Automation in our cars is becoming increasingly prominent

By Jennifer Ferrero

James Restucci

Jim Restucci, a long-time public servant from Sunnyside, Wash. has been appointed as a Commissioner to the Washington State Transportation Commission by Governor Jay Inslee. One of Restucci’s jobs is to represent the Commission on the State’s Autonomous Vehicle Working Group Executive Committee (AVWGEC), and to investigate, understand and make recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature on how we move forward with autonomous vehicles in Washington state.

“Washington is leading the charge when it comes to autonomous vehicles and their adoption, and with the Governor’s Executive Order allowing the testing of AV’s on our roadways, and the creation of the AV Working Group, I believe we can move quickly in adopting and implementing policy to ensure our roadways and our drivers are ready for autonomous vehicles.”

As for the safety concerns, Restucci says, “Autonomous vehicles do not have to be perfect, they just have to be better than humans at driving, and all of the research and testing so far shows they are.”

According to a popular YouTube video (11 million views, 2014) by CGP Grey, drivers in the United States kill 40,000 people per year in their cars. Grey states that 3 million jobs in the transportation industry may be lost (with a future of autonomous vehicles), but economics will win out with the viability of autonomous vehicles. Grey states, “Economics always win, humans cost time and money, and for insurance companies, their perfect driver pays their premiums and never gets into an accident.”

Restucci says, the AVWGEC includes a number of stake holders including the Governor’s office, the State Insurance Commissioner, DOL Director, WSDOT Secretary, WSP Chief, Traffic Safety Commission, State CIO, and four members of the Senate and House.

The committee is broken down further into subcommittees, with members from both the public and private sector addressing specific areas of AV policy, including Licensing, Safety, Infrastructure & Systems, System Tech & Data Security and Liability.

The committee will remain in place through 2023, providing an Annual Report to the Governor and the State Legislature. The first of which was released in November 2018 and is available online.

Restucci notes that with high-levels of autonomy in cars, there will be increased liability for the manufacturer.

“When we go to fully automated or partial automation, we move from personal liability to product liability,” said Restucci.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has established five levels of automation for automobiles.

They are:

  • Level 0: No Automation – Zero autonomy, the drive performs all of the tasks.
  • Level 1: Driver Assistance – Vehicle is controlled by the driver, but some driving assist features may be included in the vehicle design.
  • Level 2: Partial Automation – Vehicle has combined automation functions, like acceleration and steering, but the driver must always remain engaged with the driving task and monitor the environment.
  • Level 3: Conditional Automation – Driver is a necessity but is not required to monitor the environment. The driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times with notice.
  • Level 4: High Automation – The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions. The driver may have the option to control the vehicle.
  • Level 5: Full Automation – The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions. The driver may have the option to control the vehicle.

Restucci said that Level 3 is a reality now, and Level 4 will be a reality in the next five to ten years. In practice he sees Level 5 beyond this decade. He likens Level 1 to cars from the 1980s and 90s. Level 1 is already active with items like cruise control. He said that Level 2 functions started in the early 2000s and include features like advanced security such as blind spot protection, and lane departure warnings. Finally, with Level 3, which is currently included in late model cars, there are: rearview video systems, rear auto braking, lane centering assist – the car is performing the lane keeping, assist adaptive cruise control, and self-park. Restucci added, “The car will look at object in front of you and will slow down and maintain a safe distance.”

Can traditional vehicles work in the autonomous world? Restucci said, “Yes, I believe they will need to coexist on our roadways. The idea of creating a separate lane, like the HOV lane is possible; however, would likely be very costly to implement. That doesn’t mean the idea of a separate lane is off the table, though, the Committee’s charge is to look at all ideas and forward them to the Washington State Transportation Commission who will then make recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature.”

But although semi-autonomous vehicles are already here and we are moving toward highly autonomous vehicles, Restucci said that automation will solve some problems, but not all of them. “They won’t fix congestion problems on I-5,” he said, and added, “The government needs to create the policies to have the vehicles on our roadways – we will need to have public outreach and educational programs to teach the public and our drivers on the use of autonomous vehicles.”

He noted that there will be a learning curve for consumers as they move from traditional autos to highly functional systems.

BMW is one consumer auto-maker that has taken a lead in autonomous vehicles. While they are planning to roll-out completely autonomous vehicles through a five-step process, you can see features in current models that will lead to autonomy:

  • Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), including Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, and Brake Stand-by features, with Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), and Dynamic Brake Control
  • Dynamic Damper Control
  • Hill Descent Control (HDC)
  • Double wishbone front suspension
  • Lightweight multi-link integral rear suspension
  • 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes with anti-lock braking system (ABS), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), brake-pad wear indicators and Cornering Brake Control (CBC)
  • Electric power steering
  • Servotronic power-steering assist
  • xDrive all-wheel-drive system

These features show up in the X5 xDrive40i, which sells for $60,000+ and is marketed as an “intelligent” all-wheel drive.

Researching just about any car manufacturer today will demonstrate similar capabilities even if they aren’t as advanced. All signs point to autonomous “intelligent” systems where the vehicle is in control – not the driver.

Are you ready for autonomous vehicles?