Amalgamating of Operational Design Domains (ODDs) for AI Self-Driving Cars


By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

When I got my very first car, I was so excited to be driving my own car that I opted to drive everywhere that I could think of. I drove all throughout my local neighborhood and honked my horn as I drove past the homes of friends of mine. I drove beyond my community and took the freeway to go visit friends that lived in the inner-city areas. I drove down to the beach, parked at the edge of the sand, and took a picture of me and my car, including as a backdrop a dramatic sunset and the rays of the sun glinting off the ocean, adding a picturesque look to my shiny new automobile.

The next day, I took some friends up to the snowy mountains. I had made sure to buy snow-chains for my tires and it was my first foray into putting them on and seeing how the car handled on icy roads and in light snowy conditions. I kept on the snow-plowed roads and did not venture into any off-roading, since my car was, well, just a regular car, and I figured it would be quite a risk to see if it could cope with off-road adversities.

Upon returning from the mountains, a good friend suggested we head out to the desert. The mountain trip had involved freezing cold temperatures. Perhaps by going to the dry and hot desert, we’d be able to unfreeze and gain back our normal body temp. With my still brand-new car, we drove on a somewhat barren highway and headed out to the middle of the desert. Once we reached the outskirts of the desert, we went off the main highway and took roads that were only sporadically paved. At one point, we were driving on dirt-like sand-packed roads. I came to a stop before we ended-up in an actual loose desert sand.

Not being content with “only” having driven in the city, the suburbs, the mountains, and the desert, I decided that the next adventure with my car would be to the forest. So, I packed my camping gear into the car and drove up to the redwoods. I was able to get a campground that allowed you to park your car right next to where you were going to put your tent. Today, some would say this is a form of glamping, a somewhat newer word that means camping with luxury. Admittedly, being right next to my car was handy and a reassurance.

Imagine my horror if a bear were to have tried to pry into my car to get the food I had brought – I would have been devastated that my new car got banged up by the evil claws!

As I headed back home, the forest got deluged with quite a rainstorm. Driving out of the woods was a bit tricky as some of the roads began to flood. I was lucky that the rain was only drenching the roads and not completely flooding them. I inched my way out of the woods on the paved roads that were wet and at times I worried that the car might get too much water up into the engine compartment.

One other thing that I encountered was a lot of potholes and other marred roadway aspects. Because of the rain on the road, I was not able to readily discern where the cracks and gaps in the asphalt existed. Normally, I would have tried to steer around any potholes or other street maladies. In this case, I opted to focus on staying on the road and not sliding off the road, thus, if I happened to also hit any bumps or holes in the road, so be it, at least I was still on the road itself.

In the initial two weeks of getting my first car, I likely put as many miles on it as some people do in an entire year. I’d wager that most young people are equally excited when they get their first car. It is a means to have mobility. You can go where you want. You can go when you want. Previously, prior to getting my own car, I had to borrow my parents car or see if I could get a friend to use their car or loan me their car for any driving trips I wanted to make. Now, I instead just walked out to my car, put the key in the ignition, and by gosh I could go wherever I pleased. Yippee!

There were of course some limits about where I could drive. My car was not suited to doing off-roading. I realized that I could either wreck my new car or get stuck if I tried to go off-road. But, nonetheless, I pushed that limit quite a bit. My driving out to the desert got me and my beloved car pretty close to being off-road. When I drove to the beach, it was at the edge of off-road once I touched the sandy beaches. At the woods, and up in the snowy mountains, I pretty much put my on-road-only car into situations that were darned close to an off-road journey.

The limits I had in mind were all based on what the car could and could not do. Though I was still a rather young and inexperienced driver, it didn’t occur to me that my ability to drive the car ought to be another form of limitation.

I sheepishly admit that during the snowy mountain trip, I lost control of the car and it skidded into a snow bank. My fault. I was not driving carefully enough for the snowy conditions and also had never particular practiced at driving in such conditions. While driving out of the forest, I got caught in semi-flooded roads. I had never driven a car in rain-soaked situations. I managed to get out of the woods without injury, though other cars around me were certainly wary of my swerving and inexperienced efforts of driving the car.

