She objected based on the fact that the current status of driverless car testing consists of “superficial demonstrations,” not “evidence-based tests and evaluations, including testing human/autonomous system interactions and sensor and system vulnerabilities in environmental extremes.”
Specifically, she pointed out the lack of transparency on the part of manufacturers of self-driving cars. “There are many known knowns in self-driving cars that are not being addressed or tested (or test results published) in a principled and rigorous manner that would be expected in similar transportation settings.”
For example, she said, “The FAA has a clear certification process for aircraft software, and we would never let commercial aircraft execute automatic landings without verifiable test evidence, approved by the FAA.” In her opinion, to this end, “any certification of self-driving cars should not be possible until manufacturers provide greater transparency and disclose how they are testing their cars. Moreover, they should make such data publicly available for expert validation.”
Ride-sharing, big factor
Other notable comments on the witness panel included GM’s vice president Mike Ableson, responsible for the company’s strategy and global portfolio planning. He talked about GM’s recent acquisition of startup Cruise Automation, calling it a “milestone” in the company’s work to deploy autonomous vehicles. He also talked up GM’s deal with Lyft, a ride-hailing app company. Ableson testified, “The next logical step toward public availability of high-level automated vehicles will be controlled ride-sharing projects, such as what we are planning with Lyft.”
It remains to be seen how soon the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will be able to develop guidelines for self-driving cars. A bigger question is whether NHTSA has enough staff to stand up to the tech industry and push the safety agenda.
In January, the NHTSA said it may waive some vehicle safety rules to allow more driverless cars to operate on U.S. roads as part of a broader effort to speed up their development. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx promised in January NHTSA will write guidelines for self-driving cars within six months.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times