Creative technologist Ushigome on future vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P) communications.

Self-driving news flash: flickering lights to replace eye contact in facilitating trust

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Yosuke Ushigome, Director at design innovation studio Takram.

Listing his primary interest as “emerging technologies”, London-based creative technologist, Yosuke Ushigome, has been working with Toyota on future car concepts for over 10 years. Here, he gives his thoughts on the key issues in driverless car design.

Yosuke Ushigome, director Takram
Yosuke Ushigome, director Takram

YU: “We come from a user experience (UX) background and over the years our projects with Toyota have got bigger and higher level. In 2018, with the e-Palette concept, we started taking a more holistic approach to mobility and automation – an on-the-ground people perspective on the entire system, rather than the UX of an interior, exterior or service.

“There’s going to be a trend in transparency and trust. How can designers help the systems, passengers, pedestrians and others to communicate? In the past, this has usually been based around the driver and passenger, but that’s got to expand. In cars of the future, pedestrians will not be able to look into the driver’s eyes – what’s driving might not even be on the car, it might be in the cloud.

“How can you communicate interactions that facilitate trust? That’s really interesting. People pick things up from little movements in their peripheral vision, so you come back to old school ideas like patterns of flickering lights. How fast it flashes, or flashing from left to right, could give people a little nudge, maybe help them to detect danger. This kind of experimentation will definitely increase.

“Level5 autonomy seems to me to be very far off. Level4, in areas where the road system is designed for self-driving, or on private roads where there’s more separation between vehicles and pedestrians, is coming rapidly – things like deliveries between factories. Starship delivery robots are already deployed in Milton Keynes and economics will drive adoption, especially with the pandemic.

“I would like to be part of this transformation, so long as it is inclusive. There’s an opportunity to meet the needs of people left behind by our existing transport, whether that’s physical disability or economic disadvantage.”

Toyota e-Palette concept, via Takram
Toyota e-Palette concept, via Takram

Toyota had planned to showcase its e-Palette mobility solution at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, so hopefully we’ll get to see it next summer.

For further info, visit Takram.com.

Thomas Sors says connectivity is the essential foundation for autonomous vehicles.

Putting the C in Connected and Automated Mobility

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Beam Connectivity CEO, Thomas Sors.

Having previously led Dyson’s Connected Vehicle programme, Thomas Sors launched Beam Connectivity in January this year. It might be one of the newest cogs in the UK automotive wheel, but its Connected Vehicle as a Service (CVaaS) product is already attracting interest from car, freight and public transport manufacturers.

TS: “When it comes to connected and automated mobility (CAM) and connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), we see a lot of focus on the ‘A’ part, but not so much about ‘C’, which is our focus. Connectivity is the essential foundation for automation later on, but at the moment it often doesn’t perform very well. For example, OEM apps sometimes get two point something star ratings due to problems with the initial connection and latency.

“Our CVaaS solution provides a better user experience and can unlock the value of data generated by vehicle fleets. It offers a new way of getting data from vehicles to the cloud and back-end, or to send data into the vehicle. Because we’re brand new, there are no issues with legacy software – privacy by design and security by design are embedded all the way through our process, not an afterthought or a bolt-on. That starts with ensuring that we fulfil General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) access rights, including the right to be forgotten.

“I’ve seen quotes that by 2030 all cars will have some form of connectivity. eCall [the EU initiative to enable cars to automatically contact the emergency services in the event of a serious accident] is mandatory for new cars, and that’s just the start. It’s about transparency and explaining the benefits. If you give people the option to say ‘yes, take this data in order for me to get feature X’, then that builds trust.

“From the manufacturer or fleet operator perspective, prognostics is an interesting area – fixing things before they go wrong. Then there’s the ability to understand usage patterns and perform over the air (OTA) updates. Another thing we’re already seeing is support to improve the driving experience, for example, vehicle to infrastructure communications being used to reduce congestion. We expect that to build up quickly over the next 2-4 years.