You could say that driving a car involves various potential limits. One obvious limit is the capability of the car. I had a colleague that never drove his car up to the mountains. Why, you might ask? He insisted that the engine was on its last legs and the strain to drive up steep roads would wipe it out. He even avoided driving on any high inclines in city driving, making sure to take the long way around if he could avoid streets that were at a steep pitch.

I was willing to take my new car just about anywhere that a road existed. I trusted that since it was a new car, it would be able to handle high speeds, low speeds, bumpy roads, smooth roads, highways, freeways, and the rest. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), there are slightly more than four million miles of roads in the United States. I was determined to see if I could drive everyone of those many millions of miles in my nifty new car. That hope was a bit challenging since the four million miles includes Hawaii and Alaska, which would take some doing to reach.

The driver of a car is certainly another limitation.

Some drivers are not versed in driving in snowy conditions. Unless they really needed to drive in such inclement conditions, such as in a dire emergency, it’s probably best if they didn’t venture into situations involving driving in the snow (until they got some training in doing so).

Here in Southern California, it is a standard joke that most drivers do not seem to be able to drive in the rain. We got so little rain that one might generously suggest we are out of practice of rain driving. When I have visitors from other parts of the country where they routinely get rain and must drive in it, they scoff and laugh at the manner of how locals here drive in the rain. In any case, one could say that a driver that is not versed in rain driving is another kind of limitation related to the driving of a car.

In the official parlance of the automotive industry, the way in which you can define the scope and limits of driving are referred to as a “domain” and commonly indicated as the Operational Design Domain (ODD). Per the IEEE standard known as J3016, here’s what ODD formally means: “… operating conditions under which a given driving automation system or feature thereof is specifically designed to function, including, but not limited to, environmental, geographical, and time-of-day restrictions, and/or the requisite presence or absence of certain traffic or roadway characteristics.”

That’s a bit of a mouthful.

In essence, an ODD is a kind of carve out. Imagine all of the numerous ways in which driving might occur such as in fine weather or bad weather, on bumpy roads or smooth roads, and so on. In that universe of a myriad of driving conditions, you can stake out a subset and declare it to be an ODD.

You Can Make Up Your Own ODDs

For example, I might define an ODD that consists of smooth roads, absence of rain and the roads must be dry, and there must be high visibility in terms of being able to see around the car. That’s my declared ODD. It’s just one such ODD. I might define a second ODD, for which it consists of smooth and bumpy roads, light rain allowed, roads can be wet but not slick, and the visibility can range from high to mediocre.

I could continue declaring various ODDs. Each of the ODDs would have some particular set of indicators about what it includes. This might also include exclusions, thus I can probably be clearer about my ODDs by not only saying what it includes but also what it excludes. That being said, the number of exclusions could be rather vast and perhaps exhausting to try and list them all.

There is no accepted standard as to what the ODDs are.

Anyone can make-up their own ODDs.

I’ve provided you with two ODDs that I just made-up. You might decide that you like those ODDs and opt to use the same ones, exactly as I had declared them, offering no changes or adjustments to them.

Or, maybe you decide to make a variant of my ODDs. For the first ODD that I declared, you decide to add that the roads cannot include any roundabouts or traffic circles. I didn’t state in my ODD whether or not roundabouts were allowed, but you could likely assume that since I had not said it was excluded, it presumably was included. You now are making sure to explicitly state that roundabouts are excluded. In that case, my ODD and your ODD are now different from each other.

Think of the number and variety of ODDs that could be declared. By mixing and matching all permutations and combinations of the myriad of factors, you could create an enormous number of ODDs. Besides the roadway aspects, you can state that an ODD is good for daylight but does not encompass night time. Thus, time of day can be a factor. The geographical area can be a factor, such as I might declare my first ODD was intended only for say Los Angeles and no other geographical realm.

On and on this can go.

Who would be making up these ODDs? The auto makers can do so and will likely need to do so. They aren’t the only ones and it is pretty much a free-for-all as to whom can declare ODDs. Researchers can make them up. Industry analysts can make them up. You and I can make them up.

