railway industry is running many years ahead of the automotive industry in the development of safety cases for autonomous and automated systems.

Driverless trains have existed for many decades, allowing dramatic increases in the complexity of automated mass transit systems since the early 1990s. The safety assurance record of the railway industry is also extremely good, and as the automotive sector moves towards the high-level automation of road vehicles, there are many lessons to learn from the rail sector that can help us ensure that the autonomous vehicles of the future are truly safe.

As outlined in one of the main features of the Q4/2016 issue of RQ magazine, Ricardo Rail is extremely active in the area of providing independent safety assurance services for some of the world’s newest, most complex and sophisticated railway systems. Recognizing the emerging need for these skills in the development and implementation of the next generation of autonomous road-going vehicles, the company is already applying its extensive skills base and experience to transfer its knowledge to projects in Europe and elsewhere, including truck platooning and autonomous public transportation vehicles. Ricardo is thus helping to bring forward this new paradigm of autonomous vehicles that can deliver increased efficiency, asset utilization and, most importantly, safety.

To share our perspectives on this subject, we recently published a white paper Building a Safety Case for Automated Mobility: Smart Cities and Autonomous Mobility – Getting There Safely at the Automobility 2016 event in Detroit. For those who were unable to attend, but who have an interest in the future safe implementation of autonomous vehicles, I recommend downloading a copy of the paper from:

This article appears in RQ magazine, Q2, 2016:

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