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New challenges with the arrival of self-driving cars

Coche autónomo, nuevos retos

18/01/2020

The arrival of self-driving cars poses enormous design challenges for manufacturers when it comes to their safety features. The specific characteristics of fully automated vehicles means that the concept of the passenger compartment will change radically, from a fixed layout (with all the seats facing forward) to a more flexible and versatile design.

All of a car's seats are currently fixed in place (except there are certain exceptions where the seats can rotate 180 degrees although not while in motion) and face forward. Child restraint systems for young children can be rear-facing, as we already know, but this is also in a fixed position.

In theory 100% autonomous cars could have a far more flexible passenger compartment layout. It would be laid out more like a living room than a passenger compartment. In these compartments of the future the seats could face in any direction and recline partially or even be even fully reclined. This is all in theory, of course, but these are the theories which serve as the basis for experts to explore passenger safety and especially the safety of children.

It is crucial to improve the current tools used to predict the safety of passengers by looking to guarantee the safety of all the vehicle's occupants regardless of their size, physical characteristics or age. 

Furthermore, in order to cover all possible cases, the modeling of finite elements of the human body will be the future of crash tests. The finite element modeling method is a general numerical method used to find solutions to highly complex partial differential equations used in multiple engineering and physics. With these techniques, regulatory entities will lend greater prominence to these simulations when creating safety standards. Up until now standards have been established by physical tests.

However, in order to make progress in the use of these models and simulations, it is crucial to define global standards in terms of validating and approving the model.

All of this should extend to all ages and «physical stature» because it will need to ensure the safety of all potential passengers. Existing open source models can be customized for children from one a half years old to six years old.

There are a series of security challenges for self-driving cars that have to be addressed and which we will summarizing in the following four points: 

1. Self-driving cars will continue to have incidents. According to John Bolte and the conclusions of the 2019 International Conference in Munich, as we advance towards vehicle automation, we will have a mixed fleet of human drivers and driverless vehicles sharing the same roads. And it is going to stay this way for a number of decades. Therefore, there will inevitably be accidents and passengers will need restraint systems in order to be protected. Paradoxically, the vast majority of incidents in self-driving cars will arise as a result of actions made in an attempt to avoid another incident.

2. Systems suitable for children for every type of journey are required. It is vital to design seats and user-focused safety restrictions, regardless of the passenger's age, sex or size.

3. Children are included within the concept of «diversity». When we use the word «diversity», we are usually referring to sex or perhaps even size differences, but the discussion rarely includes children. We need to raise awareness within the safety community of this discrimination and ensure that children are also included within the term «diversity». Children are not small adults and therefore need to be given their own special consideration.

4. Making safety a priority, even outside the vehicle. Crash protection and prevention systems continue to be absolutely vital for protecting all road users and safety requirements should continue to be a priority in industry and within government.

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