I suppose you might be thinking it seems like a rather hazy thing and kind of loose. Yes, you’d be right about that. You might also be thinking that this ODD is something you’ve not heard about before and therefore it doesn’t seem to matter much. I’d say you are half-right about that.

ODDs are indeed something you’ve had no cause to necessarily hear about or know about, to-date. But, I fully and boldly predict that pretty soon you’ll be hearing all about them. A lot. It will become a big topic. You will likely ultimately become so familiar with ODDs that you will forget that you ever didn’t know about them. That’s how prevalent awareness of ODDs is going to become.

What does this have to do with AI self-driving cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars. For the Level 4 and Level 5 of AI self-driving cars, the nature and use of ODDs is essential. Once the public begins to experience Level 4 and Level 5 AI self-driving cars on the roadways, the ODDs topic is going to hit the big time and be at the forefront of public discussion and discord. Mark my words!

Allow me to elaborate.

I’d like to first clarify and introduce the notion that there are varying levels of AI self-driving cars. The topmost level is considered Level 5. A Level 5 self-driving car is one that is being driven by the AI and there is no human driver involved. For the design of Level 5 self-driving cars, the auto makers are even removing the gas pedal, brake pedal, and steering wheel, since those are contraptions used by human drivers. The Level 5 self-driving car is not being driven by a human and nor is there an expectation that a human driver will be present in the self-driving car. It’s all on the shoulders of the AI to drive the car.

For self-driving cars less than a Level 5, there must be a human driver present in the car. The human driver is currently considered the responsible party for the acts of the car. The AI and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task. In spite of this co-sharing, the human is supposed to remain fully immersed into the driving task and be ready at all times to perform the driving task. I’ve repeatedly warned about the dangers of this co-sharing arrangement and predicted it will produce many untoward results.

For my overall framework about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For the levels of self-driving cars, see my article:

For why AI Level 5 self-driving cars are like a moonshot, see my article:

For the dangers of co-sharing the driving task, see my article:

Let’s focus herein on the true Level 5 self-driving car. Much of the comments apply to the less than Level 5 self-driving cars too, but the fully autonomous AI self-driving car will receive the most attention in this discussion.

Here’s the usual steps involved in the AI driving task:

  •         Sensor data collection and interpretation
  •         Sensor fusion
  •         Virtual world model updating
  •         AI action planning
  •         Car controls command issuance

Another key aspect of AI self-driving cars is that they will be driving on our roadways in the midst of human driven cars too. There are some pundits of AI self-driving cars that continually refer to a utopian world in which there are only AI self-driving cars on the public roads. Currently there are about 250+ million conventional cars in the United States alone, and those cars are not going to magically disappear or become true Level 5 AI self-driving cars overnight.

Indeed, the use of human driven cars will last for many years, likely many decades, and the advent of AI self-driving cars will occur while there are still human driven cars on the roads. This is a crucial point since this means that the AI of self-driving cars needs to be able to contend with not just other AI self-driving cars, but also contend with human driven cars. It is easy to envision a simplistic and rather unrealistic world in which all AI self-driving cars are politely interacting with each other and being civil about roadway interactions. That’s not what is going to be happening for the foreseeable future. AI self-driving cars and human driven cars will need to be able to cope with each other.

For my article about the grand convergence that has led us to this moment in time, see:

See my article about the ethical dilemmas facing AI self-driving cars:

For potential regulations about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For my predictions about AI self-driving cars for the 2020s, 2030s, and 2040s, see my article:

Returning to the topic of ODDs, let’s take a closer look at what they are and why they are going to be so crucial to the advent of AI self-driving cars.

Level 4 self-driving cars must provide an indication of the ODDs under which they are able to operate.

This means that if you are intending to purchase a Level 4 self-driving car, you would be wise to look carefully at the ODDs that the auto maker says are applicable to the automobile you are about to purchase. You would likely give this even more scrutiny than the typical features of a car such as the Miles Per Gallon (MPG) or how many cup holders it has.

