(Smart) Autonomous Cars: No Longer Asimov's Science Fiction

Author:Mr Giangiacomo Olivi

What are autonomous cars?

As clarified by the resolution of the EU Parliament dated February 16, 2017 (the Resolution), which sets out recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics (2015/2103(INL)), autonomous transport covers all forms of remotely piloted, automated, connected and autonomous ways of road, rail, waterborne and air transport, including vehicles, trains, vessels, ferries, aircrafts, drones, as well as all future forms of developments and innovations in this sector. This obviously includes "autonomous cars" (also called "self-driving cars"), which can operate in full autonomy or under the driver's supervision. Such cars make use or are equipped with increasingly complex AI systems, raising a number of legal concerns. Such concerns range from issues relating to the use of (personal) data collected by the vehicle, to the identification of the liability of the stakeholders involved (e.g. the developer of the software, the producer of the vehicle, the driver, etc.).

As of today, only few a jurisdictions in Europe—such as Germany and the UK—have adopted specific rules with regard to self-driving cars, whilst case law remains extremely limited.

What about the data?

Self-driving cars rely on a large number of data to work properly and to ensure a safe ride. Their collection is possible through sophisticated sensors, high-tech cameras, ultra-precise GPS, radar and black boxes that allow them to collect and process data about the environment (traffic lights, road sign and other obstacles) and about the passangers (e.g. driver/passengers preferences and personal information). In addition, self-driving cars will be (or maybe already are...) able to "talk" to each other, to their manufacturers, to their owners.

While personal data necessary for providing the service can be collected and processed in compliance with European Regulation 679/2016 (GDPR), this wealth of information could be used to predict the users' preferences, to personalize advertising and there is a risk that this information could end up in the wrong hands. People could face substantial privacy and data security risks, in particular there are concerns about potential hackers and therefore also the safety of the passenger. By accessing the driver's location at all times, a hacker could know the perfect time of day to break into a house; by tapping into a self-driving car, hackers could control the vehicle remotely. They could collect, sell and leak...

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