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Should insurance companies directly control self-driving cars?

One startup suggests that directly involving insurance companies will accelerate the development of autonomous cars.

Oxbotica Ford Fusion self-driving test car

Would tomorrow's self-driving cars be safer if they were controlled by insurance companies? Would they get to market sooner?

That's one potential reality being proposed by Oxbotica, an autonomous-vehicle startup that is looking at how tomorrow's automated vehicles gather and share data. 

Spun off from the University of Oxford, Oxbotica's co-founder and Oxford professor, Paul Newman, suggests that if tomorrow's self-driving cars are actively monitored and shaped by insurance companies, they could adjust vehicle behavior to account for nearby risk factors as they drive. 

In a new article by MIT Technology Review, Newman posits, "Insurers can adjust the envelope [in which a car can operate] to control the risk on the policy… the autonomy system has insurance built into it that allows it to control risk over a fleet."

Oxbotica's fleet of self-driving cars already shares data with insurer XL Catlin.

Andrew Leo / Oxbotica

For example, a self-driving car's sensor array could detect an accident up ahead, and using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technology, it could use the insurance company's risk assessment logic, which would then be used to help guide both that vehicle and other cars and trucks in its same fleet to slow down on that road, or to drive a wholly different route.  

V2V and V2X technology are not new, of course, and both are considered linchpins for the future of automated driving. The difference here is that an insurer's risk logic would directly inform vehicle behavior in real time. 

Newman's thought is that if insurers are intimately involved in the operations of early self-driving cars and are still willing to provide policy coverage for them, that reality could ease lawmaker concerns, paving the way for increased testing on public roads. That, in turn, could spur quicker commercialization of automated vehicles.

Oxbotica was spun off from the University of Oxford.

Andrew Leo / Oxbotica

Oxbotica's own Ford Fusion test cars already share select data with insurance company XL Catlin to help the company formulate risk scores.

Oxbotica did not immediately return Roadshow's request for comment.

The potential impact that self-driving technology could have on today's auto insurance industry is enormous, and many major carriers are actively pursuing how to learn more about how automation may affect their business. For example, State Farm is a leading partner of the University of Michigan's pioneering MCity autonomous-car research facility.

Even prior to the widespread availability of autonomous vehicles, in today's rapidly expanding age of connected cars, data security and data sharing privileges are a rapidly growing concern. How would you feel about an insurance company using your personal data to determine how your vehicle, and those of others, behave? 

Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think.