The reason to scrutinize the ODDs is so that you’ll then know where, when, and under what circumstances your AI self-driving car is going to be able to operate as a self-driving car. According the standard definition for Level 4, once the AI detects that it has reached a point that the driving is no longer within its defined ODDs, the AI is supposed to let the human driver in the car take over or the AI is supposed to pull over, finding hopefully a safe spot to do so, and wait to continue driving until the situation becomes one encompassed by the ODDs of that particular AI self-driving car.

Let’s suppose you buy an AI self-driving car that has a bunch of ODDs and in addition mentions various exclusions of aspects that fall outside of those ODDs. Pretend that one of the exclusions is that the AI self-driving car will not drive in snowy conditions. You would need to dig deeper into how the particular auto maker is defining snowy conditions such as whether this includes a light dusting of fully snowflakes or maybe it only counts once a heavy snowstorm erupts and dumps a ton of snow onto the roadway.

In any case, there you are, going along for a spin in your fancy new Level 4 AI self-driving car. It is a wintery day. When you began your joyful journey, the skies were relatively barren of clouds. Sure, it was a cold morning as you got underway, but you didn’t expect bad weather to occur. Darned if toward lunch time, clouds started coming in fast. With the cold temperatures and the clouds forming, it begins to snow.

The AI of the Level 4 self-driving car is presumably able to detect the snowfall, doing so via the sensors of the self-driving car. Because the ODDs indicated the AI is not considered able to drive in snowy conditions, the AI alerts you that you’ll need to take over the driving of the self-driving car. If you refuse or don’t speak-up, the default will be to pull the self-driving car over to the side of the road at the earliest feasible and hopefully safe spot.

Even though you might be able to drive the self-driving car, and you are willing to do in spite of the flakes of snow, and there’s lots of other car traffic around you that is doing so, your AI is not going to budge one inch. The ODD boundaries have been reached. You would need to take the controls if you didn’t want to sit there by the side of the road and wait for whenever next the snow cleared up sufficiently that the AI declared it was okay for it to proceed and would continue on the driving journey.

I realize you might say that it is a small inconvenience in this case. No big deal, you say, it’s a minor annoyance that the AI has opted to no longer drive the self-driving car for the moment. For your driving journey, at least it drove you for a substantial part of the time. You can just now take over the driving and finish the trip. Furthermore, if you are able to drive out of the snowy area, you likely can coax the AI to resume driving the self-driving car.

But, imagine that you decided to have your Level 4 AI self-driving car take the kids to school that morning. You had put the kids into the self-driving car and sternly instructed the AI to drive them straight to the school. It had done this many times before.

One Day the AI Self-Driving Car Says It’s Too Snowy to Take the Kids to School

Unfortunately, on this particular day, let’s assume that the snow starts to fall from the sky while midway to the school. The AI announces that it needs either a licensed driver to take over the controls right away or it will pull over to the side of the road. There isn’t a licensed driver in the self-driving car (you are still at home, awaiting the self-driving car to drop the kids at their school and come back to pick you up to drive you to work). Only your underage children are in the self-driving car. They can’t legally drive and nor do they know how to drive.

Regrettably, they now are going to be sitting in the dormant and roadway-parked AI self-driving car which has found hopefully a safe place to sit out the snow. For most parents, this would be a chilling moment and the time at which they start to have second-thoughts about having gotten that Level 4 AI self-driving car.

You could say that the parent was “foolish” for having put the children into the AI self-driving car without any adult present. I assure you this is exactly what many, if not most parents are going to do. They are going to leverage the always-available automated chauffeur. It will become more than just a handy convenience. Parents will adjust their lives around the aspect that they no longer need to drive their children to all sorts of places, such as no need to drive your children to school, nor to baseball practice, nor to karate lessons, nor to the local pizza place.

You might say that the parent should have known it was going to snow. In that case, on this occasion, the parent should have gone along for the ride, serving as a “human back-up” driver in case the AI had to call it quits. Yes, I suppose you could try to take that angle on this scenario, but I hope that you won’t get quite so literal on this one example.

