July 24, 2017      

Last year, autonomous vehicle software developer Oxbotica and global insurance company XL Catlin entered into a partnership to support the adoption of mobile robotic solutions — and examine their potential impact on risk management and insurance for autonomous vehicles.

A key objective of the collaborative initiative is to nurture a deeper understanding of exactly how emerging mobile autonomy and technology will change how companies operate, as well as how it will affect the perception of and response to risk in society at large. As part of the project, XL Catlin will have access to Oxbotica’s data as they continue to trial novel autonomous applications on different vehicles, in an effort to learn – practically at first hand – how products work, learn and behave in different situations.

“We will be learning together and from each other – relying on the technical expertise of our two companies,” said Jason Harris, chief executive of global casualty insurance at XL Catlin.

“This will allow us to develop a protocol to provide insurance cover for autonomous mobility. We will collaborate to identify the risks and how they are interconnected and hence drive the development of the technology by ensuring its insurability,” he adds.

Ultimately, Harris believes that finding an appropriate way to create insurance for autonomous vehicles will ‘allow businesses and other interested parties to invest in it’ — and he points out that a key long-term aim of the collaboration is to enable the company’s clients to access such technology and support them as they integrate it into their operations.

Designing insurance for autonomous vehicles

In terms of concrete outcomes, Harris also reveals that the findings of the project will equip insurers with better information about how to deal with the risks specific to insurance for autonomous vehicles. It will also enable Oxbotica to understand the risks that are acceptable for underwriters and design its technology so that it can be more readily insured — in the process helping to ensure broader market acceptance.

Self-driving car technology is being tested all over the world as companies seek to bring this technology to consumers“This collaboration will contribute to allowing the U.K. to carry on forging ahead and will mean this technology is commercially viable globally,” says Harris.

Speaking more generally, Harris is also confident that the type of autonomous vehicle technology and software that Oxbotica is currently working on not only provides a solution to companies seeking greater efficiencies, but also represents a truly disruptive technology.

“We believe it will impact on the risk profiles of our customers who invest in this technology [and spread] the idea that the more dangerous jobs in the most challenging environments will not be done by humans but by autonomous machines in the future [and] will hopefully drive down the number of human accidents and deaths,” he says.

At the same time, Harris also recognises that these machines will “pose new risks and challenges in certain areas.” He also predicts that they will fundamentally challenge how XL Catlin, as well as the insurance industry at large, assesses such risks — and force it to develop a deeper understanding of exactly what constitutes a ‘good’ risk and a ‘bad’ risk, particularly in view of the fact that the sector has no historical data to rely on.

Bringing self-driving cars to London

Earlier this year, the Oxbotica and XL Catlin partnership entered a new phase when it was announced that a consortium consisting of the two, along with a number of other UK companies and councils, would be testing self-driving cars on the streets of London beginning next year.

Self driving cars soon set to be on trial in LondonThe UK government has awarded the consortium £8.6 million to conduct the tests in both London and Oxford, with the goal for cars to be able to travel between the two cities autonomously by 2019.

This project will focus on the practical aspects of putting self-driving cars onto public roads, such as vehicle communication and on-road behavior, but also cyber security and vehicle insurance, a continuation of the previous partnership.

The project will work to develop security policies and standards related to autonomous vehicle operation, a topic that has generated much conversation as the challenges of securing automated vehicles are made known to the public.

The project will also serve as the next step forward in Oxbotica and XL Catlin’s insurance partnership, giving them more data from real-world driving in the center of a major city. With the insurance market looking at a not-so-distant reality of plummeting insurance prices as self-driving cars grow in number, this data will certainly prove to be valuable information for crafting insurance for autonomous vehicles.

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An autonomous future

Looking ahead, Harris argued that, although driverless cars may be “the most eye-catching and best known part of mobile robotics,” the most exciting prospects of the technology go “well beyond cars, and will likely be used elsewhere before we see driverless cars on the street.”

“It will first be used in warehouses and in hazardous, high risk environments. The operational models of manufacturing, transport, service, agricultural, energy and many other industries will change – as this type of technology becomes more widely available,” he adds.