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British industry calls for regulation of autonomous vehicles

Standards that cut across technology could help avoid confusing industry, MPs hear

The UK government should create laws common to autonomous vehicles to avoid a patchwork approach to specific technologies, according to industry figures speaking to MPs.

As various levels of automation are planned for modes of transport including cars, buses, delivery robots, trains and aeroplanes, the UK should create a legislative framework which captures them all said Siddartha Khastgir, head of verification and validation of connected and autonomous vehicles at Warwick University’s Manufacturing Group.

Parliament's Transport Committee heard from Stagecoach, which is piloting semi-automated buses — that have a driver on board — and Starship Technologies, a manufacturer of automated delivery robots.

Khastgir said: “You can take a similar approach to safety assurance, trying to prove Starship robots as safe [and] trying to prove Stagecoach buses are safe. The accepted level of safety for Starship robots would be very different as compared to the scenarios that we will test Stagecoach buses, but it's at one level of abstraction, the approach to safety assurance [we're] trying to prove can be the same.”

He said bespoke safety frameworks for different use cases would confuse industry. “We want to create a level of abstraction that is same for all types of use cases.”

Differences in safety regulation would then apply to different operating domains — motor ways compared with pavements, for example — rather than individual technologies, he said.

“Otherwise, you will need to start creating the regulations for every technology,” Khastgir said.

Lisa Johnson, UK director of public affairs for Starship Technologies, said the company would welcome regulation, particularly because the pavements upon which its robots operate were a legal grey area.

“There needs to be some sort of national regulation that underpins all decisions because we have invested a lot of time and energy in our safety case. If we don't have regulation, what's to stop somebody coming into the market who isn't as safe as us? We want some basic national standards that underpin what we do, that make people more feel comfortable that this is a regulated industry. We operate on pavements, and that's a very grey area. And we don't want a free for all,” she said.

Peter Stephens, policy and external affairs director, Stagecoach, said the firm was currently piloting automation, but there were no plans for driverless busses. “I think for the foreseeable future, we think there is going to be a driver on there because we have a very high safety bar that we have to meet,” he told MPs. ®

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