“We’re only a few months in but we’ve already deployed an end-to-end system to several vehicles and we’re looking to do more and more. It’s not unusual for manufacturers to spend 12-18 months building a connected vehicle solution, so our platform can really speed up their development lifecycle. Why build a connectivity team when we’ve already done it very effectively?

“As to self-driving, the technology is leading the way and moving along quickly, so the focus needs to be on standards, legislation and public acceptance.”

For further info, visit beamconnectivity.com.

Teaching the computers: a revolution in driving jobs

Bedfordshire-based CAT Driver Training has been nominated for a Transportation as a Service (TaaS) Technology Award for its innovative Autonomous Safety Driver and Operator Training course.

Conducted at 5G-enabled Millbrook Proving Ground, the nationally recognised programme is designed to help those involved in the development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) to meet the requirements set out in the government’s new code of practice for automated vehicle trialling.

Specifically, section 4.14 says: “The responsibility for ensuring safety drivers and safety operators have received the appropriate training and are competent lies with the trialling organisation.”

The course asks probing questions, such as: How many of your team are advanced drivers, not just experienced drivers?; How many have been trained in skid control or winter driving techniques?; and how many are vehicle dynamics engineers?

Colin Hoad, chief instructor at CAT Driver Training, said: “Our unique programme was developed to bridge a gap we identified between the world of vehicle testing and the technology start-ups putting safety at the forefront of their CAV development.”

Looking at the bigger picture, should this be taken as evidence to support the view that automation could create as many jobs as it destroys?

Well, a reassuring point in the University of Michigan’s Self-Driving Cars Teach-Out was the likely increase in roles variously described as operators, attendants, concierges or guides.

A report this week in Auto News detailed how two companies in Arizona are leading the way.

Starsky Robotics announced a career progression plan aimed at “retaining valued driver expertise for remote-controlled driving on the first and last mile”, while haulier TuSimple is offering its drivers the opportunity to become “autonomous vehicle driver and operations specialists”.

More initiatives like these might help to allay automation anxiety… and stop people throwing rocks at self-driving test cars.

Should driving be outlawed in the driverless future?

Expressing a highly contentious view, Jonathan Webber, Professor of Philosophy at Cardiff University, has suggested that human drivers should be banned once driverless cars are up to speed.

Writing in The Conversation, he said: “Robot drivers won’t break the speed limit, jump the lights, or park where they shouldn’t. They won’t drive under the influence of drink or drugs. They’ll never get tired or behave aggressively. They won’t be distracted by changing the music or sending a text, and they’ll never be trying to impress their mates.

“Many people enjoy driving. But many people enjoy smoking too, and this is banned in public places. There could be designated safe spaces for drivers to indulge their hobby without risk to other people.”

It is a convincing argument. He even acknowledges the importance of access, saying: “There is a strong case that essential transport infrastructure should be publicly owned. And if private cars are not an option, perhaps the cost of using autonomous taxis should be proportionate to ability to pay.

“But regardless of how we resolve these practical issues, it seems that the enormous benefits of safe, driverless taxis should lead us to remove any other kind of car from our roads.”

This strong stance puts him on a collision course with Alex Roy, the New York-based founder of the Human Driving Association (HDA).

An arch critic of fatuous and excessive claims made by self-driving proponents, eyebrows were raised when Roy wrote an article for The Drive explaining why he had accepted a position with driverless tech company Argo AI.

“I want what any sane person should want. I want tomorrow, today. I want it to be reliable. I want technology that enhances my life rather than restricts it,” he said.

“I want to own a car with a self-driving button, but I still want a steering wheel, and I want to set the first autonomous Cannonball Run record, and I want my daughter to have a driver’s license.”

To achieve this, the HDA is calling for a constitutional amendment on the right to drive your own vehicle.

As so often with the embryonic driverless car industry, there are more questions than answers: Are the two really so far apart? Do we need something like the HDA on this side of the pond?

New £8.4m CAV testing facility at Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire

A new 6km testing facility for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) is being constructed at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome and Proving Ground in Leicestershire.

The development, to be known as the Cavway, is expected to cost £8.4m, including £4m of government funding.

It will feature an array of highways designed by consortium partner Applus+ IDIADA, including smart motorways, rural B roads, urban A roads and all kinds of junctions.

