The UN imposes a black box and a speed limit


A regulation issued by the UN has redefined the conditions of access to the market for future autonomous vehicles that could populate our roads within a few decades. The organization is cautious, with a list of rules that are often common sense, but also relatively restrictive … to the point of chilling the industry?

With their Autopilot, the Tesla are one of the most advanced examples of “autonomous” cars. © David Von Diemar – Unsplash

Three weeks ago, the UN released what looks like a very first official regulation in terms of self-driving cars, which will be adopted by some 60 countries. This is the very first legally binding international standard in this area. In practice, this decision imposes very significant restrictions on manufacturers. More specifically, this regulation will apply to all vehicles having an ALKS system (automated lane-keeping system), which includes the system Autopilot from Tesla, for example. Here are the main points of this regulation:

  • Autonomous driving can only be activated when a natural person takes place in the driver’s seat and fastens his seat belt.
  • It cannot be used on roads where cars rub shoulders with cyclists and pedestrians.
  • It cannot be used on roads without a central separator
  • In autonomous mode, these vehicles will be clamped at 60km / h
  • All multimedia screens are disconnected as soon as the autonomous driving ends
  • Autonomous driving will be dependent on a number of sensors that will verify that the driver is in the ability to regain control of the vehicle.
  • The vehicle must imperatively be equipped with a black box which will activate for each autonomous driving sequence.
  • Autonomous driving systems will need to be updated very regularly

If these restrictions seem severe to you, the UN nevertheless specifies that it is only a “introduction”And that this list should be expected to be expanded and reworked in the medium term. The organization states that this is a “important step towards a wider deployment of autonomous vehicles, for safer and more sustainable mobility for all”. Some of these points seem relatively indisputable. For example, those which require the driver to fasten his seat belt or which force the stop of the screens, seem to be the fruit of common sense. Likewise, we can only welcome the fact that the cybersecurity aspect is taken into account and legally enforced. But even though the UN presents this regulation as a facilitating measure, it is not certain that the manufacturers, and even the users, hear it the same way. This represents a set of rather important constraints, certainly perfectly justifiable for the most part but therefore some question and even seem a bit contradictory.

A stopping blow or a springboard?

For example, it seems a little curious to restrict autonomous driving to 60km / h even though it can only be used on tracks with a central splitter… which are almost all expressways in France. Likewise, one wonders about the rule which prohibits its use near cyclists and pedestrians insofar as one of the main theoretical interests of the autonomous car is to eliminate a good part of human error in order to protect people. more vulnerable road users. Finally, we can easily imagine that many users could have a problem with carrying a black box and a system of sensors supposed to analyze your every move. Admittedly, the principle seems virtuous and is clearly intended to keep the driver mobilized, but we can see from here the endless – but nevertheless legitimate – refrain on the protection of personal data.

Has the UN killed the hope of seeing the emergence of an autonomous car market in the near future? Certainly not, but we can easily imagine that the plans of some manufacturers must have taken a lead in the wing. The Asian leaders of the sector should not suffer too much, insofar as several of them – Japan in the lead – actively participated in the implementation of this regulation. On the other hand, on the side of the United States – another world leader in the sector – we can easily imagine that this measure could make people cringe. The country is not part of the World Forum and is therefore technically not subject to these directives, but in fact, its manufacturers will be forced to comply or face the rest of the world market. A prospect that is difficult to imagine, when we see the colossal means deployed by many brands to achieve an autonomous car as quickly as possible. It remains to be seen whether this regulation will significantly slow down the deployment of this technology, or whether, as announced by the UN, it will accelerate it.

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