My overall point is that the ODD’s of the Level 4 AI self-driving car could consist of a wide variety of inclusions and exclusions. I made things over-simplified by using just the snowy condition. There might instead by a large number of inclusions and exclusions, making it much harder to judge when you might have the AI opt to quit on you. It won’t be so easy that you’ll readily be able to predict when the exclusions are going to be reached.

For my article about ODDs and Level 4, including driving controls aspects, see:

For my article about the bifurcation of autonomy, see:

For my predictions about the marketing of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For ridesharing aspects of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For the affordability question about AI self-driving cars, see my article:

I also made things easier by suggesting you had chosen to buy the Level 4 AI self-driving car. I say that’s “easier” because you presumably would have carefully read the ODDs before you purchased that self-driving car. You would have done your due diligence and fully understood what the various inclusions and exclusions consist of. You would have tried to identify the ways in which you’ll be using the self-driving car, such as the geographical area you live in, the seasons of the year, and other factors, all of which would have led you to via full-awareness having decided to buy that self-driving car.

At least that’s what should happen, though we know that people don’t necessarily take that kind of overt care and caution when buying a car.

The other way in which the ODDs will impact you is when you use a ridesharing service.

It is predicted that ridesharing services will flock in droves to using AI self-driving cars. This makes a lot of sense for the ridesharing firms to do so. No need to deal with a human driver for their ridesharing cars. Human drivers are difficult, because they are humans, which means they want to get paid for their driving, they want reasonable hours of driving time, they want to take breaks periodically, and so on. With an AI system, no need to deal with any of those human elements.

You are getting off work early and decide to take a ridesharing car to get home. Via a mobile app on your smartphone, you summon a ridesharing car, doing so with a company that prides itself on providing all and only AI self-driving cars. They are using Level 4 AI self-driving cars. One handy aspect is that the company keeps those AI self-driving cars going as much as possible, running them nearly non-stop 24×7, other than when the self-driving cars need to get their electrical charges or when they are out for maintenance purposes.

A few minutes later, the AI self-driving car comes to the curb and you get into it. You had already indicated your destination and thus the AI repeats to you the destination, confirming where you want to go, and once you get settled with your seatbelt on, the AI proceeds. How nice that you don’t need to carry on petty conversations with those pesky human ridesharing drivers. The AI tries to initiate a dialogue with you, but you cut it off and state that you want a nice quiet ride instead. No need to worry about hurting the feelings of the AI. It’s just AI.

For the non-stop use of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For family trips and self-driving cars, see my article:

For my article about safety and AI self-driving cars, see:

For my article about the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) with AI self-driving cars, see:

Unbeknownst to you, this particular Level 4 AI self-driving car has an ODD that the auto maker and tech firm defined to exclude heavy gusts of winds. Your home is nestled in a rural area where you thought it would be best to raise a family. The drive from work, which is downtown, and out to the rural area usually takes about an hour or so. On this day, there is a strong set of winds blowing along the highway that takes you to your home.

While on the highway, you can see up ahead that the winds are shoving trucks and other cars. It is occurring with some frequency. There doesn’t seem to be any problems though and the vehicles are all continuing along on the blustery highway. You begin to take a nap in the backseat, enjoying the ridesharing ride that lets you take it easy because the AI is doing the driving.

All of a sudden, the AI announces that you will need to take over the driving or it will be pulling over to the side of the road momentarily. Why, you ask? The AI responds that the wind speeds are excessive and exceed the defined ODD for this AI self-driving car. Yikes! You had no idea that this ridesharing car had that kind of an ODD. You are irked to no end.

I realize that you might object to my scenario and say that the ridesharing service should have informed the rider about the ODDs. Yes, I am sure that the ridesharing services will post the ODD’s of their cars. When you book one of their cars, there will likely be a place to click on a lengthy legal-looking narrative that carefully spells out all of the inclusions and exclusions. I wonder how many people will go to the trouble to read those? Probably the same number that read the legal limits and caveats that the ridesharing services also post at their sites right now (have you ever read those?).

