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Automated Vehicles: Who’s driving?

Automated vehicles (AVs) will likely be one of the most disruptive technologies of our time but do we know enough about them? Research by UCL’s Transport Institute highlighted almost 400 unanswered questions on AVs’ social, economic and environmental impacts

Automated Vehicles: Who’s driving?

Self-driving cars or automated vehicles (AVs) promise to be one of the most disruptive technologies of the 21st century. They have the potential to deliver significant social benefits: fewer crashes on our roads; freedom to travel for those who currently find that difficult; and more efficient transport networks that are safer, smoother, and swifter. 

However, as pointed out by Dr Tom Cohen (Faculty of Engineering Science), the ‘technology is still young and the attitudes and possible responses of the wider public to that technology are not clearly understood’.

To address this, UCL researchers, funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), are asking what different groups think about the opportunities and uncertainties of automated vehicles.  

Their study for the DfT generated a set of nearly 400 questions relating to the wider social, economic and environmental impacts of such vehicles as well as the interaction between drivers, AVs and other road users. The researchers created a dozen possible future 'scenes' involving AVs – both good and bad - which were used to stimulate discussion with stakeholders. The study also identified future research and policy priorities.

While proponents imagine AVs as a solution to problems as varied as road safety, sustainability, traffic, and accessibility, the report highlighted enormous uncertainties. The team’s new project – Driverless Futures? – has been funded by the ESRC to help steer the technology towards the public interest.

Meet the minds behind this discovery at the It's All Academic Festival on 5 October.