Navigating Regulations as the Autonomous Market Accelerates Regulatory Change

Unleashing the full potential of autonomous transportation will require comprehensive and actionable legislation and regulatory initiatives as regulators around the world aim to assist vehicle manufacturers design, implement and improve systems to protect lives and assure driverless vehicles can be trusted. These legislative and regulatory actions should be based on performance measures that will safeguard the traveling public but also not impede innovation that is occurring in the autonomous vehicle sector.

An intelligent approach for leveraging the IoT and Industrial IoT solutions, including discussions on the reservation of spectrum (in the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission’s 5.9 GHz band) for dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which facilitates both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure, will help convert innovations into real world systems.

Innovation doesn’t stand still, however.  Delays in establishing a foothold on the use of the spectrum has proven to be a perfect example of why it is important for companies and government agencies to work together and tap expertise when trying to navigate the exciting but complicated and risky waters of connected and autonomous transportation.

Given regulatory actions of the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) and guidance provided by the Joint Program Office within the U.S. Department of Transportation, some automakers and localities have equipped vehicles and public highways’ and streets’ infrastructure with DSRC-based technologies. Delays in establishing a nationwide foothold on vehicle-to-vehicle safety initiatives by the federal government has caused (1) the spectrum band that Congress established for safety to be considered “not necessary” and the FCC considering auctioning the available band spectrum to the telecommunications industry or the highest bidder, and (2) enabling technological innovation to gain additional ground on the research and approach the government initiated with DSRC.  Today, however, there are several alternatives to DSRC, the most noteworthy being cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communication that offers vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-pedestrian communications and is positioned to thrive as more 5G cellular networks come online.

Here’s the bottom line:

The near-20-times faster speed of 5G will ultimately allow vehicle-to-vehicle and autonomous vehicles to be able to process and react to data in nanoseconds. All four major U.S. wireless carriers plan to introduce nationwide 5G coverage in the next few years, but even that is fraught with complications. 5G-network deployments are largely dependent on the willingness of local lawmakers to cooperate with the federal government in adopting policies that encourage investment and facilitate deployment by service providers.

In addition to widespread 5G connectivity, opening up 5.9 GHz spectrum to uses other than DSRC could fast-track C-V2X development, and as of today, the FCC is currently considering amending its rules based on this. The agency, along with the Departments of Commerce and Transportation are swiftly moving along a three-phase research study to evaluate options for making the 5.9GHz band accessible to new uses.

This is not strictly academic. Real business decisions must be calculated based on how all this change to regulations and repurposing of spectrum ensures solutions are not too early to market (given how slow policy can take to be enacted into law) or don’t fit in with the ultimate environment.

Experts across industries differ on whether the FCC’s rules for 5.9 GHz spectrum should support the growth of legacy DSRC (a thirty-year-old technology) or embrace the younger C-2VX technology.

While DSRC only operates in the short range and requires the deployment of roadside units, it is available immediately and, many argue, could contribute to saving lives in the very near term.

The scalability and efficiency of C-V2X, however, has a strong base of industry support from a coalition of automakers, device manufacturers and telecom operators that goes by the name “5GAA”. So confident the industry giants are in moving forward with C-V2X, a few years ago they began running trials using C-V2X technology.

In 2017 AT&T, Ford, Nokia and Qualcomm completed the first trial of C-V2X in the U.S. at the San Diego Regional Proving Ground.  In 2018, Panasonic, Ford and Qualcomm announced a joint agreement to test C-V2X in Colorado along the I-70 corridor.

The FCC, and the Departments of Transportation and Commerce, are not standing still. They are supporting tests to determine the technical characteristics of prototype unlicensed devices and how they may cause harmful interference to DSRC. Phase II tests will determine whether the techniques to avoid interference that were evaluated in Phase I’s lab tests are effective in the field.

After these steps are completed, they support testing in “real-world” scenarios, with many vehicles, more test devices and in different conditions.

A huge part of the future acceptance of these new autonomous transportation technologies depends on new liability laws that don’t rely on the assumption that a human driver is in control of the vehicle.  The deployment of driverless vehicles will systematically change the way liability laws are applied, thus bringing in another level of complexity. Who will be at fault in the future? The owner, the operator, the passenger, manufacturer, software developer, or network service provider?

Federal regulators have been slow – and cautious – as appropriate – to provide  guidance on the matter, with the Department of Transportation’s 2018 AV 3.0 Report stating that compliance with federal safety standards “does not automatically exempt any person from liability at common law, including tort liability for harm caused by negligent conduct.” Some believe these issues will fall to state governments to manage, along with court systems.

Technology and regulatory relationships are never easy, but they have never been more complex and difficult to navigate than they are today, especially in this domain.

Beyond the issues addressed above, there are more challenges ahead, including the massive amount of data that can be collected – real-time moment-by-moment driving statistics using an array of sensors and cameras, the personal and private information that can be correlated to human beings inside the autonomous vehicles.

Efficient mass adoption of autonomous vehicles will largely depend on new federal legislation, updated standards, state laws, and the courts.

New federal legislation is required because the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) focus on both crash worthiness and crash avoidance safety standards.  Vehicle manufacturers will need clarification by NHTSA to understand which regulations will be changed and how the changes will affect the design of the vehicle, as well as, the software reliability, cyber security of the entire vehicle and privacy issues.  Most vehicles are designed four years prior to sale, which results in the industry changing their designs slowly.  If, however, NHTSA moves forward quickly with rulemaking, it could change the industry for years to come.

Both NHTSA, which regulates the safety of vehicle manufacturing, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates the operation of commercial trucks, have opened inquiries into the current restrictions.

Said Elaine Chao, United States Secretary of Transportation recently, “We are on the cusp of a transformation in transportation technology that will change the way we move, live, work and connect with one and another. We as regulators have a role to regulate that development.”

At Rocket Wagon Venture Studios, we are rolling up our sleeves to help innovators and inventors invest in and build new technology solutions in the mobility and automated transportation worlds in the context of new, upcoming and changing regulations – helping them navigate their way through important paths forward.

Please contact me (312) 766-4611 x108 or at .