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Advancing autonomy in transport – why more shared knowledge across the sector is needed

'Advancing Autonomy in Transport’, discusses the potential benefits of the transport modes working closely on matters relating to autonomy, such as improved safety, better network efficiency/capacity through enhanced integration and reduced variability in performance.

It explores the various challenges that can be tackled via cross-sector collaboration, such as deciding where responsibility for safety lies as levels of autonomy increase, operating mixed fleets of manned and unmanned vehicles and ensuring legislation keeps up with the rapidly evolving technology.

It also identifies the opportunities that inter-modal working can present in areas such as ethics and skills, and what the next steps could be, including key recommendations for government.

Background

The report is an output from the IET’s Cross-Modal Autonomy Working Group, which is made up of experts in autonomy from across the transport modes. The group has developed a programme of work leading up to this publication. This included a workshop that brought together professionals from academia, government and industry – equally divided between road, rail, air and maritime – to discuss the potential advantages of the transport sectors working closely on matters relating to autonomy.

The workshop participants also took part in a series of sessions that explored four imagined problem scenarios involving autonomous systems – again, split across the transport modes. These scenarios were designed to stimulate conversation and captured the potential issues that could arise if the transport sectors do not learn from each other. They have been included in this report along with with a real-world example, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 incidents, which have raised awareness of some of the issues that could potentially arise with increasing levels of automation in the control of vehicles.

Cross-modal learning in autonomy has been an ongoing topic for the Institution in recent years. In 2016, the IET released the precursor to this report 'Automated Vehicles Cross-modal learning in autonomy' which tackled the issue on a more sector-by-sector basis.