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March 15, 2017

Does the UK need to make a U-turn on driverless cars?

The House of Lords believes that the UK is too focused on driverless cars, and further government lead research on the topic is needed.

By Joe Clark

The UK is currently too focused on the idea of driverless cards, according to the House of Lords.

A new report ‘Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The future?’ found that the UK is not properly considering other possible applications of autonomous vehicles, such as in the agricultural and marine sectors, and is instead being swept up in the hype of private road vehicles.

The Lords concluded that in order for the UK to position itself to take full advantage of the emerging market, further government led research examining a broad range of possibilities is required. There also needs to be research into the social and economic affects that the technology will have, in order to properly forecast the human and financial implications of the technology.

The report said: “Autonomous vehicles are being used, or have the potential to be used, in the roads, marine, agricultural and other sectors. But there is no clear central coordination of strategy or information sharing across the different sectors.”

“The Government must broaden its focus so that its work on connected and autonomous vehicles cuts across all sectors and does not focus so heavily on road vehicles. This will require greater coordination across Government and the involvement of more departments in the work of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.”

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The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee believes that the government is in danger of being swept up in the hype and marketing of private driverless cars and is not considering the wider implications. The technology is receiving huge media attention in consumer markets as it moves closer to reality, but there are a number of other sectors which could possibly benefit from mobility as a service.

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In the marine sector, autonomous vehicles are being developed for sub-sea gliders and unmanned cargo ships, both of which could prove immensely useful. Similarly, in agriculture, autonomous and automated systems could make crop production intensely more efficient.

Matthew Evans, executive director of SmarterUK and IoT at techUK said: “techUK welcomes the Committee’s inquiry into this fast-moving area, where we fully support Government’s intention for the UK to continue to be a leader in Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). The introduction of CAVs holds the promise of a transformational improvement to our society with digital at the heart.”

In order to help fully investigate the benefits a Robotics and Autonomous Systems Leadership council should be established as soon as possible. The council should consist of government, industry, and academia working together to ensure that the knowledge and expertise is shared across all sectors in order to maximise the economic benefit.

Stan Boland, CEO, FiveAI said: “Increased safety is perhaps the biggest benefit of AVs, and we are in agreement with the committee that the future lies in developing “Level 5” autonomous vehicles, i.e. vehicles that require no human supervision or control whatsoever. For lower levels of autonomy where the driving task is shared between a human driver and the vehicle, studies have shown that humans quickly become over-confident with the vehicle’s abilities which can lead to incidents.”

“With human error currently responsible for over 90% of incidents on our roads, eliminating human control from the driving task means that fully autonomous vehicles will make our towns and cities safer, cleaner, and quicker and easier to travel in.”

Increased safety was noted in the report, however, the committee also believes that the government should also help to co-ordinate the industry by establishing policies regarding data retention and the ethical issues presented by driverless cars. Issues such as the car’s programming, which could potentially lead to the vehicle choosing which persons life to save in the event of a collision, commonly referred to as the ‘Trolley Dilemma’.


The committee also found that more government commissioned research is imperative as existing research has been too concentrated on research and testing, instead of considering the concrete logistics of deployment. They acknowledged that the list of potential benefits is exhaustive but research should be conducted to challenge the deeply held beliefs surrounding the technology.

Similarly, social questions surrounding the deployment of autonomous cars remain largely unanswered, questions such as how will this affect HGV and courier based industries. The government should be the ones to investigate these potential drawbacks thoroughly.

The report concluded saying that whilst driverless technology is coming faster than we initially thought, there is still little preparation being done to ensure a safe and efficient deployment. The committee believe that it is not the governments business to research the technology themselves, but they should nonetheless ensure that the supporting infrastructure exists in order to support it.

This report from the government is a clear indication of its opinion on autonomous vehicles and its commitment to exploring multiple avenues of the technology.

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