Wednesday, December 28, 2016

China to Set Single Standard for Autonomous Cars and Freight Trucks

Country Aims for System of Infrastructure and Vehicle Control
Shipping News Feature
CHINA – US – WORLDWIDE – There is more than a touch of irony in the news last week that China is to re-evaluate its standards on autonomous vehicles. Whilst countries such as America flounder around with the usual turf wars between federal and state regulation, last year China started a planned investigation to institute a five year plan for auto development following intensive discussions with all major vehicle producers in the country. The new regulations will apply to all ‘self-driving’ vehicles, including freight trucks, manufactured in the country.

In October the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology produced a 450 page report setting out preliminary details of a single plan for all road vehicles including autonomous ones, for the next fifteen years, in five year tranches, but the outline plans were described a ‘vague’ at the time. Now the Society of Automotive Engineers of China (SAE-China) says there will be a review in 2018 to decide on a common control system to be used by all manufacturers of autonomous vehicles, a national standard which all must comply with.

There will also be a single channel of communication between such vehicles and the country’s infrastructure and, subsequent to the 2018 report, further plans in 2020 and 2025 will define how both aspects of the standards evolve for all concerned. This foresight is intended to allow for rapid developments in technology, particularly concerning power sources and control systems which operate independent of drivers.

As any observer knows, pollution is a major problem in the Chinese cities and conflict arises with the threat to reduce subsidies for ‘greener’ vehicles whilst the country targets a minimum of 7% of all new vehicles being sold having electric or plug in hybrid power trains by 2020.

If indeed China introduces a unique system of interacting with autonomous cars and trucks via inbuilt infrastructure developments it will be interesting to see how foreign manufacturers take up the challenge. All the major producers have the country down as a sales target, particularly for the high end car market, meaning overseas marques will need to be able to adapt to the Chinese standards.

As for Chinese manufacturers there are currently several actively working toward producing models equipped for driverless control. Uisee Technology is rumoured to be going to demonstrate its relevant developments at the next Consumer Electronics Show whilst Great Wall Motors, the largest resident producer of SUV’s and pick-up trucks, has opened research facilities in California’s silicon valley and in Japan.

The plans to swamp the roads with automatically controlled cars and trucks is an ambitious one. Despite the desire to accommodate the market for driverless taxis etc. there is no clear way at present that this could work without at least a human presence in the cab, given the city streets are so crowded with cars, cyclists and pedestrians. Health and Safety is not however such a high priority in the East and it will be no surprise if the hundreds of millions of cars already on Chinese streets are gradually replaced with a fair sprinkling of autonomous vehicles in the coming two decades.