New project could hasten rollout of autonomous cars in UK

15th April 2024
Kristian McCann

A safety project for self-driving cars has been initiated by a team of scientists and experts led by the University of Surrey in efforts to develop framework for approving autonomous vehicles.

The project, known as the Methods for Assurance of Self-Driving Vehicles scheme or Massdrive, aims to develop robust methods for approving and certifying self-driving cars as they become available. It has been spearheaded by scientists and experts under the leadership of the University of Surrey.

Professor Saber Fallah, co-investigator of the project, stated: "We aim to forge strong connections between car manufacturers, regulatory bodies, academics, government groups, and local communities." In November of the previous year, the government announced plans for new legislation to introduce automated driving on UK roads.

Currently, despite some piece meal approaches taken to autonomous vehicles being driven on public roads, self-driving cars have seen a slow rollout in the UK. In the US, Tesla, a leader in bringing autonomous vehicles to mass market, has seen success and autonomous taxi firm Cruise was granted licences to operate in San Francisco. Yet, both have witnessed several incidents that have turned public and regulatory approval against them. Elon Musk’s EV company is currently broiled in multiple lawsuits over claims its Autopilot is responsible for various crashes, and Cruise had its licence to operate revoked following an accident.

Under current proposed UK legislation, The Automated Vehicles Bill will usher in fines for companies whose self-driving cars are found to be at fault in the event of an accident. So While the vehicle is driving itself, a company rather than an individual will be responsible for the way it drives.

As a result, all self-driving vehicles under this initiative will be required to undergo rigorous safety testing, according to the government. Mr Fallah, who is also the director of the connected autonomous vehicles research lab at the university, mentioned that Massdrive would bring together scientists, regulators, and the public to start discussions on how to ensure the safety of self-driving cars.

"Our main goal is to ensure these vehicles are safe," he explained. "By holding regular discussions, workshops, and meetings, we're creating a space where everyone can share ideas and effective practices, with a particular focus on ensuring the AI in cars is trustworthy."

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has previously stated he believes self-driving cars could be on British roads as early as 2026.

Massdrive represents a collaboration among the University of Surrey, the University of the West of England, and the University of Bristol. It has received funding from Innovate UK.

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