Who's behind the wheel of autonomous vehicle development?

February 27, 2017

Who's behind the wheel of autonomous vehicle development?

A look at the future vehicle through the eyes of SAE International This article is the second of a series of six articles that provide a practical loo...


A look at the future vehicle through the eyes of SAE International

This article is the second of a series of six articles that provide a practical look into the feasibility of connected vehicles and autonomous driving. Read the first article at embedded-computing.com/articles/autonomous-drive-by-2020-over-promised-under-delivered.

The car of the future, one that features advanced self-driving technologies and the capability to “communicate” with its surroundings is eventually coming to a driveway near you. While we may be physically taking our hands off the wheel, who is ensuring its safe for us to do so?

In the last year, we’ve seen a shift in how automakers innovate – switching from iterative designs to rapid development cycles in an effort to bring autonomous vehicles to market sooner, with many predicting its occurrence by 2020 (although there is an ongoing debate about those dates within SAE committees). We’re seeing original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) partner up with traditional and non-traditional tech suppliers to recreate the automotive industry’s innovation model. As automakers race to get ahead and be first to market, important questions of safety and reliability appear to be overlooked.

OEMs and suppliers must accept that industry-wide standards need to be set for universal quality, safety, and interoperability. The answer of how to successfully develop these standards, leading to a strong autonomous vehicle launch, lies with industry collaboration led by an unbiased leader.

This simple idea is more complex than it appears. Since autonomous technology challenges the fundamentals of our existing mobility infrastructure and reaches outside the traditional network of suppliers and automakers, many industries, companies, and organizations must come together. And soon.

A fork in the road

According to SAE’s Director of Global Ground Vehicle Standards, Jack Pokrzywa, automotive standardization is a globally fragmented practice. “Historically, each region of the world has made its own standards. Long ago the U.S. was the global thought leader for technology and standardization. After World War II and the expansion of automobile production, there was a shift toward regionalizing standards to accommodate unique geographic or economic situations.”

“As time went on, Europe looked to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for road vehicle guidance, further diminishing the role of the U.S. in automobile standards development,” Pokrzywa continues. “Eventually newcomers from the Korean and Japanese markets adopted ISO standards, while the United States followed its own path.”

In five decades, this arrangement for innovation has gone untouched, if not become more fragmented as traditions and precedents have been established. Today there are several dozen global stakeholders, ranging from government agencies to trade organizations, creating standards and regulations for the automotive industry to abide by.

The automotive industry now finds itself at a crossroads. In addition to scattered collaboration, both automotive manufacturers and technology companies are on the verge of rolling out new autonomous driving capabilities in vehicles. The result of this confluence of players, both new and old, is that automakers are partnering with, and in some cases acquiring, technology developers unfamiliar with the automotive industry. More than ever the industry is lacking clarity in terms of goals for autonomous, connected vehicle capability, reliability, and, most importantly, safety of vehicle occupants and pedestrians.

Without a change in course toward industry-wide standardization, the feasibility of future mobility technologies could be at risk due to the development of competing technologies. Some of the biggest pitfalls of automakers independently developing core autonomous technologies include:

  • Wasting budgets on research and development to create different technologies that achieve the same goal.
  • Incompatible vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications, requiring multiple networks.
  • Substandard security and safety, resulting in vehicles prone to crashes and hacking.
  • Regional mandates and regulations, forcing variations of technology across the globe.
  • Divergent data collection and privacy protection policies, resulting in consumer information at risk of being exposed.

Collaboration in standardization saves time, expense, reduces regional regulatory complexities, and increases safety. This will allow automakers to develop autonomous technology more quickly, to develop it for less, and roll it out globally with decreased difficulty. It also ensures each stakeholder can incorporate best practices for maximizing individual safety and security. By the time this technology goes mainstream, the majority of the engineering and societal discrepancies will already be addressed through careful consideration by a common standards-setting body.

Driving collaboration

To bring together these unprecedented levels of collaboration, one standards development organization is bridging the gaps created over time. Before autonomous vehicles became the latest industry buzzword, SAE International was proving itself as a leader for autonomous and connected car standards creation and dissemination, gaining success through an unconventional method – working with competing standards development organizations, commonly known as SDOs.

“There have been instances where SAE has overwritten competing standards and instances where our standards have been overwritten by other SDOs,” says Pokrzywa. “However, we’re moving toward a ‘melting pot’ structure for collaboration where organizations are co-developing standards by contributing best practices from their area of expertise. SAE’s mission is to provide harmony in these efforts.”

There are several ways organizations can collaborate:

  • Developing separate standards that complement one another.
  • Sharing resources and expertise to jointly create a standard.
  • Establishing standards for other organizations to adopt and endorse.
  • Co-creating standards spanning multiple industries.

SAE is currently engaged in activities highlighting each of these methods of engagement. This allows startups, established suppliers, automakers, and other organizations with vested interests in autonomous technologies a “seat at the table.” They can join committees at an SDO, such as SAE International, and these committees interlink with their counterparts at other SDOs to develop industry best practices. The eventual, and often rapid, outcome is the development of a proposed standard that the industry can use to guide its innovation. SAE has had a number of successes with this model of collaboration as autonomous technology development has ramped up.

As an example, instead of solely taking on the task of standardizing Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), the V2X language for connected cars, SAE has partnered with IEEE to develop two complementary standards focused on each SDO’s areas of expertise. SAE covered the creation of a consistent message set dictionary with J2735, while IEEE 1609 handled the communication network architecture. Together, the standards provide a system that offers interoperability and increased safety to the user.

SAE is also collaborating with the ISO to bridge the standardization gap between the western and eastern hemispheres that was created long ago. As SAE has built up its credibility in developing advanced technology standards, its knowledge is complementary to ISO’s broad industry reach. Together, the organizations are creating frameworks for automakers and government agencies to reference as autonomous technologies come to market.

After working closely with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to determine the best way to categorize autonomous vehicle technologies, the government agency recently adopted SAE’s J3016 Levels of Automation to define technologies based on their reliance on human intervention. This achievement will allow for automakers to better define and clarify the capabilities of its on-road technologies.

The road ahead

No matter the collaboration method, the benefits are the same. Standards are developed faster and are more comprehensive, enabling greater vehicle safety and faster innovation. By combining the efforts of standards development organizations, everybody, including government policymakers and the automakers, get a greater say in the final result.

As an example, SAE’s ground vehicle standards activities have more than 500 committees consisting of more than 8,900 members employed by 2,900 companies. When a standard is developed at SAE, it represents the best engineering, testing, or validation practices of the companies for which the committee members are employed. The same goes for any other SDO and its experts.

If automakers wish to successfully introduce autonomous and connected vehicles that are ultimately safe and reliable for their occupants and bystanders, they must continue to push for greater collaboration. By participating in a collaborative environment, all voices are heard and represented in the final policies that govern the autonomous and connected vehicles of the future.

Shawn Andreassi is Manager of Corporate Communications at SAE International.

SAE International, a global association of more than 128,000 engineers and related technical experts, has published more than 1,600 technical standards and recommended practices for passenger cars. The organization, founded in 1905, leads the industry with advanced, unbiased knowledge to benefit society.

Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International