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The framework from the United Nations (UN) highlights the need to prioritise public safety when implementing autonomous vehicles in society.
The framework from the United Nations (UN) highlights the need to prioritise public safety when implementing autonomous vehicles in society.
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Autonomous Vehicle The UN Framework for autonomous vehicles explained

Author / Editor: Jason Unrau / Erika Granath

It's expected that semi- and fully-autonomous vehicles will be increasingly adopted in the automotive industry. If each carmaker does their own thing, though, it presents a monumental challenge to integrate the technology safely in societies. Thus, the United Nations drafted a framework for automated and autonomous vehicles.

Since the 1980s, carmakers have chased the dream that self-driving cars would be a reality. It's finally coming to fruition with technology developed and contributed from around the world. Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Audi, Tesla, and many others—they're amid testing systems that could soon be in cars on the road.

What's lagged behind product development has been policy and regulation. This technology will affect industry around the globe, so automakers worldwide must abide by the same set of rules. That's where the United Nations comes into play.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) published a framework for autonomous vehicle development in September 2019. Contributing countries/regions include China, the European Union, Japan, and the United States, and the World Forum adopted it for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, commonly known as WP.29. Here are broad strokes in the policy.

The purpose of the policy

As a whole, the purpose of the UN framework is to provide guidance for WP.29 relating to the safety and security of vehicle autonomy. Specifically, it's designated for Level 3 autonomous vehicles and higher.

The document shows that the UN recognizes the potential for AVs to "confuse users, disrupt road traffic, or otherwise perform poorly," in which case AV technology is unhelpful. A series of safety principles are developed to mitigate the risk of injury or death.

The purpose of the policy

Nine core areas make up the basis of currently key priorities agreed upon by WP.29, plus another four secondary points.

System safety

Safety is paramount with automated vehicles. When in autonomous mode, drivers should confidently expect that they're not susceptible to unreasonable safety risks, nor are other motorists or non-vehicle road users at risk.

Failsafe response

It's been deemed mandatory that an AV should be able to self-detect when safe conditions are no longer met for autonomous driving and transition to a 'minimal risk condition.' That's the case for its own failures and outside conditions.

Human-machine interface

Essentially, an AV must be able to transition back to driver control when requested, but driver monitoring for readiness and awareness is crucial. Prior to taking over control from a driver, the vehicle should request the driver hand over driving tasks.

Object Event Detection and Response (OEDR)

When an AV encounters an object in and around its path, it must be capable of detecting and responding to it.

Conditions under which the automated system will operate

The ideal operating conditions and the AV's restrictions should be clearly documented for the user. That includes which roadways, geographic locations, speeds, and weather conditions are optimal or sub-optimal.

Validation for system safety

Like the vehicle itself is tested for safe operation, automated driving systems should be thoroughly tested to demonstrate that they're safe for use.

Cyber-security

Carmakers will need to demonstrate that they're taking every precaution to prevent cyber-attacks for autonomous vehicles. It's especially crucial since vehicle control is inherently at risk.

Software updates

As systems will assuredly need updates, vehicle manufacturers are tasked with finding secure methods and availability for software updates.

Data storage and Event data recorder (EDR)

Any malfunctions, degradations, or failures must be recorded to help establish the cause of any crash, so the connection between AV tech and the driver's status can be determined.

In addition to these core areas, the UNECE also identified these four issues:

  • Vehicle safety should be ensured through maintenance and inspection practices, plus system repair information should be made available after a collision.
  • Training and consumer educations should be available to all parties, from the retailer to the consumer.
  • Since AVs will be sharing the road with non-automated vehicles, AV occupants should be protected against crashes with other vehicles.
  • After a collision, AVs should exhibit the ability to return to a safe state, such as shutting off fuel, disconnecting power, or steering off the roadway and braking.

While the UN framework doesn't make specific demands of carmakers, engineers, and developers, it provides a structure to ensure all AV technology adheres to the same standards of safety.

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