New industry statistics suggest that autonomous vehicles are becoming better at driving without human intervention. U.S. automakers and suppliers are rapidly charging ahead with their AV innovations, and we expect vehicles will feature a greater range of autonomous features and designs over the next few years.
Pooling resources to make autonomous vehicles safer
Fully autonomous vehicles requiring no human intervention — eradicating virtually all accidents and crashes — is the nirvana. But we're not there yet, and likely won't be until all vehicles are more uniformly autonomous. The AVs of today are not immune to accidents, and recent high-profile incidents involving on-road testing of AVs have resulted in growing consumer concern around the safety of these vehicles.
Our industry, therefore, must continue to address the full spectrum of safety considerations for AVs, including developing crash-test protocols tailored to unique AV designs. That's why several forward-thinking private-sector organizations including Humanetics, Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Zoox, Faurecia, Autoliv and others have created the Autonomous Vehicle Occupant Safety Consortium. This group, representing a unique combination of traditional automakers, startup AV companies and safety suppliers, has been proactively meeting for nearly a year.
Conventional testing protocols and the resulting seating restraints and other safety systems are designed to keep occupants safe under conventional seating conditions. The consortium's core objective is to establish safety validation methods for a new generation of cars that will have seating arrangements far different from the standard limited-recline, forward-facing seating with which we're accustomed.
While there are many possible seating configurations for future AVs, a few will likely emerge as the most common. These provide a logical starting point for developing crash testing safety standards. We will be identifying injury types and mechanisms in these new occupant seating configurations and defining the requirements that must be met by testing tools (for example, crash test dummy, simulation models) to evaluate them.
The mission of the consortium members is to develop recommendations to ensure AV safety, which will shore up consumer confidence in these vehicles and ultimately save lives. The group's work will be made public and we welcome new members and input from across the automotive ecosphere. The recommendations provided by this group will benefit all industry stakeholders.
Frequently envisioned AV seating plans entail two rows of bucket seats in the cabin with each independently able to rotate toward the windows, the adjacent seat or the seat behind.
Another widely agreed-upon scenario is reclining seats, as AVs will give occupants a greater opportunity to relax and take their attention off the road. Even very slight changes in seat angle can have a dramatic impact on the likelihood and severity of injury in the event of a crash. With these configurations, traditional crash scenarios will present new hazards for the occupants.
For example, a head-on collision for the vehicle would become a completely new type of side or rear impact for the occupants. This will require a new set of crash testing procedures and tools as well as safety restraints for assessing the effect on occupants for these new impacts, such as a sudden sideways head impact with the dashboard or head-on collision with other passengers.
The consortium's research and resulting recommendations will provide valuable guidelines to regulators, automakers and suppliers such as airbag and seat belt manufacturers as they rethink product designs.
The consortium is action-oriented — not simply outlining industry concerns, but also moving rapidly to conduct virtual crash simulations and physical crash tests based on the most likely AV seating configurations. We're also including research from independent third parties, comparing the consortium's findings with those provided by groups performing cadaver testing to refine our recommendations, as necessary.
Over the approaching months we will refine recommended testing protocols, with an eye toward releasing our first set of recommendations for comment and review by all stakeholders — including NHTSA, global safety programs known as NCAPs, other interested regulatory and advocacy groups, and the entire auto industry — through a public forum.
Concurrent with this activity, consortium members will be designing seats, safety restraints and testing devices based on the initial findings of the consortium's research.
Our work will result in increased public receptivity to AVs, which will in turn drive consumer demand. By making our findings public, we offer the automotive ecosystem the opportunity to capitalize on this exciting AV opportunity, ensuring safety testing keeps pace with product development, rather than being an after-the-fact consideration.
The consortium's goal is to develop safety testing protocols and high-level specifications for the AV revolution. Our shared mission, however, is to ensure you and your loved ones are protected while in an AV. First and foremost, it's about saving lives.