What autonomous driving can learn from trains and planes: Page 2 of 4

January 04, 2019 //By Zohar Fox, Aurora Labs
What autonomous driving can learn from trains and planes
As passengers in airplanes and trains, very few of us think that their safety depends on the smooth functioning of complex software-controlled systems. But most people are reluctant to leave the steering wheel in the car to a computer. The article examines what needs to be done to eliminate these fears.

Until that happens, even though self-driving cars will likely deliver safer roads, lower costs, increased mobility, and reduced pollution, there is a risk that the wider public will simply not get into them. A look at the aviation industry shows how it succeeded in winning public trust by focusing on three key areas:

Frequent Maintenance and Checkups

Doing a check-up on your car once a year may seem inconvenient, but planes are monitored non-stop. Instead of waiting for the planes to land, onboard sensors transmit real-time data during the flight, in addition to the check-ups they get every time they touch down. Planes also undergo more in-depth inspections, such as monthly functionality checks and less frequent probes. Constant monitoring and frequent maintenance have been key to building confidence in airline safety.

Clearly, autonomous cars would require these kinds of stringent standards. To ensure safety and public buy-in, the industry must think of maintenance as a continuous, real-time process, just as the airlines do. Cars should have robust diagnostic tools running at all times with the ability to identify any potential malfunctions. This is particularly crucial as cars transform into “software on wheels”.

System Redundancies

If your car engine fails, you can pull over to the side of the road. In airplanes it is not so simple. That is why every airborne system – from hydraulics to flight management software – comes with a backup. Aerospace manufacturers spend billions installing these redundant systems to ensure that even if key systems fail, catastrophe is averted. Multiple engines and navigation systems ensure safe travel, even if one engine or navigation system fails.

What can the automotive industry learn from this? From a mechanical perspective, the handbrake can stop a car in case the primary brakes fail. But with the increasing amount of software code in connected cars, it is crucial that a car’s software systems also have robust software backup options in case a coding error leads to an operational malfunction.

Government Oversight

Aviation authorities perform rigorous inspections and certifications to promote airline safety and features. Furthermore, air traffic control systems monitor the movements of planes and respond to any incidents that may arise in-flight. As the mobility ecosystem becomes increasingly interconnected, traffic control for the roads may become an integral part of the solution for promoting autonomous transportation and traffic safety.

While regulators should be careful not to throttle innovation, regulation is an essential element for the autonomous future. If the developers of self-driving cars want the public to buy-in, they will need to advocate for a strong regulation that guarantees safety and reliability standards and monitors compliance.

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