News Article

Autonomous Vehicles: What We Know So Far

By Alejandro Enríquez | Wed, 05/20/2020 - 08:00

Automated driving systems (ADS) have seen rapid development over the last years. Their goal is to increase vehicle and road safety by eliminating the human factor involved in most crash-related fatalities. "ADSs have the potential to significantly reduce highway fatalities by addressing the root cause of these tragic crashes," said the US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

In North America, the US has taken the lead in ADS development since 2016, when the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy was released. When President Trump took office, A Vision for Safety, became the updated policy framework toward the safe deployment of automated vehicles. The three main elements in the policies are the encouragement of new ideas that deliver safer vehicles, making regulatory processes nimbler to foster innovation and supporting communication with the general public and stakeholders on the matter. 

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the federal agency leading the ADS development policy, which has offered Voluntary Guidance for Automated Driving Systems including best practices on the sector, as well as a guide for companies to provide the public with a safety self-assessment on the ADSs they are developing.

At this point, it is necessary to clarify that there are different automation levels set by SAE International. What is commonly known as a full autonomous vehicle that is capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions is the highest level of automation out of five. Level 1 and 2, represent driver assistance systems and partial automation, respectively. Some level 2 examples are automated acceleration and steering. 

Level 3 through 5 are the focus of the NHTSA's voluntary guidance, which includes systems for which the driver can relinquish control to the vehicle. In level 3, the driver is expected to take control of the vehicle when the system requests it. In level 4, the vehicle can drive itself under limited conditions, while level 5 means the vehicle can drive everywhere in all conditions. 

The voluntary safety self-assessment is an instrument enabled by NHTSA that allows companies to demonstrate how they address the safety elements in their ADSs. Companies that have shared their voluntary assessments are Apple, Ford, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Uber, among other small companies. 

Last week, BMW released its newest voluntary safety self-assessment about their Level 3 automated driving system. This is the most comprehensive voluntary assessment yet presented by a company, according to Eno Center of Transportation. BMW's level three ADSs would be available to those users who request it. As a level 3 system, the driver should stay alert and able to resume driving when needed. According to BMW, the system would be available for use on limited-access highways in the US and when weather and environmental conditions allow it. BMW's focus is on the system being a premium feature on luxury vehicles rather than a mass-market system. 

In Mexico, according to AMIA's Director General, the market will have to wait to see these kind of vehicles on the streets as more infrastructure is needed. In KPMG's 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index, the Netherlands, Singapore, Norway occupy the first positions with more than 23 points while Mexico, India and Brazil hold the last with 7.73, 6.87 and 6.41 points. It seems the Mexican market will have to wait long before seeing these vehicles on the road.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
NHTSA, US Department of Transportation, Eno Center for Transportation, SAE International, KPMG, Mexico Business News
Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst