Autonomous vehicles may be taking to the roads in testing, but they still face significant development challenges ahead of market rollout, according to the CEO of Horiba MIRA.

Dr George Gillespie told delegates at Frost & Sullivan’s Intelligent Mobility event that an already complex product is being made even more complex in software terms.

“The Ford F-150 that was launched recently had 100m lines of code. A fully autonomous vehicle may need 250m lines of code; it’s a very complex car and that brings challenges,” he said.

He also described the transition from autonomous to human operation as presenting challenges yet to be resolved. “A fully autonomous vehicle in a fully autonomous system is relatively easy. We have done it before,” he said. “It’s the transitions that pose problems. For example, when you go from autonomous pilot to human pilot, or you are mixing autonomous vehicles and human piloted vehicles on the same roads. Those are really challenging transitions. Fully autonomous is not so difficult. The mix throws up problems.”

Dr Gillespie also highlighted insurance issues. “There is also the move from personal liability to corporate liability. How do we get to the point where the internal corporate lawyer at the OEM or Tier 1 will sign off liability on a vehicle or system, confident that the vehicle or system will work in all cases? They are going to be carrying the can for this.”

He also pointed out that there is a cyber security challenge that is still emerging as a new threat.

Dr Gillespie also suggested that the OEMs could struggle to project their brand values in autonomous cars where the consumer experience is driven more by software than hardware. “To take the example of BMW, if they define themselves by driving dynamics, an autonomous vehicle is not going to be framed in that way.” He added that he has been struck by how much of the IP for the new technology is held by suppliers rather than the OEMs.

However, he also said that the OEMs have some factors in their favour and that new entrants to car making won’t necessarily find it easy. “The auto industry is not an easy industry to step into. It is a highly regulated and legislated environment. It’s not like producing mobile phones or apps. It is very difficult to make vehicles and sell them in way that meets safety and other regulations.”