To drive climate awareness, the automobile industry needs to innovate

Shefali Saxena Wednesday 24th May 2023 08:33 EDT

Professor Siddartha Khastgir is the Head of Verification & Validation for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) at WMG, University of Warwick. He leads several collaborative R&D projects with industrial and academic partners nationally and internationally. His research focuses on generating safety evidence and arguments, test scenario generation, simulation-based testing, and the safety of AI systems. Leveraging the cross-domain nature of safety, he is also involved in safety research in aviation, marine and healthcare. He has been appointed as a member of the Department for Transport’s Science Advisory Council.

In an exclusive interview with Asian Voice, Siddhartha spoke about the importance of self-driving cars and climate change.

Please tell us about your mission to create safe self-driving cars.
Globally over 1.5 million people die due to on-road accidents every year. To put things into perspective, according to WHO, approximately 7 million people have died due to Covid-19 in the past three years. This (the pandemic) brought the world to a standstill and preventing it became the focus of every country. But somehow, we have managed to normalise ourselves with 1.5 million deaths per year due to road accidents. This defies logic and as a society, we need to do more to make our roads safer.

How climate friendly are these cars?
Self-driving cars can be either electric or driven by a conventional internal combustion engine (ICE). However, most self-driving cars being trialled and tested currently in different parts of the world are primarily electric. But self-driving cars will have a much higher energy demand due to the high amounts of computation required for the real-time processing of the world. This would impact the battery capacity in electric versions or the efficiency in ICE versions.

How do you think the automobile industry needs to innovate in order to support climate change awareness?
To drive climate awareness, the automobile industry needs to innovate parallelly in three areas:
Technology: From a technology perspective, more efficient vehicles, greener vehicles and moving away from automobile solutions to creating mobility solutions.
People level: Making shared and active transport (car sharing, public transport, cycling, micro-mobility) seamless and time efficient. Innovation is needed to help society to get to a point where people don’t need to own vehicles but end up purchasing journeys.
Policy level: Creating policy and regulatory frameworks which enables and incentivises climate-friendly behaviour. This includes enabling infrastructure for shared and activity transport or more charging stations for electric vehicles.

Is there enough help or resources to innovate across the globe?
Globally, there is a huge intellectual capital working tirelessly to innovate on these aspects. It is important to appreciate that the solutions may vary for different countries and regions. For example, in the Netherlands, cycling is a norm; in London, the underground is the lifeline. Both solutions focus on moving people away from car journeys. When it comes to self-driving vehicles, while Silicon Valley is focussing on robo-taxi solutions (e.g., Waymo and Cruise), some of the UK-based start-ups are looking at logistics supply (e.g., Wayve) or public transport (CAVForth in Scotland).
However, one aspect in which the self-driving car ecosystem could improve is to further enhance our collaboration to realise a safer, greener and more inclusive transport. The safety of self-driving cars needs to be pre-competitive. No organisation or country should compete on the safety of this technology. Any unfortunate accident will have a detrimental effect on societal trust and acceptance of the technology. Therefore, the industry needs to pool its resources to come up with common approaches and tools to prove safety of the self-driving cars.
To enable this, at WMG, we have created the Safety PoolTM Scenario Database, which is the world’s largest public scenario database to enable sharing of test scenarios between organisations, with over 250,000 edge case scenarios.

Where do you think nations are going wrong in creating better and eco-friendly automobiles?
In a world where venture capitalists, investors and shareholders demand performance, returns and early deployment of self-driving cars, we need to ensure that we don’t end up competing on safety. Governments and regulators have a huge role here to check and prevent the introduction of unsafe technology, be it self-driving cars or electric vehicles.

Only by collaborating together, we can create a better future for ourselves and future generations

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