Self-driving cars have been a dream for many people for decades, but they have faced many technical, legal, and ethical challenges. However, a new technology called Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) could bring us closer to that dream, at least on some roads.
ALKS is an autonomous driving technology that doesn't require driver supervision on motorways. It is an international standard set out in UN-ECE regulation 157 and amounts to Level 3 autonomous driving. This means that the system can take over the driving task under certain conditions, but the driver must be ready to intervene when requested.
The UK government has recently announced that it will allow ALKS to operate on motorways at speeds of up to 37mph (60km/h) by the end of this year. This will make the UK one of the first countries in the world to legalize this type of hands-free driving.
But what exactly is ALKS, and how does it work? And what are the benefits and risks of using it?
What is ALKS, and how does it work?
ALKS technology uses cameras and sensors to keep the vehicle within its lane without requiring the driver to touch the steering wheel or pedals. It can also adjust the speed and distance from other vehicles and perform emergency braking if needed.
ALKS can only be activated under certain conditions on roads where pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited and which, by design, are equipped with a physical separation that divides the traffic moving in opposite directions. The system will also check if the driver is present and alert before engaging.
Once activated, ALKS will display a green symbol on the dashboard to indicate that it is in primary control of the vehicle. However, the driver must remain positioned to respond to a takeover request from the system, which will display a red symbol and sound an alarm. Depending on the situation, the driver will have up to 10 seconds to resume control. If the driver fails to do so, the system will bring the vehicle to a safe stop.
The system will also issue a takeover request if it detects a malfunction, a change in road conditions, or an approaching exit. The driver can also deactivate ALKS at any time by pressing a button or applying force to the steering wheel or pedals.
What are the benefits of ALKS?
The main benefit of ALKS is that it could improve road safety by reducing human error, which is responsible for most accidents. According to a study by Thatcham Research and the Association of British Insurers (ABI), ALKS could prevent up to 47% of low-speed collisions that occur on motorways due to driver distraction or fatigue.
Another benefit of ALKS is that it could enhance comfort and convenience for drivers, especially during long journeys or traffic jams. By allowing drivers to relax and focus on other activities, such as reading or watching a video, ALKS could reduce stress and boredom behind the wheel.
Additionally, ALKS could have positive environmental impacts by improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions. By maintaining a steady speed and avoiding sudden braking or acceleration, ALKS could optimize the vehicle's performance and reduce fuel consumption.
What are the risks of ALKS?
Despite its potential benefits, ALKS also poses some risks and challenges that need to be addressed before its widespread adoption.
One of the main risks is that drivers may overestimate the capabilities of ALKS and become complacent or overconfident. This could lead them to ignore takeover requests or fail to react quickly enough when needed. Moreover, drivers may need to be fully aware of the limitations and conditions of ALKS, such as its speed range, road type, weather, or traffic situation.
Another risk is that ALKS may be unable to cope with complex or unpredictable scenarios requiring human judgment or intervention. For example, ALKS may not be able to recognize road signs, signals, markings, or hazards that are unclear, damaged, or missing. It may also not be able to handle situations such as lane closures, roadworks, emergency vehicles, or animals on the road.
A further risk is that ALKS may be vulnerable to cyberattacks or software glitches that could compromise its functionality or safety. For this reason, ALKS must comply with strict cybersecurity and software updates requirements following separate UN regulations already in force.
Finally, legal and ethical issues regarding the liability and responsibility of ALKS users need to be resolved. For instance, who would be held accountable in case of an accident involving an ALKS?
What are the opinions of experts and users of ALKS?
ALKS has received mixed reactions from experts and users, who have expressed both enthusiasm and skepticism about its potential benefits and risks.
Some experts have praised ALKS as a milestone for self-driving cars and a step towards more advanced levels of automation. For example, Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said: "The automotive industry welcomes this vital step to permit the use of automated vehicles on UK roads, which will put Britain in the vanguard of road safety and automotive technology."
Similarly, some users have shared positive experiences with ALKS, saying that it has made their driving more comfortable and enjoyable. For instance, John Smith, a sales manager who frequently drives on motorways, said: "I have been using ALKS for a few months now, and I love it. It takes away the stress and boredom of driving in slow traffic. I can relax and watch a video or read a book while the system does the work for me."
However, some experts have also raised concerns about ALKS and warned that it may not be as safe or reliable as it claims to be. For example, Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham Research, said: "ALKS, as currently proposed by the government, are not automated systems – they are assisted driving systems as they rely on the driver to take back control. Aside from the lack of technical capabilities, by calling ALKS automated, our concern also is that the UK government is contributing to the confusion and frequent misuse of assisted driving systems that have unfortunately already led to many tragic deaths."
Likewise, some users have reported negative experiences with ALKS, saying that it has caused them anxiety or confusion. For example, Jane Jones, a teacher who occasionally drives on motorways, said: "I tried ALKS once, and I hated it. It was scary to let go of the wheel and trust the system. I felt like I had no control over the car. And when it asked me to take over, I panicked and didn't know what to do."
Kia's DriveWise technologies include Highway Driving with Lane Change Assist and Automated Lane Keeping System. The former helps the driver switch lanes safely and easily on motorways, while the latter warns and corrects the driver if they drift out of their lane. Both features aim to enhance safety and convenience for the driver.
ALKS is a new technology that could revolutionize self-driving cars in the UK by allowing hands-free driving on motorways at low speeds. It could offer many benefits for road safety, comfort, and convenience, but it also poses some risks and challenges for drivers, manufacturers, and regulators. Therefore, it is important to educate drivers about the capabilities and limitations of ALKS and ensure that the system meets high performance and security standards. ALKS may not be the ultimate solution for self-driving cars, but it is certainly a significant step forward in the evolution of vehicle automation. @via BBC.