Ireland ‘not ready for self-driving cars’, forum hears

NUIG research team plans to extend initial laboratory tests to campus road network

Autonomous car: While 32 per cent of Irish motorists have features such as cruise control, automatic parking and collision avoidance systems, the Road Safety Authority said driving a totally autonomous car here would still be illegal.

Autonomous car: While 32 per cent of Irish motorists have features such as cruise control, automatic parking and collision avoidance systems, the Road Safety Authority said driving a totally autonomous car here would still be illegal.

 

Ireland is “not quite ready” for self-driving cars, a road safety conference in Dublin was told on Thursday.

Brian Farrell of the Road Safety Authority said the conference on the theme of self-driving cars was the first step in “starting a conversation” about what happens when they are introduced.

While 32 per cent of Irish motorists currently have features such as cruise control, automatic parking and collision avoidance systems, the Road Safety Authority said driving a totally autonomous car here would still be illegal. A spokesman said drivers on public roads are legally required to remain in control of a mechanically propelled vehicle.

An Insurance Ireland spokesman said the conversation over self-driving vehicles had “opened up a range of issues” as to who would be liable in the event that one crashed while autonomously driving.

Road safety

Road Safety Authority chief executive Moyagh Murdock said she was surprised that “there appears to be relatively low expectations as to the potential for self-driving vehicles to improve road safety”.

She said she believed they would start to appear “on our roads much sooner than people currently realise”.

Ms Murdock acknowledged that “some may say that we should be addressing issues such as potholes, road markings and signage before worrying about driverless cars”, but their arrival was inevitable.

She said the conference aimed to identify the necessary legislative changes, building capability on new roads and investing in technology infrastructure.

In March, software research group Lero announced a plan to develop new sensor technology for autonomous cars in the west of Ireland. The move is a collaboration with Valeo, the French car components and technology giant which employs a 1,100-strong research and development group, based in Tuam.

Lero, which is funded by the Science Foundation of Ireland and partly based at NUI Galway will need to fill an additional 10 PhD-level positions (it already has a 30-strong team) and two doctoral researchers.

Weather conditions

The objective is to teach self-driving car software how to deal with weather – such as a constant light drizzle – and roads that you won’t find in the American west.

Dr Edward Jones of the college of engineering and informatics at NUI Galway is one of the leaders of the Lero research group. He told The Irish Times the wet weather of the west coast is one of the reasons the new collaboration will be based in Galway.

“We will be starting with mostly lab work,” he said. “Then we’ll start using the internal roads of the NUI Galway campus for field testing. Of course, we’re going to be very responsible about this, and safety is uppermost in our minds. We’re not going to immediately start running driverless cars around the campus, but it is a very rich source of data for us – lots of road furniture, plenty of pedestrians – that we can use under a very controlled environment.”