In April, Chinese technology company Baidu announced its first-ever SAE Level 5 (L5) driverless permits in China for autonomous ride-hailing on public roads. Baidu specialises in artificial intelligence (AI), which has been developed to the next level with its autonomous vehicle (AV) innovations.
“This is a significant milestone. It’s not that the technology has advanced, but it’s more like a regulatory milestone. Until now Baidu’s robotaxis had to have a safety driver behind the wheel ,” a representative of Baidu tells Automotive World. “Now the Chinese Government thinks, ‘The technology is pretty good. I will award you an unprecedented traveller’s permit that allows you to carry passengers on the road without a safety driver behind it’.”
Baidu has the largest autonomous driving fleet in China, with over 500 AVs. In expanding its driverless vehicle services, Baidu has worked to meet the unique challenges of Beijing’s complex traffic environment. The company plans to deploy its driverless vehicles in about 65 cities by 2025 and to develop 30 other types of AVs at a later stage, expanding its fleet to provide more convenient driverless services to the public.
However, the development of full L5 autonomy raises functional safety concerns. Peter Els, an automotive and mobility analyst with Strategic Automotive Transformation Services (SATS), comments, “Despite the obvious potential in advancing the rollout of AVs, growth in this area has been hampered by a lack of international standards that define the minimum performance and safety requirements that must be met.”
Functional safety and beyond ISO 26262
As vehicles become less reliant on driver input and control, the role of ISO 26262 and related safety regulations is becoming increasingly important. While ISO 26262 sets the standard for functional safety by addressing electric/electronic (E/E) malfunctions, Els remarks that “operational safety is also linked to other factors such as the possible misuse of the automated function by the driver—as in L3 driver engagement, or the performance limitations of sensors or systems, or even due to unanticipated changes in the vehicle’s operating environment.”
He continues, “As higher levels of autonomous driving are rolled out, the demands on ISO 26262 meant to govern functional safety have been stretched beyond what was originally envisaged, requiring additional standards to meet the expanded requirements of functional safety to include Safety of the Intended Functionality (SOTIF).”
In 2018, SOTIF was submitted as a standalone draft, ISO 21448, which was developed to address the new safety challenges that autonomous (and semi-autonomous) vehicle software developers are facing. This is especially important as AI and machine learning play key roles in the development of autonomous vehicles. ISO 21448 complements ISO 26262’s functional safety role, which is particularly useful for the application of AVs.
“It’s for this reason that ISO 21448 concentrates on the unknown and unsafe operations, where the risks can only be reduced through testing, simulation and the use of statistical analysis,” says Els. Analysis includes residual risk of the intended function, unintended behaviour in known situations through verification and residual unknown situations that could cause unintended behaviour through validation of verification situations.
China’s 2025 goal
Baidu has announced aims to deploy its robotaxis in about 65 cities by 2025. A representative from Baidu adds, “We understand that to achieve L5 autonomy eventually, building a robotaxi itself is not enough.” With autonomous self-driving technology making up an important part of China’s ‘made in China 2025’, ISO 26262 has, as with many other regions, been enacted as a recommended national standard.
A Chinese translation of the first edition of ISO 26262 was published in October 2017 as GB/T 34590, before being enacted in May 2018. For China, the adoption of ISO 26262 and other internationally recognised standards will play an increasingly important role as Chinese manufacturers seek to export AVs and systems to the rest of the world.
Global automated driving
The top five companies that filed for AV patents in 2021 include Toyota, Honda, Baidu, Hyundai, and Waymo, ranging from 344 to 128 patents, signalling autonomous driving is set to enter the roads worldwide. As part of an ISO technical committee, an international group of researchers led by Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) recently published the first international safety standard, ISO 22737, for L4 automated driving systems.
Low-speed automated driving (LSAD) systems such as those used in autonomous pods and Waymo’s robotaxis are classified as L4 automated driving systems. These vehicles often operate in low-speed geo-fenced environments, often utilised in commercial, business or university campuses.
Els further defines the new standard ISO 22737 as setting out the specific minimum safety and performance requirements for LSAD systems, offering a common language to help facilitate the development and safe deployment of this technology worldwide. Input was provided by representatives from Japan, the US, Canada, Australia, South Korea, China, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, and the UK.
As the world prepares to incorporate AV, Els comments on the outlook of ISO26262, “To focus on specific areas of AV operations, the development of ISO 26262 as a central standard will continue, with other regulations, such as ISO 22737 and 21448 developed to address other areas of automated and autonomous operation.”