ALKS Automated Lane Keeping Systems pave the autonomous car future
Automated Lane Keeping Systems have recently received an international standard by the UN. However, this poses many questions regarding logistics, law, and insurance, which must be solved before the technology goes live.
In June this year, the United Nations Economic Committee for Europe (UNECE) World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP29) announced the development of an international standard for Level 3 automation. The standard enables a driver – for the first time – to delegate driving tasks to the vehicle. The driver does not have to be in charge of the vehicle but must be ready to take control in response to an alert. They can also override the autonomous capability manually. An example of Level 3 automation is Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS).
What is Automated Lane Keeping Systems?
ALKS is vehicle technology designed to control the lateral, left and right, and longitudinal, forward and back, movement of the vehicle for an extended period without further driver command. During such times, ALKS is in primary control of the vehicle, and performs the driving task instead of the driver, at low speeds on motorways.
Under the international standard, ALKS can be activated under certain conditions on roads where pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited. These roads must be equipped with a physical separation that divides the traffic moving in opposite directions. In its current form, the regulation limits the operational speed of ALKS to a maximum of 60 km/h (27 MPH).
Current lane-keeping assist systems
Current Lane Keeping Assist functions have been available in new cars for over a decade at Level 1 and 2 automation, meaning they only alert the driver that they are veering out of their lane and require the driver to steer the vehicle.
Lane-keeping and lane departure systems use forward-facing cameras to monitor the lane lines around your vehicle and provide visual, audible, and/or tactile warnings—such as beeping, or steering wheel or seat vibrations—to alert the driver when they are drifting from the center of their lane. There are several common variations of lane systems
Types of lane systems
- Lane Departure Warning (LDW): Drivers get audible and/or visual warnings that their vehicle is approaching or crossing lane markings when the turn signal is not activated.
- Lane Keeping Assist (LKA): Provides automatic steering and/or braking to keep a vehicle in its travel lane.
- Lane Centering Assist (LCA): Provides automatic steering and/or braking to continually center the vehicle in its lane.
- Road Departure Assist: Provides automatic steering and/or braking to try to keep the vehicle from departing the roadway.
OEMs such as Hyundai, Cadillac, Buick, Jeep, Porsche, Honda, and Telsa have bundled the technology in most of their recent vehicles, adjacent to pedestrian safety tools detection, blind spot object detection, and emergency braking. Ford's Driver Alert sends out warnings in the message center when it detects repeated lane drifts — a reminder to pull over and take a break. Mercedes-Benz's Driving Assistance Package enables cars to respond to Live Traffic info; speed reduces to approximately 100 km/h as a precaution. It also allows the vehicle to assist in forming an emergency lane on multi-lane roads. At speeds under 60 km/h, the car refers to detected lane markings and applies swarm intelligence to take its bearings from vehicles in the surrounding area.
The challenge of rolling out Automated Lane Keeping Systems
Vehicles are expanding their autonomous capabilities through subscription-based add-ons by OEMs, delivered by over-the-air software updates. Cars of the future will be continuously upgraded through such updates.
However, while ALKS may seem a pretty mild upgrade of autonomous capabilities, its safeguards allude to the legal and logistical complexity of enabling a car to take over driving. For example, what happens if the driver hands over control to the vehicle and doesn't take it back?
According to the UN's international standard, car manufacturers must introduce Driver Availability Recognition Systems to control both the driver's presence (on the driver's seats with the seat belt fastened) and the driver's availability to take back control. Vehicles also must be equipped with a Data Storage System for Automated Driving (DSSAD), which will record when ALKS is activated. Under the UN regulations, the driver is defined unavailable unless the driver fulfills two of these criteria: eye blinking, eye closure, conscious head or body movement over the last 30 seconds. If this is not the case, then the ALKS must remain in control.
What will Automated Lane Keeping Systems mean to current driving regulations and laws?
The UK recently put out a call for views on the safe use of ALKS on Great Britain's motorways. It posed numerous questions to answer to ready the laws and infrastructure for cars with active Level 3 capabilities:
- Unjustified stops: Is it appropriate to exempt the driver from prosecution – if the vehicle comes to an unjustified stop when ALKS is engaged?
- Law enforcement response: Drivers are currently required to respond to any instructions by police. The UK Government asks, "How do you think ALKS will detect and respond to the police or other enforcement vehicle approaching from behind signaling for the vehicle to pull over?"
- Time from inattentive to attentive: The ALKS Regulation allows the driver to respond to a transition demand up to 10 seconds after notification. Is 10 seconds fast enough to comply with the rules on responding to enforcement vehicles?
- In the case of an accident: The Government notes that the use of ALKS in practice may not allow a vehicle to avoid being the cause of a collision. For example, what if due to the driver failing to resume control on request by the vehicle, the vehicle comes to a stop in a live lane. This is unexpected behavior for other drivers, and the car is rear-ended by another vehicle. They suggest the driver should be incentivized to resume control in response to a transition demand. Should the driver fail to respond to the transition demand – and is not incapacitated – the Motorway Traffic Regulations would still apply, with the driver being potentially guilty of this offense.
- The use of entertainment systems: ALKS might present the opportunity, for the first time ever in Great Britain, to enable the driver to perform activities other than driving when the ADS is engaged. Tesla cars are equipped with Caraoke, bringing a library of songs and lyrics to the car's center entertainment system since 2019. Volvo, GM, and Ford are installing larger display screens and partnering with Google and Apple to provide dashboard entertainment. All of these add-ons are huge in terms of subscription revenue models and as it's likely that it will be some time until we reach Level 4 let alone 5 in action, this is likely to post some pushback.
- The impact of OTA: It is expected that many new cars sold in the UK will come equipped with Level 3 ALKS capabilities from Spring 2021. However, cars already sold equipped with the functionality will have it turned up - what will this mean for their insurance status and current registration as non-autonomous vehicles? How to account for the changes in status if the functionality is switched off?
What's clear is that the introduction of ALKS will be a huge learning curve and the opportunity to debate, tweak, and expand current legal and regulatory infrastructure. The whole mobility community will be watching with interest in this prequel of things to come.