While the Obama administration just announced that the financing of the autonomous car would be one of its last projects during the Detroit Auto Show, the research services from the European Parliament also published a prospective note on a similar topic.
The two projects share a same ambition: reduce the death toll on the roads as well as energy consumption.
In that regard, the statistics used are similar: from 80% (in the US) to 90%(in Europe) of the accidents are caused by human error, causing 25.000 (in the US) to 45.000 (in Europe) deaths per year.
However, the approaches diverge in a symptomatic fashion. The US focus on the implementation of pilot programs, co-financed by the federal State, and the regulatory approach remains for each state. The DoT may nonetheless propose a template for a non-binding regulatory framework and uniform technical specifications, which may be amended at the local level. This pragmatic vision was highlighted during the official announcement by Secretary of Transport Anthony Foxx, alongside private sector representative – not only automotive manufacturers (GM, Volvo, Fiat-Chryslet, Ford and Tesla), but also key player for the tech industry (Google, Delphi).
Conversely, Europe, through its Parliament, insisted on the necessity of a first approach based on regulation. This vision underlines the main role the public sector will be required to play, in order to facilitate the implementation of a car effectively connected, which will go through technical standards for manufacturers in order to facilitate vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), as well as between each vehicle and the surrounding infrastructure (V2I). Interestingly, the term “infrastructure” is used twice as much in the European document than in its US counterpart.
At a time where several automotive industry scandals are made public, Europe focuses on the need for a certification framework for autonomous vehicles, in terms of security and safety – in which manner and by whom? If tampering with safety emission test “only” impacts the environment, similar test tempering on security would have more dramatic consequences. Additionally, the recent revelations about Volkswagen and, more recently, Renault, necessarily impair consumer trust in automotive manufacturers. In that regard, the role of European governments will be to implement a framework able to restore confidence in order for the deployment of autonomous cars and its expected consequences on road safety not to be unduly delayed.
Finally, the US communication is, without much surprise, empty of any reference to personal data. While it is oftentimes repeated that data is the oil of this century, its interplay with vehicles already fuel a lot of ambitions – from manufacturer, insurers, public entities, service networks, value-added services… The more numerous and complete the information, and the greater the usage. In that regard, the European document highlights a critical issue, which makes us understand that science-fiction, notably Asimov’s, is already at our doorstep: which ethical choice will need to be performed when a collision with an autonomous vehicle cannot be avoided? Two centuries after its creation, the tramway still causes dilemmas in the era of connected cars…