The automotive industry is undergoing extraordinary change and the future of transport looks increasingly electric, automated and shared.
Smart mobility has the potential to improve environmental sustainability, reduce the number of traffic injuries and fatalities, and bring opportunities to billions of people the world over.
But in order for that to happen, it is critical to ensure that the digital transformation taking place in the automotive sector is underpinned by robust international standards.
“New technologies are at the heart of this transformation and technical standardization will be essential to ensure that they are deployed efficiently and to scale,” remarked ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson.
Diverse panelists at the recent AI for Good Global Summit shared thoughts on the opportunities that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicle technology could bring, as well as concerns around the disconnect between the current state of the technology and public expectations.
“ITU’s open and inclusive standardization process builds the mutual trust that is necessary for large scale investment.” – Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary General of ITU
“At the moment… most of the systems are merely assisting the drivers, but they are sold as [replacing] them and people are actually expecting it to engage in other things that have a fully safe system,” says Laurianne Krid, Director General of Region 1 of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile.
The promises of AI-powered mobility hold potential gains for accessibility and pioneering concepts such as Universal Basic Mobility, which was discussed by Ehrlichman at the Summit. But the key goal of a zero-accident future is far from being achieved – and key issues like liability and security remain in the process of development.
“Artificial Intelligence can play a huge role in ability if users are willing to give up the control. At the moment to encourage users to give up this control, we offer a compelling vision – we tell them that it will be hundred percent safe, that there will be no more lives lost on the road,” says Krid.
But the technology is not quite there yet, and the obstacles on the road to full deployment of autonomous driving technology are numerous. As T. Russel Shields, Chairman of Ygomi puts it, the classic ethics ‘trolley problem’ is not “even 1000th of 1% of what we have to [figure out] to get a highly automated driving system out in the road.”
“It’s very easy to do a demo. It’s very easy to create a prototype,” says Manuela Papadopol, CEO of Designated Driver. “But it’s very difficult to put a product into a commercial form and production mode and bring it to the streets in a safe mode.”
RoadBotics Co-Founder Courtney Ehrlichman shared concerns about the regulation of language around the capabilities of these technologies, invoking the term ‘autonowashing’, originally coined by Liza Dixon. Ehrlichman questioned the regulation of the language, noting that “as society, or as individuals, we’re interpreting the level of competence of that car and what it can do very differently, and that’s leading to accidents.”
Krid echoed the concern, noting that “we need to drive the transition and we need to manage the expectations… 70% of the drivers on the road believe that fully automated vehicles are readily available. That’s what we’re selling them. Let’s not blame them for really taking that as a promise.”
As the technology continues to develop, one thing is clear: standards will be key to ensuring interoperability, security and accessibility. As cars become connected ICT entities, capable of sending and storing data and software updates—security has never been more important. This is where ITU’s international standards have come into play, and indeed many have already been adopted by international regulatory bodies.
“An element that’s critical for further developing use of AI and machine learning for road safety. One of them is to have a reference model an international standard on which you can build. [One example is the] emergency call, which is an ITU standard called P.1140,” explained Bilel Jamoussi, Chief of ITU’s Study Groups Department.
Spectrum will also continue to be central to the functioning of these technologies. “When we talk about autonomous driving and connected cars, there is a need for spectrum,” furthered Jamoussi. “And the radio sector of the ITU is working on providing those frequencies and harmonizing the frequencies, including radar, lidar, and so on, for collision prevention.”
“It’s no longer just telecom or ICT, it’s really the intersection,” he reminded. “And that digital transformation brings two sectors together, the digital sector and the automotive sector.”