On March 29, 2017 Windsor Law’s LTEC Lab hosted a roundtable discussion on autonomous vehicles (AVs). One of the goals of LTEC Lab is to provide a platform for discussion between scholars and experts of various disciplines in regards to the nature and impact of emerging technologies. The panelists at the roundtable, chaired by Dr. Pascale Chapdelaine, comprised Karima Bawa (LTEC Lab Scholar in Residence and Senior Fellow CIGI), Jennifer Dukarski (Shareholder at Butzel Long with expertise in disruptive innovation), Joe Goncalves (Director, Business Attraction Windsor-Essex EDC), Dr. Laverne Jacobs (Associate Professor at Windsor Law), and Dr. Kemal Tepe (Acting Head, University of Windsor, Electrical & Computer Engineering Department). Dr. Chapdelaine launched the discussion by highlighting that AVs were a topic of choice for the Windsor-Essex-Detroit region, which has been shaped by the automotive industry for over a century, and where significant research and investment in AVs are being made. Further, Dr. Chapdelaine queried the panel on the disruptive effects of AVs: will they necessitate major changes in law, or are existing concepts of law well equipped to adequately regulate AVs? The discussion centered around how AVs are reshaping the automotive industry, AVs regulatory frameworks, and how AVs will improve mobility for people with disabilities.
What are AVs?
Dr. Kemal Tepe started by defining AVs as vehicles that are capable of driving themselves and thereby going from point A to point B without any user input. This is also what makes this technology so exciting, the promise of a world in which human error is no longer a factor in driving, thus effectively eliminating the occurrence of car accidents. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) created a classification system that distinguished AVs by the different systems used by the vehicle for achieving autonomy. AV systems are given a level from 0 to 5 describing their level of autonomy, with level 0 requiring the user to be in full control of the vehicle and level 5 being full autonomy and requiring no input by the user. The first AV concept was created back in 2004 by several academic researchers from different universities throughout the U.S. and since then Google and Original Electronic Manufacturers (OEMs) have become involved in moving the development of fully autonomous vehicles forward.
How are AVs impacting the automotive industry?
Dr. Kemal Tepe explained how the inherent nature of such a revolutionary technology presents a unique opportunity for companies to capitalize on AV technology. Uber has begun incorporating AVs into their rideshare services, with a pilot program that started in Arizona this year. The potential for AVs in transportation companies has also encouraged a shift in the automotive industry, with automotive OEMs, such as Ford and General Motors (GM), shifting their company’s vision from being traditional automotive companies to becoming mobility companies. This trend has been exemplified by GM’s recent investments into Lyft, a competitor of Uber in the rideshare domain.
Joe Goncalves discussed some of the different areas of AV technology that are being focused on by the University of Windsor. Along with collaborators from France, Joe Goncalves and Dr. Kemel Tepe have been working on an exciting ongoing research project regarding autonomous virtual reality systems that may fundamentally impact how AVs are tested. Considerable research at the University of Windsor is also being conducted on the various protocols necessary to achieve the mass launching of AVs.
What are the legal regulatory hurdles in achieving full autonomy?
Karima Bawa and Jennifer Dukarski explained how regulation regarding AVs has been handled differently depending on the jurisdiction. Not many laws have been passed to date as this emerging technology is being developed. Currently 12 states in the US have passed legislation regulating AVs and two states have passed executive orders regarding AVs. Some of these regulations require disclosure of how the systems work, so companies will likely be unable to rely on trade secrets to protect their intellectual property (IP). Thus, these companies must adopt patent focused IP strategies to properly protect their IP.
Companies will likely also face a decision in regards to data privacy. The systems inherent to AVs collect GPS location data and many other types of data similar to cell phones. The danger that this data may be hacked and stolen will likely encourage companies to encrypt their AVs, although this will then subject these companies to data privacy laws. Different jurisdictions often have different laws regarding a manufacturer’s requirement to allow the government access to user data. These companies will face a difficult decision which may impact the operability of AVs when choosing whether to back consumer privacy or a government’s right to information.
Jennifer Dukarski discussed how in her view, cases involving AVs tort liability will be determined on the basis of product liability law. What will change is the level of complexity involved: the sophisticated nature of AV technology will require experts from multiple disciplines to determine the cause of the problem that led to bodily injury or damage to property. Expert evidence required to understand the mechanics, software, and hardware in AVs will likely be the major differentiating factor between vehicle-related tort cases today and AV tort cases in the future.
How will AVs help increase the mobility of persons with disabilities?
Dr. Laverne Jacob explained how people with disabilities currently face many issues in regards to accessibility and reliability of transportation. AVs present a unique opportunity for this community by providing a medium to transport a person with disabilities without the need for a third party. At this stage the discussions surrounding how AVs can help people with disabilities are still in their infancy. Generally, the disability legislation in Canada within the various provinces have encouraged discussions between industry and people with disabilities. The results of these discussions will determine when the framework is in place to allow AVs to be incorporated into services like paratransit.
Fully autonomous driving is still not something that will be commonplace for years to come. Level 4 and 5 AVs will likely not be ready before the next 5-10 years. While many challenges lie ahead for the development of AVs, the framework for the adoption of this technology is slowly coming into place to maximize the benefits and minimize dangers AVs may present.
A recording of the full discussion can be viewed here.
Aaraf Dewan, M.Sc., University of Windsor (1L Dual J.D.), LTEC Lab Student Writer