If you are assuming that this ODD matter is going to be simplified by merely having all AI self-driving cars adopt the same ODDs, I’ll remind you that I earlier had stated that there is no such standard.

This means that if you consider buying a Level 4 AI self-driving car from auto maker X, they will presumably have defined whatever set of ODDs they wanted to establish for their Level 4 AI self-driving cars. They might also have different sets of ODDs among their own line of Level 4 AI self-driving cars.

Maybe the low-end lower-cost Level 4 AI self-driving car of auto maker X has one set of ODDs, we’ll call it the AI-1 model, while their more expensive higher-end Level 4 AI self-driving car has a more extensive set of ODDs, we’ll call it the AI-2 model. When you buy the car, you’ll need to decide whether you are fine with the lesser set of ODDs and buy the AI-1 or might get stuck at some point and so prefer to get the more in-depth set of ODDs offered by the AI-2.

Furthermore, keep in mind that another auto maker, we’ll call them auto maker Y, they are able to define their own ODDs. You might not be able to readily compare the ODDs of the auto maker X to the auto maker Y. When trying to purchase a Level 4 AI self-driving car, you might be overwhelmed with having to try and compare the different makes and models.

This might be reminiscent of buying say anti-virus software. You might recall that you used to have to try and compare the different makes and models, as it were, of anti-viral software. They each had a variety of features. It was hard to know which features you really needed or not. The anti-virus software makers would at times add to the confusion by how they described the features. There was no easy way to compare apples-to-apples of one anti-viral software package versus another.

Of course, buying an AI self-driving car is a bit more serious of a task. You are getting something that is a life-critical kind of system. You ought to know when and where it will function.

I’m betting that the marketing of these new-fangled AI self-driving cars will certainly make things more confounding. Rather than trying to get you immersed into the arcane aspects of the set of ODDs, you’ll likely instead be shown a slick brochure or video of the AI self-driving car zipping down the highway, not a worry in the world. You will be so wide-eyed that you won’t question whether the AI can drive in the snow or in heavy wind conditions.

For my article about sizzle reels and the wool being pulled over your eyes, see:

For fake news about AI self-driving cars, see:

For the public shaming of AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For ethical review boards, see my article:

It is going to be the wild, wild west of ODDs. A potential boondoggle.

You might be wondering how come no one is already taking care of this, prior to it happening.

The biggest reason is that we are still so far away from having Level 4 AI self-driving cars that the matter of the ODDs is just not something the lay public cares about. I’ve predicted that if the industry won’t take care of this on its own, the odds are that once the public gets irked, it could become a matter that draws heavy regulation.

You are likely used to the idea that when you buy a new car there are all sorts of regulated proclamations and declarations that you are legally supposed to receive. There isn’t anything as yet about ODDs. If people start to buy Level 4 AI self-driving cars and get upset about being confused or maybe even fooled about the ODDs for a given self-driving car, I’d wager the regulators will jump into the vacuum.

Another reason that the ODD matter hasn’t risen to attention is that it is assumed right now that Level 4 AI self-driving cars will be so costly that the average person is not going to be able to afford one. In that case, it is larger firms like ridesharing companies that will be buying the Level 4’s. And in that case, presumably those firms will be scrutinizing the ODDs of the fleet of self-driving cars they are amassing.

I have questioned though the idea that only large firms will be buying Level 4 AI self-driving cars. This assumes that the cost of AI self-driving cars will be high, which I generally agree will likely be quite a bit higher than conventional cars. But it also neglects to realize that even the everyday person could potentially afford such a self-driving car if you consider it to be a potential money maker.

If I buy a Level 4 AI self-driving car and put it out for use as a ridesharing car, I can make money doing so. While I am at work, my self-driving car is roaming around and making money. When I am asleep at night, my self-driving car is giving rides and getting money. This would allow me to afford a “pricey” car because I am offsetting the cost of the car for the revenue that the car can produce for me. Nobody seems to be thinking clearly about how large a cottage industry this will likely create.

