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UN Unveils Rules for Autonomy, Software Updates, Cybersecurity

Standards aim to help regulators monitor tech developments

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The transport industry has its first international standards for managing cybersecurity, wireless software updates and Level 3 vehicle automation.

The United Nations adopted all three regulations, which are intended for vehicles equipped with autonomous-driving capabilities at Level 3 or above.

All three standards were developed through the UN’s World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29). The forum has some 60 signatory countries (but not China or the U.S.) that have agreed to adopt the regulations it develops.

What It Means

The standards don’t tell developers how to design software, write protocols or make hardware. Their focus is to help regulators at the national level track and manage the processes that do.

It’s a big step toward standardizing how regulators in different countries cope with the auto industry’s tsunami of high-tech features. Getting everyone on the same page about regulatory oversight presumably will reduce the chance of glitches, safety failures and recalls.

Automated Lanekeeping

This U.N. regulation applies to automated lane-keeping systems (ALKS), which enable a vehicle to pilot itself within a marked lane. Caveats dictate that such systems should be activated only:

  • at speeds of 60 kph (31 mph) or less
  • where pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited
  • when a physical barrier separates oncoming traffic
  • when there is a seatbelted occupant in the driver’s seat who is available to resume control
  • when the system has passed an automatic functionality check

The regulation also says local regulators must zero in on how ALKS tells the driver to resume control, what it does if the driver doesn’t respond and what actions the system takes if a collision is imminent.

Finally, the standard requires that ALKS-read vehicles come equipped with a “black box” data storage system that captures information about:

  • system activations and deactivations
  • transition demands and driver responses
  • emergency maneuvers
  • collisions
  • system failures

Cybersecurity

It’s obvious that cybersecurity is a big deal when cars begin swapping safety-related information or tap into connected services.

WP.29’s cybersecurity rules set a long list of performance requirements for regulators to track, grouped into four categories:

  • identify risks and manage them
  • building cybersecurity into vehicles throughout the value chain
  • detecting and responding to security incidents
  • ensuring that software updates (including those conducted wirelessly) are safe

The UN regulation leaves it to regulators at the national level to set up their own technical and approval authorities to certify compliance. Japan plans to adopt this standard in January. The European Union says it will phase in the rules between July 2022 and July 2024.

Software Updates

WP.29’s software regulation aims to help carmakers and suppliers ensure that updates match up with the vehicle or component they’re supposed to improve—and don’t introduce new problems when they’re installed.

The rule offers a blueprint of checkpoints necessary to avoid software glitches and unintended safety issues.

The regulation’s approach is to assign each bit of software with its own identification number, then keep track of it all with a software update management system.

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