22 March 2019

Can we find common standards?

The 81st session of UNECE’s Inland Transport Commitee is underway in Geneva. Its stand out discussion point is self driving cars. To enable the adoption of self driving cars nations must work on a global scale to ensure international laws and regulations allow for the cross border flow of vehicles.

The aim is to drive from Helsinki to St Petersburg using the same technology and laws. Apart from vehicle occupants sanctity, it would ensure manufacturers achieve economy of scale avoiding limited production to meet local regulation requirements.

UNECE consider self driving vehicles will enhance safety, efficiency, the environment and alleviate congestion.

The current Committee meeting was attended by about 400 delegates (including 7 from the UK; 4 from the EU) representing 70 different countries; the adopted resolution is entitled Enhancing Cooperation, Harmonisation and Integration in the Era of Transport Automation- catchy eh? Despite the unwieldy title the key passage of the resolution is “Express our conviction that harmonization, supported by common specifications and transparency of the criteria for decision-making on automated/autonomous and connected vehicles, is the cornerstone of a trusted and interoperable transport system.”A worthy and pragmatic aspiration but international talks don’t always go to plan or politcal inertia exists at home. Brexit provides a guide how not to negotiate complex social, commercial and legal issues.

UNECE sentiments are admirable but players need to get real about implemetation. How do you ensure common standards of efficiency, safety and security when there is a lack of trust between entities.By example, Facebook is highly criticsed for allegedly avoiding its responsibilities. Whilst Huawei is seen by some countries as an untrustworthy brand concerning data and security in sensitive areas. Their chief financial, Meng Wanzhou, is under house arrest in Canada for suspected fraud and breaching US sanctions against Iran. Nissan/ Renault’s Carlos Ghosn wears a security tag in Japan pending trial for alledgedly fraudulent conduct. These examples do not bode well for a seamless relationship between nations and underlying tech providers.

The Russian Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr. Alexander Morozov, highlighted the potential of automated vehicles for coping with the ever-increasing demand of transportation and mobility, “but it has to be safe and secure, which can only be achieved when experts for road safety and experts for vehicle certification work together”.

Mr. Mathew Baldwin, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Transport and Mobility and EU Coordinator for Road Safety, highly welcomed UNECE’s initiative to provide an international regulatory framework for road traffic rules and vehicle regulations;whilst highlighting need for further cooperation to exploit the benefits of autonomous transport.

Well, it’s a start at least.

Meanwhile, a good illustration that laws govern what we drive is the EU’s proposals to cut 2021 CO2 emission levels by 37.5%; the consequence is the end of the city car according to VW’s sales and marketing director Jürgen Stackmann. According to Autocar he said “the life of small cars with conventional engines is hard. I don’t think the politicians have picked this up yet” The costs of meeting new statutory requirements would be prohibitively expensive on small cars bearing tight profit margins. A classic case of unintended consequences.

Finally, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has published its 2018 Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) filings charting which country has filed the most patents last year. Asia based applicants filed 50.5% of all PCT applications including increasing growth from China, India and the Republic of Korea. The US keeps top slot with 22.2% of all applications ahead of China with 21.1%. UK sits at seventh slot with 2.2% of the action. The transport sector increased by 11.3% and digital communications by 10.1% - no guesses as to this activity. Although the gaze is Eastwards, one European notable is Finland with increased registrations of 14.7%. Finland wants to be a significant player in the autonomous driving market. Time to dust down the Finnish phrase book- so until next time parhaat onnittelut*

* best wishes

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