As an example, the Drive Pilot may only be activated during the day, on a dry or slightly wet road. It needs recognizable lane markings and a preceding vehicle. With so many tangible restrictions, what benefit does the system bring?
Niewöhner: I would not call them restrictions in this case. We’re talking about the so-called “Operational Design Domain” (ODD). The manufacturer uses it to define an operational area, within which the system works. We should by no means malign the system because of this. Many people have far too high expectations when they’re told that we can now drive automatically. The Drive Pilot practically represents the infancy of automated driving. These are the first steps; later, with increasing experience, other capabilities will be added. The technology must be given the time it needs. These experiences cannot be implanted in the technical systems overnight.
The World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP 29), which is responsible for the harmonization and further development of technical regulations in vehicle construction under the umbrella of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), is now taking the next step in Level 3. On June 22, it gave the green light for a new version of UN Regulation No. 157, which will take effect in January 2023. What does this mean for the automotive industry?
Niewöhner: In a sense, the new version breaks open the old regulation. In future, the highway speed will be increased from the current 60 to 130 kilometers per hour. It will then also be possible to change lanes independently. This will undoubtedly be a milestone in the development of highly automated driving at Level 3. For car manufacturers and their customers, this will make things really interesting. Just think of switching lanes: This means that a vehicle must now also keep a very close eye on the neighboring lane to which it means to change. What is happening in front, what is coming from behind? All this has to be put in relation to each other. The various working groups under WP 29 have put a lot of effort into this with the corresponding set of rules.
Speaking of working groups. You are not only an expert in driver assistance systems, but also a representative for international committees. Is DEKRA actually part of defining the rules for automated driving at UN level?
Niewöhner: Only in an indirect way. DEKRA is a member of the Comité International de l’Inspection Technique Automobile (CITA), an international association of vehicle inspection organizations. As a representative of CITA, I’m involved in several WP 29 working groups – including the Special Interest Group on Regulation 157, which deals exclusively with what the upgrade to 130 km/h with lane change must look like, and which will later also be applied to other vehicle classes.
Give us a glance behind the scenes. How is the work being done?
Niewöhner: The approach to automated driving is quite particular. With conventional technology, it’s often the case that a product first comes onto the market. Only then do the committees clarify what should actually be regulated and prescribed with regard to the newly introduced technology. With highly automated driving, it’s quite different. Here, rules are drawn up for technologies that do not yet have any practical experience.
So what would a highly developed ADS have to provide?
Niewöhner: It must communicate safely with the driver, comply with traffic rules, and master difficult traffic situations. That sounds simple at first. But these are huge challenges for software developers. They basically have to translate the texts of the various countries’ road traffic regulations into rules for a digital system. But how do you explain to a system that it should give way to a pedestrian at a crosswalk? There is currently no absolutely reliable way to predict a pedestrian’s behavior based on speed of movement and walking direction. The pedestrian is the only road user who can stop within one second and continue moving in any other direction in the next second. This makes it very difficult for developers.
And what does that mean specifically for the rewrite of UN Regulation No. 157?
Niewöhner: First of all, the new set of regulations for Automated Driving Systems only applies to passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. These systems may only be activated on roads where pedestrians and cyclists are not permitted. The roads themselves must be separated from oncoming traffic with a physical barrier. The driver must be able to override the system. The system, in turn, must be able to prompt the driver to take back control of the vehicle at any time. In fact, the regulations are incredibly complex and define very high safety requirements. Automakers must, for example, install a black box in their vehicles that documents every activation of the automated driving system and every automatic lane change. In addition to the technical requirements, measures for testing and type testing as well as monitoring and evaluation also play a role. New functions must also meet the cybersecurity and software update requirements defined in the relevant UN regulations.
Coming back to the imagery of infancy and first steps, how do you think the old and new rules of UN Regulation No. 157 relate to each other?
Niewöhner: With the old version the child is learning to walk, with the new one it can already run.