Legal, Engineering and Design Aspects of Autonomous Vehicles

The Schools of Law and Social Justice, and of Electrical Engineering, Electronics, and Computer Science, aim to encourage interdisciplinary and collaborative research. The Research Centres across these Schools comprise highly skilled and successful interdisciplinary and industry focussed research communities the two Schools, together with the University’s Institute of Risk and Uncertainty, are offering a PhD Studentship related to autonomous systems. The PhD Studentship is available for the following project and awarded to the best candidate:

Legal, Engineering and Design Aspects of Autonomous Vehicles

Supervisor (s): Joseph Savirimuthu (School of Law and Social Justice) and Michael Fisher (Computer Science)

The Project Proposal offers the successful candidate considerable scope in developing a research niche directly relevant to attaining policy goals and meeting industry's needs.

The PhD Studentship is funded by the Institute for Risk and Uncertainty, the School of Law and Social Justice, and the School of Electrical Engineering, Electronics, and Computer Science, and includes fees (at Home/EU level) and a stipend (currently £13,728 per year) for three years.

Deadline for applications: Friday 2nd August.

Applications should be sent as one PDF file to comprising the following information: a. 1 page cover letter detailing how the essential and desirable criteria are met; b. Sample work or draft proposal based on the Problem Statement (not exceeding 3,000 words) c. Curriculum Vitae; and d. Names and email addresses of two academic referees. Successful applicants will be invited for interview in August (tbc). The PhD Studentship will be awarded on the basis of outstanding academic achievement and research potential. A final offer will only be made subject to the successful candidate being accepted onto the PhD programme, it is therefore recommended that you also submit your PhD application online.

Essential Criteria Candidates are usually expected to have a First Class Honours at Undergraduate Level or obtained a Distinction at Master's Degree. Applicants must also possess outstanding academic background relevant to the project or closely related and demonstrate familiarity and research potential in Law, Human Factors (Ergonomics) or Applied Psychology.

Desirable Criteria A strong interest in risk and regulatory theory and some familiarity with autonomous systems, computing and IT would be desirable. The project for the PhD Studentship will require the student to demonstrate excellence in pursuing academically rigorous interdisciplinary research and potential to develop the research.

Outline of Project: There is an urgent need to address the future of mobility and transport systems. There are a number of motivations for focusing on autonomous vehicles (‘driverless cars’) - energy, environmental, health and economics. Despite the legal rules in regulating risks on our roads, the human costs of driver error continue to be significant. In 2011, there were 203,950 reported casualties on the roads of Great Britain, including 1,901 fatalities and 23,122 serious casualties. There are other costs to society and the economy. As more people commute to work, traffic congestion imposes considerable environmental, health and economic costs on governments, industry and individuals. The Centre for Economics and Business Research in conjunction with the traffic information company Inrix produced a survey showing that traffic congestion costs the economy more than £4.3bn a year, or £491 per car-commuting household. Inefficient driving, overuse of cars and traffic congestion also add to environmental and energy costs. Each year, £426m is wasted on fuel alone. Demands are also being placed on law enforcement. More funds are urged for policing the motorways. 69% of drivers admit to breaking speeding laws. The statistics are even astounding if we look at the costs of traffic accidents and congestion on a global scale. Autonomous vehicles may offer one techno-social response to the range of issues facing policymakers, industry and society.

The PhD project proposal is directed at harnessing the expertise in Law and Engineering and Computer Science. Engineers and Computer Science researchers are seeking answers to certification of autonomous vehicles. These include: Can the Civil Aviation Authority’s certification approach to unmanned air systems be used?; To what extent should industry rely on ISO 26262 to assist decision making?; How should we match computer and human expectations with legal and certification issues?

Responses to these questions will require an understanding of legal and ethical responses to innovations: What do we mean by an “autonomous” vehicle? Are there security and privacy risks? If the vehicle is autonomous what legal infrastructures do we need to ensure that design, certification and manufacturing processes integrate innovation capabilities into complex systems? What must the computer “know” to avoid legal liability? How should disputes be resolved? Who should be liable for accidents when an autonomous vehicle overrides the human driver? Can regulatory techniques such as design solutions be used to educate and shape consumer behaviour and trust? Are such techniques ethical? Do legal rules on risk, safety and certification provide a business case for innovations in the automation of vehicles?

These questions require a research project that bridges legal, regulatory, design and technological aspects of autonomous vehicles.

The Problem Statement for this PhD would address these and related questions from an inter-disciplinary perspective:

What legal, design and technological challenges must be addressed if innovation in autonomous vehicles is to be accelerated and deployed in a safe, effective and scalable manner into society?

The problem statement will enable the research to shed light on the critical tensions between innovation and the law; the strategies and solutions that can be used to respond to the regulatory challenges; the frameworks and tools needed to ensure the solutions developed are safe, effective and scalable; and identify partnerships and collaborations between disciplines, industry and policymakers that help accelerate and promote innovation and deployment.

We have some indications that autonomous vehicles will become a reality in the immediate future. Google and leading car manufacturers and suppliers such as BMW, AUDI, CONTINETAL, BOSCH are already investing in crowdsourcing data, machine learning and autonomous vehicles working without infrastructure (e.g. Vehicle to Vehicle, Cloud computing). Laws have been passed in Nevada and California to enable autonomous vehicles to be tested on roads. To date, there has been no research/project that addresses the issues raised in the PhD Project Proposal from a UK/EU perspective.

The added value of funding this PhD Project Proposal is that it will lay the foundation for increased collaboration between the Departments within the University of Liverpool collaborating in this Project, enhance the work and profile of the Institute for Risk and Uncertainty, build on the work of Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology and open opportunities for collaboration with industry. The PhD Project Proposal is sufficiently flexible to engage other disciplines within the University: Can autonomous vehicles be deployed in emergency management systems? What are the implications of the increasingly ageing society for the evolution of laws and autonomous automobiles? What autonomy and mobility issues should society, industry and policymakers address in designing intelligent transport systems for the future? How should energy, environmental and health issues inform policymaking in transport?