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Companies look to define safety guidelines for self-driving cars

Hands holding up a self-driving car
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A slew of companies are pushing to define safety metrics and validation methods in hopes of setting — and potentially cashing in on — an industry-wide standard for AVs.

The big picture: Current safety standards govern only the design of motor vehicles — the cars' technical specifications and validation methods to certify they perform as designed. But convincing the public and regulators that self-driving cars are safe will require an entirely different set of standards.

What's happening: The industry has already started work on ISO 21448 (safety of the intended functionality or "SOTIF"), which aims to ensure that even when all the systems in a self-driving vehicle are functioning properly and something unexpected happens, a crash is avoided.

  • But it won't go far enough to ensure an AV is safe when the driver is no longer responsible, experts say.

Various organizations aim to fill the gap with their own suggested AV standards or testing criteria, each hoping the industry will follow their lead. A flurry of announcements hit this week:

  • 11 companies, led by BMW, Intel and others, published a 157-page report, "Safety First for Automated Driving," which lays out 12 "guiding principles" for the development, testing and validation of safe automated passenger vehicles.
  • Intel rival Nvidia, meanwhile, announced in a blog post that it is leading a group of European auto suppliers on AV assessment methods.
  • Underwriters Labs is developing a standard for safety, UL4600, detailed in a new blog post by a technical contributor, Phil Koopman, co-founder of Edge Case Research.
  • They follow January's announcement from Foretellix, an Israeli startup that has raised $16 million by figuring out how to automate AV safety testing by crunching safety-related metrics from hundreds of millions of potential driving scenarios.

Be smart: Each of the groups has a vested interest in trying to promote their own technology or safety approach as the preferred industry standard.

  • Jack Weast, Intel's vice president of AV standards, tells Axios the collective expertise of all 11 companies is represented in his group's report, positioning it not as a proposed standard but "an excellent starting point" for discussion in the industry.
"There are those out there who believe safety should be proprietary — 'Just trust me.' It's a black box.... There are plenty of ways for us to differentiate, but when it comes to safety, it has to be transparent, open and discussed for all to understand."
— Jack Weast, Intel

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jack Weast's name.