Dave Walton, managing director of Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, said “The site at Bruntingthorpe and the experience of the Bruntingthorpe team, together with IDIADA’s experience in designing and operating proving grounds, will allow us to develop a world class CAV facility which will attract intelligent vehicle development activities to the UK.”

The project is backed by Zenzic, previously Meridian Mobility, a joint government and industry initiative tasked with accelerating connected and driverless vehicle technologies in the UK.

UK Autodrive report highlights driverless progress and challenges

The groundbreaking UK Autodrive project has published its final report, reflecting on some impressive achievements and highlighting urgent challenges.

Back in December 2014, UK Autodrive was one of three successful consortia selected from Innovate UK’s Introducing Driverless Cars To UK Roads competition. On launch, in October 2015, it was the UK’s largest ever trial of connected and self-driving vehicles.

The rollcall of big names involved with the project included planning consultants Arup, Milton Keynes and Coventry City councils, vehicle manufacturers Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata, automotive technology specialist RDM, transport systems specialist Horiba-Mira, and Oxford and Cambridge universities.

The three main elements were: 1) The Cars programme, focused on the development and trialling of connected and autonomous passenger cars; 2) The Pods programme, focused on the development and trialling of a new form of last-mile electric-powered pod vehicle; and 3) The Cities programme, aimed at helping cities to understand how they could best facilitate and benefit from automated transport systems.

JLR, Tata and RDM all praised it for significantly advancing their autonomous capabilities, with Emergency Vehicle Warning and Collaborative Parking judged to have been particularly effective. The Electronic Emergency Brake Light feature was also considered to have strong potential.

Just as importantly, the report highlighted five major challenges:

  • The levels of integration with road infrastructure, including traffic signals
  • Issues related to time synchronisation between system components
  • Extra care to be taken during testing in areas where pedestrians cross
  • The need to correct for road surface imperfections compared to 2D maps
  • The current imprecision of GPS for lane-level localisation

Tim Armitage, project director at Arup, said: “The success of the project was primarily down to the vast and varied expertise of the UK Autodrive consortium partners, and to the collaborative manner in which we worked from day one.”

You can download the full report here

AV: adult video, autonomous vehicle or both?

It was inevitable, but it has still caused a stir – a couple have filmed a sex tape while travelling in a Tesla Model X in Autopilot mode on a US highway.

Media outlets across the globe reported that amateur porn star Taylor Jackson, of Los Angeles, performed the dangerous deed with her boyfriend and posted it on adult site PornHub.

She then took to Twitter to inform Tesla boss Elon Musk: “Holy shit, I made @Tesla the #1 search on pornhub.”

While Tesla warns all its drivers to “stay alert, drive safely and be in control of the vehicle at all times”, Musk couldn’t resist commenting: “Turns out there’s more ways to use Autopilot than we imagined… shoulda seen it coming…”

Two people who did predict it were UK academics Scott Cohen, of the University of Surrey, and Debbie Hopkins, of the University of Oxford.

In their 2018 paper Autonomous vehicles and the future of urban tourism, they noted: “While shared connected and autonomous vehicles (SCAVs) will likely be monitored to deter passengers having sex or using drugs in them, and to prevent violence, such surveillance may be rapidly overcome, disabled or removed.

“Moreover, personal CAVs will likely be immune from such surveillance. Such private CAVs may also be put to commercial use, as it is just a small leap to imagine Amsterdam’s Red Light District on the move.”

The development is also a blow for the acronym AV in the driverless world.

Already facing stiff completion from CASE (connected, autonomous, shared and electric), SDC (self-driving car) and others, it must now contend with adult video being a related search term.

Win for Wi-Fi over 5G in connected car technology race

In a controversial move, the European Commission (EC) has backed Wi-Fi-based ITS-G5 over its 5G-based rival, C-V2X, in the race to become the standard for internet connected cars.

The clincher was apparently that Wi-Fi is already widely available, but many see it as a victory for ITS-G5 supporters Volkswagen, Renault and NXP, who claim it is better for time-critical communications such as crash avoidance.

