autonomous vehicle

As a leader whose company is invested in the future of autonomous vehicles, John Chen has a lot to say about the discussions surrounding safety and regulation in the industry. To highlight some of what has been on his mind, he recently wrote an op-ed for CNBC that digs deeper into what he believes should happen to make autonomous vehicles safer for everyone and it's not driver monitoring systems.

Autonomous vehicles, in particular self-driving cars, have been generating a great deal of buzz in the market over the past few years. The technology has many potential benefits for individuals, the environment and the economy.

Recently, however, as a consequence of tragic accidents caused by cars in self-driving mode, an irrational discussion is surfacing.

Some are calling for driverless cars to require driver monitoring systems. These systems would ensure that drivers of driverless cars – a contradiction in terms – are alert and have their eyes on the road at all times, even when a vehicle is in self-driving mode.

Driver monitoring systems may be necessary during self-driving vehicle testing and can benefit driver operated vehicles on the road today but, the requirement for production ready autonomous vehicles to be equipped with the systems is a different ask and one that I disagree with.

Reading that quickly or on its own, one might think Chen doesn't have safety in mind but that's far from the truth. Instead, Chen stresses the importance of better technology and standards that are needed, which can help lower the number of deaths and accidents that are attributable to human error.

Self-driving vehicles are poised to significantly reduce the number of road accidents and deaths by eliminating human drivers and therefore human error. This translates to positive GDP growth; if the number of road deaths in China were halved, for example, it is estimated that they would see a 15 percent increase in their GDP. ‎

Driver monitoring systems cannot be the safety solution for autonomous vehicles. If vehicles in self-driving mode are made to require driver intervention for accident prevention, it defeats the core purpose of the technology and puts the safety problem back on the table.

In regards to standards, Chen puts his words to work backing the AV START Act that was introduced by Senators John Thune and Gary Peters in September 2017, which calls on the Federal Government to develop standards for autonomous vehicles.

Governments across different countries have been asked by a number of industry players, including trade groups and consumer groups, to develop regulations that define what 'safe' and 'secure' means for a driverless vehicle. The AV START Act would be a good place to begin with the ultimate goal being to have a globally harmonized policy.

For those who have been following BlackBerry beyond their move from handsets, a lot of what Chen noted in his op-ed won't come as much of a surprise. John has been stating his case for improved technology and the need for standards for many months now, but as noted, recent fatal incidents have elevated the conversation to new and arguably levels.

Waymo just today had a van crash just today in Arizona. Perhaps now, more than ever, is the time to for those words to be heard. In any case, make sure you hop on over to CNBC to read the full article.