Throughout decades many theories appeared to try to explain why road accidents happen, that provoke so many deaths every year. In Portugal, 675 in 2018, the highest number since 2012. Carlos Lopes launched the theme for the debate, which was again addressed at the panel dedicated to “Zero Vision – Is the Autonomous Vehicle the Answer?” The program started in Sweden at the end of the 90s, takes the assumption that human error is unavoidable but the loss of life is always unacceptable. The solution is there for in the capacity of minimizing the impact of accidents, explains ANSR Director of Unit for Road Prevention and Safety.
Zero Vision was precisely under the spotlight in the third and last warm up session of Mobi Summit that took place in Faro. Technology has a fundamental role and artificial intelligence is now being looked at as one of the more efficient roads to take in order to prevent accidents. “Is autonomous vehicle the answer?” The question launched to the panel of experts can sound simple but the answer is much more complicated.
The only certainty is that mobility is changing and there are challenges that need answers. Luís Reis, Senior Manager Strategy & Business Development for Mobility at CEiiA is convinced that the introduction of autonomous solutions will tend to lead to less accidents and less pollution, but there will have to be policies adapted to the infrastructures in order to accommodate new technologies. “I believe that it will be possible to think about urban spaces for the autonomous driving, but also an integrated plan for environment and policies to reduce automobiles”
The weight of the car in mobility
Those who hope that autonomous vehicles will assume driving on the road soon, will be disappointed, warns Lata Moura, I&D Manager of A-To-Be (Powered by Brisa): “It’s not going to happen now and there are still many challenges to overcome”. There are very important steps being taken, such as the test made last year with an autonomous vehicle circulating in CREL. All in a controlled environment; closed road and escorted by the GNR. It’s tests like these that will allow clarifying what can and cannot be done. Rigor has to be taken seriously since “an autonomous vehicle will have to have a very profound knowledge of everything around it,” explains the expert.
Nevertheless trying to guess how the autonomous vehicle of the future will be is a risky exercise. Paulo FIgueiredo, Car Business Director at Fidelidade, has even doubts about autonomous vehicles being the main solution for mobility: “When I finished university I immediately thought about buying a car and only after getting a job”. The next generation is a bit different and that can be seen in the case of his daughter, studying in Lisbon that just to be spared from the daily “drama” of lack of parking spaces rather gives up on having a car.
The autonomous vehicle as such will not be the solution since probably there will be “several solutions”. There are many questions left without answers: “Will the driving be completely autonomous or a human can assume control at any moment?” If that is so, the risks of accidents can also occur “at any moment”. Doubts like these are also challenging the insurance companies: “From the legal point of view it won’t always be easy to untangle the responsibility of the driver and the machine” says Paulo Figueiredo, warning about the difficulty in understanding the logic of algorithms in potentially dangerous situations.
New challenges, more opportunities
Although technology already allows partially more autonomous solutions, such as the cruise control, evolution will go further, and between the new challenges there are new opportunities as well, and Luís Reis believes that it can have a positive impact in the Portuguese industry. The physical component of the automobile it’s already thought together with the digital and CEiiA responsible sees in those changes room for national companies. But tests on autonomous vehicles in real environments will need to be speed up not only so that foreign companies can study the technology, but also for Portuguese companies to bet in new solutions. There are many variables on the table, and the most important is the information that the autonomous vehicle receives from the outside and the environment around it.
That is the critical point for Lara Moura, that insists on the need of guaranteeing the rigor of the data that will then be interpreted by the machine. And, in this aspect, there is a further challenge in the safety area: “The car, being a computer, will be a target of cyber attacks” alerts A-To-Be I&D Manager, to show that intelligent systems bring advantages but also dangers that will need vigilance.
Elisabete Silva | Text
João Silva | Photograph