Much work still needed for era of driverless vehicles

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/26 22:13:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

China has made good process in its push for self-driving vehicles, with considerable policy efforts put in place among various other tangible measures to fast-track driverless vehicles in the world's second-largest economy.

Still, whether a genuine driverless future can become reality will depend on whether the country can put self-driving vehicles on the roads in a manner that won't cause other problems, given that autonomous and manual vehicles still have to share the same road space.

The Chinese government has drawn up a road map for self-driving technology development, which lays out the blueprint for commercial vehicles and private passenger vehicles to become autonomous by 2025. The road map envisions that China will be able to achieve level three of autonomous driving, namely conditional automation, as well as equipping cars with some parts of the Internet of Cars' decision-making and controlling functionalities by 2022. And by 2025, vehicles with level four and five of self-driving, referring to high automation and automation in all conditions, respectively, will hit Chinese roads.

Another of the government's policy efforts was the announcement of a white paper for the Internet of Cars that envisions a communications system for self-driving, regulations for testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads, the compilation of a national-level development plan for smart vehicles, and the formulation of guidelines for self-driving development.

In addition, the government has come up with a work plan for the standardization of self-driving, which clearly sets out the goals and schedules between 2017 and 2020 for the creation of a system of standards for self-driving vehicles.

As for research and development of key technologies, it's not only government departments that have produced R&D plans; the country's automakers, Internet firms and telecommunications firms have also been actively involved in pushing for smart vehicle development.

Furthermore, the country has carried out intensive self-driving tests in simulated environments and closed-off areas as well as on normal roads. Self-driving testing and demonstration bases have been built in many places across the country such as Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Chongqing.

On top of that, the country is already home to the world's most developed road network as measured based on the intelligence of transport infrastructure. As of the end of last year, the country's road network stretched across 4.6 million kilometers and its network of highways totaled over 130,000 kilometers. Along with the impressive expansion of transport infrastructure has come improved intelligence of the software and solutions underpinning the roads and highways, notably the increasing deployment of a network of electronic toll collection systems.

While all these advances show the great headway that has been made in laying the ground for driverless vehicles, the coexistence of manual vehicles and cars that are capable of driving themselves in certain or all conditions still means substantial risks and challenges need to be addressed.

It is expected that the government's future efforts will focus primarily on the following aspects to make the driverless future worry-free.

First, the government will step up efforts to formulate relevant laws and regulations. Rules need to be put in place regarding the issuance of license plates for self-driving cars, the determination of liability in cases of traffic accidents, and the settlement of insurance claims. Efforts are also needed to establish regulations for self-driving tests on the public roads, and to revise existing laws such as the Road Traffic Safety Law.

Second, ramped-up actions are required to create a system of standards for self-driving technology and vehicles. This means the country will have to encourage the pilot implementation of standards for self-driving and also actively take part in forging international standards.

Third, priority should be given to developing self-driving commercial vehicles and driverless buses.

Fourth, the government should push forward with demonstration applications of smart road construction that are being piloted in eight provinces and cities including Beijing, Hebei and Jilin provinces.

Fifth, the country should make accelerated efforts to build national-level driverless testing centers and select public roads that are considered ideal for self-driving tests.

Having said all this, it's evident that self-driving is a complicated project that presents challenges not just technically but also in terms of laws, regulations, and the security and intelligence of transport infrastructure. These challenges will require the country to take full advantage of economic globalization and will require joint efforts from enterprises and research institutions from across the world.

It is believed that as long as we join hands to face up to the challenges and push for technological innovation, the development of self-driving and green transport will surely turn out to be a great boon for us all.

The article was compiled based on a speech by Zhou Wei, chief engineer with the Ministry of Transport, at the Volvo Group Innovation Summit in Beijing earlier in November.

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