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Expert Reaction: Law Commission announces safety assurance for autonomous vehicles

Posted on 19 June 2019

An expert in artificial intelligence (AI) from the University of York comments on the Law Commission's announcement that they will establish a safety assurance scheme for autonomous vehicles.

A safety assurance scheme is the next step in automated driving systems

Professor John McDermid, from the University of York's Department of Computer Science and Director of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme, said: "The Law Commission's announcement today that they could begin work to establish a safety assurance scheme to facilitate the deployment of highly automated driving systems is a welcome next step towards the safe introduction of autonomous vehicles.

"The Assuring Autonomy International Programme at the University of York is already addressing some of the challenges reported by the Law Commission, and contributed to the consultation.

"In particular the focus on safety beyond the vehicle itself is absolutely right and necessary. In time, a highly automated or autonomous vehicle will learn and update its learning as it operates through machine learning, even if initial systems will not learn in operation.

Driver training

"It will be also be subject to software updates. This requires a dynamic assurance method that takes into account this continuous development of system capability.

"The focus on driver training is needed too. The driver (or user-in-charge) will require a different range of skills to operate in an “emergency only” type scenario, where they are only needed to take over driving from the system is in certain circumstances.

"The current UK driving test largely looks at a driver’s ability to effectively control a vehicle. Our monitoring skills and ability to respond to threats are currently only tested as a driver - not as a user who is monitoring in case of emergencies. There is a clear need for additional training.

"We welcome too the focus on collaboration on the application of road rules to self-driving vehicles. Multi-disciplinary partnerships are the key to the challenges we face in assuring the safety of autonomous vehicles.

From design to driving

"Bringing industry, regulators, researchers and others together allows us to develop technology that is safe from design to driving. That is something we have been encouraging in work with the autonomous vehicle sector.

"The Assuring Autonomy International Programme is leading the way in addressing the challenges of assuring the safety of robotics and autonomous systems - including autonomous cars.

"At York we are focused on the same core technical issues that the Law Commission report - dynamic safety cases and the safety of artificial intelligence. A major output from our new programme of work will be an openly available 'Body of Knowledge: an online resource for assuring the safety of autonomous systems'." 

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