A safe journey along the road to Automation

Tom Leggett is lead research engineer for Automated Driving at Thatcham Research. This is the first in a series of blogs where Tom will provide a peek under the bonnet of his work developing a world-first consumer rating scheme for Automated Driving Systems.

In this first post, Tom explains why Automated Lane Keeping Systems, the first iteration of true Automated Driving, are so important and how independent safety assessment will drive vital consumer confidence in the new technology.


Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) will be the first true step towards Automated Driving.

The technology is designed to enable drivers – for the first time ever – to delegate the task of driving to the vehicle, taking their hands and eyes off the road legally, to participate in other activities. Initially, ALKS will only function in certain conditions, such as on a fully-fledged motorway where oncoming traffic is physically separated, at a maximum operational speed of 37 mph.

It’s designed as a traffic-chauffer system, giving drivers the opportunity to relax during monotonous traffic jams or use the “dead” travel time to engage in work or leisure e.g., watching media content on the in-vehicle display.

Despite forecasts of the significant societal benefits future automated systems will bring, ALKS-enabled vehicles are not yet on sale in the UK. First, fundamental barriers must be overcome to ensure the safe introduction and adoption of these technologies.

The UK has set out to be a leader in connected and automated mobility, and it is already dealing with complex topics such as amendments to the Highway Code and other legal structures. However, enabling the technology is only part of the battle; ensuring safe adoption and use is vital to its success. Consumers must be empowered with information, to foster trust in the technology and understanding of its capabilities and limitations.

Thatcham are proud therefore to be leading a project to create an independent rating system for Automated Driving systems, starting with ALKS vehicles, by which drivers can compare performance and capabilities.

Co-ordinated by Zenzic, the organisation dedicated to accelerating the self-driving revolution in the UK and in partnership with Warwick Manufacturing Group and AESIN, this safety confidence framework will incorporate aspects such as ‘automation competence’ and ‘safety backup’.

Automation competence will look at how an ALKS-enabled vehicle operates in certain driving scenarios and how the transition of the driving task between vehicle and driver is handled. Safety Backup will explore collision detection, sensor degradation and event data recording. The full benefits of automated vehicles can only be realised if the technology is trusted and understood. We at Thatcham Research, supported by the word leading CAM Testbed UK, aim to provide confidence and understanding with this framework.

To find out more about the ALKS project, please click here