Current AV technology performs well in many situations, says Andrew Morris, professor of human factors in transport safety at Loughborough University, but “the way they can interact with human drivers is a little bit worrying”. AVs have had difficulty recognising humans, resulting in fatal accidents.
Furthermore, even when they observe legal road rules perfectly, AVs are still prone to accidents with human-driven cars. Indeed, this fidelity to rules is often the problem.
“If a traffic light changes from green to amber, humans will go straight through the intersection,” said Morris. “But an AV will very rigidly slow down [risking an accident]. There are so many implicit road codes we use as human drivers that AVs won’t understand.”
Physical infrastructure is a key part of the Michigan project but digital infrastructure, such as 5G data networks and the development of so-called smart cities, is also a focus of the infrastructure turn.
This year, one of the world’s first smart city hubs will be created. Future Mobility Campus Ireland (FMCI) will collaborate with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and a host of other global technology companies to develop the facility. Located in Shannon Free Zone, near Limerick, Ireland, the project will transform a business park into a smart city.
Equipped with sensors, location systems, ‘smart’ junctions and connected roads, the eight-mile hub will use a fleet of autonomous Jaguar I-Pace EVs to research how selfdriving cars can share streets with cars, walkers and cyclists. FMCI CEO Russell Vickers said it will focus on “the connectivity infrastructure more than anything,” especially 5G networks.
Why 5G? Because it’s up to 100 times faster than 4G, with zero latency (the time it takes for a device to make a request to a server and get a response). Vickers said: “When you’re streaming a video on your phone in 4G or 5G, it’s imperceptible to most people if your Netflix video starts half a second earlier.” But with AVs, the margins are fine: that half-second delay in information could cause an accident.
The 5G connectivity being trialled at JLR’s Ireland hub will also connect vehicles to smart traffic lights and junctions to improve traffic flow and allow AVs to alert each other to changes in road conditions.