Some have suggested that all AI self-driving cars will become commodities. The argument is that they will all ultimately have the same set of features. I’ve debunked that assertion. It falsely implies that each of the auto makers are going to each duplicate the same kinds of features on their AI self-driving cars. I’d bet that we’ll actually have a features war. There will be an ODDs war.

The ODDs war will be that auto maker X says their ODDs are better than auto maker Y. This will go on for quite some time. The usual leap frogging of high-tech and automobiles will of course occur. One year, auto maker X will have a “better” ODD set than auto maker Y. Meanwhile, with continued innovation and advancement, the next year the ODD set of auto maker Y might be better than the ODDs of auto maker X. This will continue, over and over.

For my article debunking the commodities myth, see:

For productivity while inside an AI self-driving car, see my article:

For the egocentric designs by AI developers, see my article:

For my article about the groupthink that might grip AI developers, see:

For federal regulations and AI self-driving cars, see my article:

Anticipate that ODDs Will Vary from One Self-Driving Car Automaker to Another

Each of the auto makers and tech firms are developing their Level 4 AI self-driving cars in their own proprietary ways. This also means the ODDs are equally as proprietary and idiosyncratic. That’s what happens when you don’t have any standards in place.

You can anticipate that the ODDs will be somewhat different from each other. There will be overlapping elements. There will be elements that one uses that another does not. There will be elements used by one that another one means something else entirely. If I say that my ODD excludes high winds, but if I don’t put something quantifiable and definitive on that condition, you might also say that you exclude high winds, but we are possibly talking about quite different aspects (maybe you mean wind gusts, and I mean the raw average speed of the wind).

It is handy that some researchers are trying to help us out of this mess, doing so before the mess becomes fully evident. For example, Dr. Krzysztof Czarnecki at the University of Waterloo has been putting together a helpful ontology for ODDs. He organizes the proposed ontology into five key areas, consisting of road structure, road users, animals, other obstacles, and environmental conditions. He defines an Operational Road Environmental Model (OREM), consisting of relevant assumptions about the road environment, and then crafts Operational World Models (OWMs) that consist of OREMs with one or more subject vehicle models. This is the kind of rigor we need to get established for ODDs.

If we could get ODDs into a more structured and agreed form and format, it would certainly make the publication and comparison of them a lot easier and more readily understood.

Referring again to the anti-viral software and trying to compare different packages, it seemed like the world eventually settled on a reasonably sensible set of features and it became easier to compare one set versus another. As a buyer, you merely had to inspect a chart and see which features were ticked and included and which were not. I don’t though want to mislead into suggesting that the same would be so easily done for Level 4 AI self-driving cars, as the number and variety of the elements of the ODDs is by far much larger and more complex.

I’ll toss another idea out there and see what you think of it.

Suppose the auto makers and tech firms were able to compartmentalize their AI systems to correspond to the elements of a defined and standardized ODD. Besides allowing for comparing auto maker X to auto maker Y in terms of their Level 4 AI self-driving cars, we might be able to do something else too.

It might be possible to have auto maker X and auto maker Y offer to do a deal whereby there might elements of each of their respective ODDs that they could exchange with each other. Suppose that one has dealt with handling high winds, while the other one has focused on dealing with snowy conditions. They might opt to share with each other, in which case auto maker X now gets the snowy condition added to its ODD and the auto maker Y gets the high winds condition added to its ODD.

I say this with a grain of salt. A really big grain of salt. The odds are that the hardware and the software of the AI systems of the auto maker X and auto maker Y are so vastly different that it is unlikely they could just offer up their respective components of handling high winds and of snowy conditions to each other. Instead, they each would have something extremely proprietary that works only on their own setup of hardware and AI software.

Imagine though if it was via a magic-wand a possibility to have this kind of interchangeable parts, as it were, for the advent of AI self-driving cars. This suggestion likely causes you to hark back to your history classes. Remember the famous story of Eli Whitney, wherein he built ten guns all containing the same parts and then disassembled them and reassembled them while on the floor of Congress in 1801. He did this to showcase the value of interchangeable parts. Congress subsequently ordered that standards be established.

