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'There are more failures as tech pushed to limit': overcoming the autonomous vehicle 'hype cycle'

Huw Davies, deputy of the CAV team at Coventry University

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

There has been an increasing amount of press given to completely autonomous vehicles or connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

While the focus has undoubtedly been on the technology, there is a more fundamental issue that requires attention, one that might be more complex and hence more difficult to solve. How should regulators balance the potential benefits of the technology with the difficulties of its introduction?

CAVs offer the opportunity to meet multiple policy objectives: reducing harm to road users; improving efficiency, leading to lower emissions; and increasing the capacity of an already strained infrastructure. Where the system is unable to deliver, slow to deliver, or there is conflict, then these policy objectives are often supported by regulation.

The key to successful regulation is to balance an objective with the ability of the system to respond. In the area of vehicle emissions, for example, the performance requirements expected of the technology have to be balanced with societal requirements (to reduce environmental harm), consumer requirements (to align with purchasing power) and economic requirements (the cost to produce or to continue to leverage existing knowledge in the case of car producing economies).

With CAVs, it is clear that success in the market is more than simply technology alone. Indeed, the success of CAVs would also include their ability to interact with existing technologies in a mixed vehicle fleet.

In the hype cycle, which is a graphic representation of the maturity, adoption and social application of scientific technologies, there is an initial technology trigger followed by peak of inflated expectation.

Publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures as the technology is pushed to its limit. Limited information equals limited research questions. Research is mainly case-based and discussions on how companies have implemented the technology will be of primary interest to researchers.

Research questions are narrowed to particular situations in order to understand the technology. At this stage there is little discussion on the limitations of the technology. Publicity is mainly about the limitations of the technology and regulatory developments are reactionary, usually a quick fix in response to valid but often unsubstantiated concerns.

These conspire to constrain instead of facilitate, the development of the technology. Unfortunately, this is how regulation is perceived, not as an enabler, but a disabler. This is an opportunity for regulation to provide a balance to a system that is misaligned. If this is an accurate portrayal, then what should that regulation look like? How should regulation for CAV balance those competing requirements – performance, consumer, manufacturer? These difficult questions need further discussion.

Huw Davies is deputy of the CAV team at Coventry University which, in partnership with HORIBA MIRA, is a member of the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Automotive Research.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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