Expert opinions, LAW, TECHNOLOGY

Automated driving to become reality

The planned amendments to the Vienna Convention on the use of unmanned vehicles will legalize UAVs on the roads in Europe, and then in Russia. Russia expects to begin mass production of automated cars by 2021; by the middle of the 21st century, we will see 11 mio of these cars on Russian roads. Many experts agree that some 20-25 years from now, unmanned vehicles will completely replace conventional cars and trains. Many things are expected to change with the massive advent of robotic vehicles – the number of accidents should decrease by 80-85% once the human error factor will go away; unmanned taxis will become affordable to all; the number of parking lots will decrease dramatically, as robocars will be in motion most of the time; and the professions of driver and taxi driver will entirely disappear.

Major European automotive corporations have been making and testing self-driving cars for several years, including Daimler, Scania, Man, Volvo, Renault, Nissan, Volkswagen, Audi and many others. Russia is moving in the same direction, slowly but surely. Russian automakers have developed experimental models of automated vehicles: an unmanned Shuttle bus from KamAZ, the Yandex.Taxi car, and the electric autonomous Gazelle bus from GAZ.

In 2014, the Russian Federation began to develop the National Technology Initiative (NTI) – a step-by-step plan for the development of promising industries. The initiative includes Avtonet, a project for introducing self-driving vehicles, which also envisages developing a plan for amending the Russian laws and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of November 8, 1968. The current version of the Convention, amended in 2015, only allows the use of semi-autonomous vehicles with the driver present inside, so that the autopilot function could be switched off at any time turning the vehicle over to manual control. The automated driving amendments were discussed at the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety in September 2018. As was planned, robocars will be given legal status, and the functionality of an automated vehicle control system will be equated to that of a human driver. However, there are no laws in Russia or elsewhere that would determine the responsible party if an unmanned vehicle participates in an accident. To legalize robocars, the new terms relating to their operation on the roads should also be legally documented.

The next step would be changing the relevant Russian regulations. Technically it is possible to amend the Russian traffic rules without amending the Vienna Convention. However, the common standards for testing unmanned cars have not been developed yet, and dangerous vehicles can appear on the roads. There have been accidents with unmanned cars: two people were killed in a Tesla autopilot car crash in China in 2016, and in 2018, a driverless Uber car hit a woman.

Another problem that needs to be solved is the creation of a relevant infrastructure for the new cars, including the so-called ‘smart roads.’ Russia has made first steps towards creating such roads: an example is the A-181 Scandinavia highway that connects Russia’s northwest with Europe. There are mobile services and apps developed for the highway, so that drivers can have all the necessary information about the road condition, the current weather and traffic jams. Online toll payment is available to tourists and car shipping companies.

As for the preliminary results of the introduction of unmanned transport in Europe and Russia, it seems clear that self-driving cars are a common reality.

by Pavel Terentyev, independent IT expert

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