Autonomous vehicles face major stumbling block

ONE of the biggest issues facing the development of fully autonomous vehicles comes from perhaps not the most obvious source — the quality of road markings.

“Clear visibility of road markings is required by autonomous vehicle sensors to work,” explained Harald Mosböck, executive committee member at the European Union Road Federation (ERF).

Mosböck was speaking at the 2018 Southern African Transport Conference (SATC) in Pretoria at which he presented “Horizontal Road Markings and Autonomous Driving — Back from the Future”.

“We have a lot of norms and standards on how lane markings in Europe should look like for the human eye, but nothing yet on how they should look like for vehicle sensors,” Mosböck added. Currently, only two vehicle sensors understand road markings: cameras and LIDAR systems. The latter is a detection system which works on the principle of radar, but uses light from a laser.

In order for fully autonomous (level 5) vehicles to work, road markings will need to be widened and maintained to a much higher standard than is currently the case.

Horizontal road markings are critical road components which, at present, cannot be replaced by any other means. Therefore, the requirements for and maintenance of high-quality road infrastructure — including horizontal road markings — is and shall remain of the utmost importance.

Furthermore, vehicle-to-vehicle communication is a big challenge facing autonomous vehicles. “There is a standardisation programme underway at the moment in Europe because in order for V2V to work, all vehicles will have to fully understand each other,” Mosböck said.

Not only will vehicles made in Germany, for example, have to “talk” to each other, they will also have to talk with Japanese, North American, Indian, Chinese, French and a range of other vehicles.

Vehicle-to-infrastructure communication is also required by autonomous vehicles, which will bring the state of readiness of current infrastructure into question.

However, Mosböck believes that the biggest obstacles facing the development of autonomous vehicles are not related to technology, but rather to the lack of harmonisation, the legislation that has to be formulated, and the unwillingness of the insurance industry to insure these vehicles.