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In recent years, the autonomous car industry has commanded attention from all corners of the world. It is fairly safe to say that eventually, self-driving cars will replace manually-driven ones, unleashing a revolution in transportation.

Although several leading brands have test-driven self-driving cars, to date, none of them have managed to launch a product. The industry is facing several technical as well as legal challenges, including radar interference, driving in extreme weather conditions, and the current lack of necessary laws and regulations.

Dealing with Potential Radar Interference

Most autonomous cars use three technologies to navigate: LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), cameras, and radar. When driving, radar sensors detect the reflections of radio waves from surrounding objects. A quick calculation of the time required for reflection of the radio waves allows the self-driving car to measure the proximity of nearby objects. However, what happens when dozens of such vehicles are driving on the road?

Chances are the radio waves transmitted by two or more vehicles in close proximity will interfere with one another, resulting in false signals. Airplanes can readily use radar technology, as the volume of air traffic is negligible compared to jam-packed streets in most cities. Also, there is a considerably large distance between two airplanes.

Of course, Global Positioning System (GPS) can be used to detect the exact position of other autonomous vehicles. However, will it work if the cars are just inches away from one another? Besides, you can’t use GPS for objects such as walls, building, debris, and trees. A self-driving car must be able to distinguish its own signals from the rest. It is going to be one of the biggest challenges in the coming years.

Safe Driving in All Weather Conditions

Safety is one of the most talked about aspects of building autonomous cars. The pro self-driving cars lobby always points out the enhanced safety computerized driving can bring and the lives it can save. Still, poor weather conditions such as rain, sleet, and snow remain a challenge for autonomous cars.

Will a self-driving car be able to safely carry passengers to their destination in such weather conditions? It may take a few more years to get a conclusive answer to this question. The technologies used in autonomous cars today have several drawbacks when it comes to dealing with poor weather conditions. Heavy rainfall and snow reduce the efficiency of LiDAR, while fog can decrease the camera’s vision.

Engineers are working hard to find innovative solutions to this problem. For example, researchers at the University of Michigan and Ford carried out what is believed to be the industry’s first test of autonomous vehicles in wintry conditions in 2016. The solution involves using high-resolution 3D maps that collect and process information about the road and what’s above it, including road markings, signs, geography, landmarks and topography. However, it will take more time to drive such vehicles in extreme weather conditions naturally and safely.

Navigating through the Legal Complications

One of the most critical aspects self-driving is the law. State and federal laws largely fail to specify who will be held liable for accidents caused by such vehicles. When it comes to personal injury claims arising from a regular a car crash, determining which party is at fault is already challenging enough. In the case of autonomous cars, there is a no clear-cut definition of who the driver is, which makes it more difficult to determine the party responsible for the accident and the consequences pertaining to it.

In most self-driving cars, software is the key decision maker and operator. But, the design may vary depending on the manufacturer. Some self-driving cars don’t have a steering wheel. Should the liability shift from drivers to manufacturers in such cases?

Things get further complicated if the self-driving car comes with a manual override in case of emergency. Owing to the nature of autonomous vehicles, the passengers are more likely to be distracted. So, by the time they act, it may be too late to avert the emergency situation. Will the driver or the manufacturer be responsible for the accident in such situations?

Another topic of debate in this regard is who will bear the responsibility of insurance. Should all concerned parties, including the owner and the manufacturer, pay for the insurance? Or just one of them? Will autonomous car accidents fall under product liability regulations? Who will pay for the property and bodily damages caused by an accident?

The looming threat of cybersecurity is also a major issue. Who will pay for the damages resulting from a cyber-attack on the car’s computer system? Will the manufacturer or the owner be held responsible in this case? Legislators need to address this area of the law in as much detail as possible. Without precise laws and regulations concerning the safe use of autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars are less likely to find acceptance among the general population.

The autonomous car industry has a long way to go before becoming commonplace on the street. They will have to cross numerous hurdles to gain trust and acceptance of the public. But make no mistake – it’s not a matter of if, but when.

To explore how the Best-in-Class overcome the intractable challenges of designing smart, connected devices, download this comprehensive report: Why Simulation is Critical to Success in Developing Autonomous Systems.

Mario Palermo is a lead attorney who consistently helps families in their time of need. In both 2015 and 2016, Mr. Palermo was awarded the prestigious Litigator Award that represents the highest honor in Trial Law.

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