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AV Safety Expert Proposes a New Classification for Autonomy Levels
In any discussion about autonomous cars, you may have already heard about Level 2, 3, 4, and 5. They refer to the classifications made by SAE J3016, a document that tried to establish what autonomous-driving cars are expected to do. Philip Koopman thinks these classifications are only helpful from an engineering point of view, not to regular drives. This is why the AV safety expert decided to propose a new classification system.

AV Safety Expert Proposes a New Classification for Autonomy Levels

Philip Koopman proposes a new classification for autonomous-driving tech.Philip Koopman proposes a new classification for autonomous-driving tech.Philip Koopman proposes a new classification for autonomous-driving tech.Philip Koopman proposes a new classification for autonomous-driving tech.Philip Koopman proposes a new classification for autonomous-driving tech.
According to Koopman, autonomous systems should be separated into four categories: Driver Assistance, Supervised Automation, Autonomous Operation, and Vehicle Testing. He makes a comprehensive explanation of each of them in his blog, but we will summarize the idea here.

Driver Assistance refers to anything that helps people drive better. That may include ABS (anti-lock brakes), AEB (automatic emergency braking), cruise control (adaptive –ACC – or simple), and ESC (electronic stability control), among other aids. With them, the driver is always in control and responsible for whatever happens to the vehicle unless any of these systems has a malfunction, such as phantom braking.

Supervised Automation happens when the car controls speed and lane-keeping without human interference. Anything apart from lane-keeping is on the driver, who is also responsible for any crashes or traffic violations. However, automakers willing to sell vehicles with this sort of automation should provide “an effective driver monitoring system.” By that, Koopman means that the safeguard must “ensure (the) driver remains situationally aware and is capable of taking over when required for safety.”

Here we get one of the best aspects of the Carnegie Mellon professor’s proposition: a Supervised Automation functionality can only be considered as such if it is production-ready. That means it should be at least as safe as “a civilian driver without specialized training” without driving automation. In other words, the car should not break the law – performing rolling stops, for example – or present “reckless driving at an elevated rate.” If that was the case, the system should be considered defective.

Anything that is still in the beta stage or under development should be considered under the Vehicle Testing category. That means it could only be operated by a trained driver. The civil and criminal liable party is the company testing the autonomous system unless it is evident that the trained driver did something they shouldn’t.

When everything is adequately tested, a finished Autonomous Operation system can be offered to the public. It is “completely capable of operation with no human monitoring.” That means the car not only controls driving but also the safety of its passengers. It would only drive if its passengers were properly buckled up, for example, emitting alerts for that to happen.

Should anything go wrong – such as having a flat tire – the vehicle should also handle the situation by “alerting humans that it needs assistance” and “operating safely until that assistance is available.” That’s because passengers may not have a driver’s license or technical skills to do anything. There may be children or impaired adults in the vehicles.

In a vehicle with Autonomous Operation, responsibilities lie on the car or, more specifically, on the automaker. If the automobile crashes due to any defect, we’re not talking only about who will pay for the repairs. If anyone is hurt or dies, someone will be criminally responsible for that. In other words, executives may face some jail time.

Koopman’s proposition would help multiple governments deal better with autonomous-driving systems testing by shutting down legal loopholes that allow some software to qualify as Level 2 while aiming for Level 4 autonomy in SAE’s standards. It would also prevent ordinary customers from testing anything automakers should be in charge of validating. It will be interesting to see how the AV industry will debate this suggestion.

 
 
 
 
 

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