Could we possibly even have third-party AI developers that then provide add-ons for the ODDs of AI self-driving cars?

It seems farfetched but at least worth postulating. Imagine an entrepreneur that realizes the ODD of the auto maker X lacks a high winds capability and so puts one together and makes it available in some kind of global exchange. If the AI systems have Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) this also provides opportunity for similar kinds of expansion packs.

One quite serious concern would be the aspect that they are cars, which determine the life or death aspects of those that ride in them and also the life or death aspects of those nearby these self-driving cars. Do we want to open up these AI systems to allow for this kind of exchange of parts and expansions? It could produce untoward results. There are also system security issues that need to be considered too.

For my article about APIs for self-driving cars, see:

For back-door security holes and AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For the reverse engineering of the AI of self-driving cars, see my article:

For my article about startup opportunities and AI self-driving cars, see:


Will we be able to amalgamate ODD’s of Level 4 AI self-driving cars? The jury is still out on this.

Admittedly, it is a stretch right now to think that it could happen. There is too much momentum of each auto maker or tech firm doing their own proprietary ODDs and there is little or no incentive to do otherwise. As I’ve mentioned, if things get out-of-hand, it could be that regulators step into the morass and offer some kind of sticks and carrots to get ODDs to become more manageable.

I’ve not said much herein about Level 5 AI self-driving cars.

In theory, a Level 5 AI self-driving car is a complete set of all of the possible ODDs that would exist in a more scattered manner for Level 4 AI self-driving cars. In other words, the Level 5 is not supposed to have any curtailing limits, other than there is no off-roading capability required and also that the driving task must be something that a human driver could have managed (if a human could not have driven in the circumstance, the Level 5 definition says that there should not be an expectation that the AI could).

Some believe that to get to a Level 5, you should first make Level 4 AI self-driving cars. You could then presumably tie together all of the various ODDs over time that you crafted for the Level 4’s and make your way to a Level 5. There are those that eschew such an approach and say that you should forget about doing any of the Level 4’s. Don’t get mired into the itsy-bitsy ODD’s. Instead, aim for the whole enchilada. Aim for the Level 5.

If indeed the Level 4’s are quickly replaced by Level 5’s, it would likely lessen the impact of the ODDs wars and fractionalization. People would barely have had time to complain about the confusion over the myriad of ODDs, and presumably be quieted and more satisfied once they rode in a Level 5. For those that believe we are going to have Level 5’s on the heels of Level 4’s, the ODD topic is a “don’t care” to them. Those ODD’s will be like yesterday’s fad that came and went. Forget about it, they would assert.

I’ve said and written many times that a true Level 5 AI self-driving car is like a moonshot. I hope you can now see why I say this. The Level 5 has to be able to handle all of the permutations and combinations of all of the ODD’s that you can think of. That’s a lot to deal with. I doubt that the time gap between Level 4’s and Level 5’s is going to be as swift as some pundits claim.

For why Level 5 is like a moonshot, see my article:

For the crossing of the Rubicon and AI self-driving cars, see my article:

For my timeline about the advent of AI self-driving cars, see:

For whether we might need to start over on AI self-driving cars, see my article:

You heard it here first, the role of Operational Design Domains (ODD) is going to be a big topic in the upcoming emergence of AI self-driving cars. Few are talking about it right now. It is a so-called wonky topic that only AI self-driving car industry insiders know about. Even they don’t care much about it, since they are mainly the auto makers and tech firms that are focused on making their own proprietary AI systems for their own proprietary self-driving cars.

I applaud those that are forging a means toward an ontology of ODDs.

We need to do more to get the ODDs matter on-track before it becomes a train that goes off the tracks. For those that are standing on the railroad tracks right now, it takes a lot of vision to see what’s going to happen miles and miles away, into the future. Imagine if the railroads had not agreed to a common means of laying track, and upon reaching Promontory Summit in Utah on May 10, 1869, they would have not been able to drive that final golden spike into tying together the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroads. That’s the kind of progress that can occur when you get your standards act together. Let’s do the same for ODDs.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Lance Eliot

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.