In the opposite corner, big hitters like Ford, Daimler, Deutsche Telekom and Huawei back C-V2X, arguing that it can support a wider range of applications.

The US and China are both expected to endorse 5G and driverless car cybersecurity is very much in the spotlight.

According to Techradar, Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA (the trade association for mobile network operators), wrote to the European Parliament criticising Wi-Fi as old technology.

Meanwhile, Reuters quoted Lise Fuhr, director general of telecoms lobbying group ETNO, as saying: “Europe cannot mandate only one technology for connected driving. Member states can now correct this by bringing 4G and 5G back into the picture: global competitiveness and safety are at stake.”

The EC legislation still requires approval in the European Council, so the victory for Wi-Fi isn’t assured yet.

Tackling driverless car cybersecurity threats: prevention, detection and mitigation

84% of automotive professionals have concerns that their organisational cybersecurity practices are failing to keep pace with evolving technologies, according to a new report by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

This is a major worry, and something of a disappointment, given it is nearly four years since the notorious Wired video in which hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek remotely seized control of a Jeep Cherokee containing journalist Andy Greenberg:

Wired video: hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek remotely seize control of a Jeep

“Seriously, it’s fucking dangerous,” he protested as they killed the engine while he was driving on a US highway.

These days, of course, there are millions more internet enabled ‘connected cars’ potentially susceptible to such attacks.

Despite this, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) rules on cybersecurity engineering in relation to road vehicles are still “under development”.

Last year, the Cyber Security Body Of Knowledge (CyBOK) proposed a three-stage approach to tackling the issue: 1) Prevention; 2) Detection; and 3) Mitigation.

However, it warned: “Even with good techniques to prevent introduction of vulnerabilities in new code, or to detect vulnerabilities in existing code, there is bound to be a substantial amount of legacy code with vulnerabilities in active use for the foreseeable future.”

Just this month, Jaguar Land Rover suggested that fully driverless cars might need a billion lines of code, meaning a lot of scope for loopholes.

The good news is there’s a massive profit incentive for anyone coming up with a robust solution, so tech giants, vehicle manufacturers and start-ups are all on the case.

For example, the Innovate UK-funded 5StarS project brings together experts from Horiba Mira, Ricardo, Roke, Axillium and Thatcham.

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham, said: “The 5StarS consortium aims to introduce a new system of star ratings for the security of autonomous cars against cyber-attacks, like Euro NCAP’s ratings for the crash safety of cars.”

UK driverless car road trials in Cambridge, London and Manchester

Following the Department for Transport’s announcement that the UK is planning advanced driverless car road trials – meaning no safety driver – here’s an update on the latest tests currently taking place in English cities.

In Bromley and Croydon, FiveAI is operating five self-driving cars day and night with safety drivers at the wheel.

The plan is to roll-out an autonomous car-sharing service, with passenger trials scheduled to begin next year.

FiveAI’s co-founder and chief executive, Stan Boland, said: “Safety and trusted partnerships are crucial to everything we do. We’ll continue to keep residents informed along the way, working closely with the London Boroughs and Transport for London.”

The company was previously part a project known as StreetWise – a consortium awarded more than £12m by the Government to develop autonomous car software.

In Cambridge, Wayve is developing a system which relies on cameras, a sat-nav and machine learning, rather than hand-coded rules.

This video shows a Wayve vehicle with a backup driver navigating complex urban streets it has never encountered before:

A Wayve vehicle with a backup driver navigating complex urban streets

The company’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Alex Kendall, said: “We’ve built a system which can drive like a human, using only cameras and a sat-nav. This is only possible with end-to-end machine learning. With each piece of data we’re able to train our system to get better and better.”

This appears to fly in the face of the majority view that radar and lidar are vital connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies. Time will tell.

Looking ahead, Project Synergy is planning to run three autonomous, electric Westfield sports cars on public roads between Stockport Railway Station and Manchester Airport from January 2020.

Clare Cornes, intelligent mobility manager at Westfield, said: “Safety is paramount on this project.”

We certainly hope so!