New findings from Thales reveal need to use learnings from aerospace industry to assure safe Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) come 2021

New research from global technology company, Thales, reveals that over half of UK citizens (57%) would not feel safe riding in a self-driving car. The UK government has stated its vision to have driverless cars on UK roads by 2021 but nearly a quarter of the UK public (23%) said they feel apprehensive about the prospect of self-driving cars on the roads in the next three years, while a fifth of respondents (20%) felt fearful. Only 12% were either excited or optimistic.

In fact, just 16% of the UK public said they would feel safe riding in a self-driving car with the biggest concern being the safety of pedestrians (56%), closely followed by:

> The safety of the passengers (51%)
> A rise in in, potentially fatal, accidents (49%)
> Connectivity failures (35%)
> Cyber-attacks and hacks on personal data (29%)

In comparison, nearly two thirds of respondents (65%) said they feel safe when flying on-board an aeroplane. Pilots undergo rigorous testing and training, with the use of simulation, to ensure flight safety – a role that Thales has long-standing heritage in.

Dr Alvin Wilby, VP of Research, Innovation and Technology at Thales UK said, "For the government’s 2021 vision to become a reality, autonomous cars must not only ‘be’ safe, but also be perceived as safe by the public. By using synthetic environment technologies – currently used for full flight simulators in aerospace and vehicle simulators – we are able to subject autonomous driving systems to a huge numbers of scenarios, to gain confidence in their safety. We, essentially, subject AVs to a much more rigorous "driving test" than we do with human drivers.

"If successful, this work will lay the foundations for the development and certification of all types of unmanned vehicles – in any situation and every environment."

Professor Paul Jennings, lead for Intelligent Vehicle research at WMG, University of Warwick comments, "There is potentially a lot that can be learned from other sectors when it comes to certifying the safety of AVs. For example, by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to run simulations of real-life scenarios, we might learn more quickly how driverless cars will operate across the UK’s challenging urban and rural road networks, and to ensure that they safely interact with other road users".

Pilotless planes

The research also brings to light the public’s attitudes over autonomous aircraft; nearly a third (28%) believes autonomous air vehicles will transport goods and people within the next 10 years. Feelings of fear (26%) and apprehension (20%) were, again, shared yet nearly one in 10 (7%) felt intrigued by the prospect – a feeling most likely to be shared by the younger generation.

Wilby continued, "We’ve reached a point where flying cars and pilotless planes no longer reside in science fiction. While it could take some time before we actually see fully autonomous large-scale commercial passenger flights, we feel that we are moving to single pilot operations (SPO) – something we will see in the next 10 – 15 years.

"However, it is important that the industry fully understands the problems that could arise – namely, the interaction between humans and machines. For example, in the case whereby the ‘pilot’ is on the ground – linked to an airplane’s flight management systems via the cloud where the aircraft and air traffic control are in permanent contact – how we can ensure the communications between man and machine are clear enough so that smart and accurate decisions are made? Getting this right will be crucial to consumers’ adoption of the technology."

You can read the full report, Making Driving as Safe as Flying in an Autonomous World, here.

About the research

The research was commissioned by Thales and conducted by OnePoll. The survey was completed by 2,000 UK adults.

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