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House of Lords to begin investigation into the future of autonomous cars in the UK

The House of Lords has announced it will begin an investigation into the future of driverless vehicles and whether the UK is doing enough to ensure their success.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee ─ chaired by Lord Selborne ─ will host an event on the 1st of November, 2016, where it will explore a number of important questions surrounding autonomous cars.

Leading experts and government officials will attend the event, including Ian Yarnold from the Department for Transport International Vehicle Standards Division and Iain Forbes from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

For the first part of the committee meeting, Yarnold and Forbes are expected to be asked questions such as: What are the anticipated benefits of autonomous vehicles? What problems might the increased deployment of autonomous vehicles cause? Will UK roads be suitable as is or will they need significant new investments?

The investigation could also look into the ‘tools’ necessary for ‘regulating, certifying and enforcing the software and artificial intelligence world of autonomous vehicles’.

The House of Lords Committee will ask if the UK has performed enough research into driverless cars, citing the fact the US has been researching them since 2008.

The Science and Technology Committee will also hear from Dr Rob Buckingham, a director at the UK Atomic Energy Authority; Dr Simon Blackmore, head of engineering at Harper Adams University; and Professor David Lane, a professor of Autonomous Systems Engineering and director of Edinburgh Centre for Robotics at Heriot-Watt University.

In this part of the investigation, the Committee is expected to ask who is legally accountable in the event a driverless car crashes and to what extent can the UK can devise its own regulations and standards for autonomous vehicles in these sectors?

The impact of autonomous vehicles on employment is another topic up for debate. With Uber and other companies lining up to provide cars that can drive themselves and the likes of Tesla looking into autonomous trucks and buses, a lot of ‘manual’ driving jobs could be on the line.

Evidence will be given in the morning, with access to the public granted for these sessions. Those wanting to attend will need to go to the Cromwell Green Entrance of Parliament. A live broadcast will be sbown at for those unable to attend.

A number of vehicle manufacturers are aiming to have fully-autonomous cars on the road within the next decade. Currently the likes of lane assist, adaptive cruise control and park assist provide elements of self-driving, but the full offering is a significantly more difficult challenge.

Arguably the closest company to full autonomy in a commercial sense is Tesla, with its Tesla Model S and Model X electric cars able to tackle miles of motorway driving without the driver needing to steer, accelerate or brake.

Tesla’s Autopilot system, as it is known, has been met with criticism. Germany has suggested it should cease using the name because it is misleading (Tesla is always keen to point out it is a driving assistant, not a replacement) in light of recent incidents.

Google has also seen its fleet of self-driving cars involved in a number of crashes, although in all but one instance (so far) the fault of the crash fell at the feet of human drivers who ended up crashing into the test vehicle.

Testing of self-driving vehicles began for the first time in the UK on the 11th of October, 2016. The Lutz Pathfinder completed a 1.25-mile drive through pedestrianised areas of Milton Keynes, reaching speeds of up to 15mph while avoiding walkers and cyclists.

“We will examine what the government is doing to support research into developing autonomous vehicles in the UK, as well as the real world implications as these vehicles start to appear on the roads and in the work place,” Lord Selborne said when the investigation was first announced.

“If the UK is to be at the forefront of this transport revolution, investment into research is vital to ensure the technology is perfected, allowing the public to embrace the use of autonomous vehicles,” he added.

Given the fact roads in Britain are somewhat more complicated than in the US (certainly less straight, anyway), technology has its work cut out to make self-driving cars safer than human drivers ─ and even if they surpass us, the law, regulations, investment, education and behavioural adjustment (to name a few of the many considerations) may take even longer to sort out.

Read: Everything you should know about driverless vehicles


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