Mitchell Gingrich on the Elaine Herzberg tragedy and why the future will be autonomous.

Self-driving experts across the world agree: the trolley problem is a nonsense

Thanks to LinkedIn, self-driving experts from the UK and New Zealand have united to decry the trolley problem in relation to driverless cars.

Mitchell Gingrich, President of Autonomous Consulting in Christchurch, New Zealand, responded to our interview with Professor John McDermid, Director of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme at the University of York, saying: “Spot on about the trolley problem.”

Professor McDermid had asserted that: “The trolley problem is a nonsense… all these elaborate versions require self-driving vehicles to make distinctions that you or I could not.”

The trolley problem is a thought experiment which runs like this: Imagine there’s a runaway trolley and, ahead, five people are tied to the track; You are standing some distance off, next to a lever. If you pull it, the trolley will switch to a track only one person is tied to. What do you do?

Or, as Professor McDermid puts it: “Who do you save, a child or an older person? The child because they can be expected to live longer and benefit more. However, this is based on false assumptions. I don’t believe in the split second of a crash you go into that sort of thought process – you focus on controlling the vehicle and in most cases the best option is to (try to) stop.” 

I explained to Gingrich that my own opinion on the trolley problem has changed dramatically. When I wrote “Autonomous now: the shift to self-driving” in 2018 I was quite taken with it. In 2019, I wrote “The driverless dilemma: touchstone or red herring?”. Now, I am much more with Professor McDermid.

Gingrich opined that the March 2018 fatal accident involving an Uber Advanced Technology Group (Uber ATG) self-driving vehicle can aid in evaluating the trolley problem. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the US recently completed an 18-month-long investigation and concluded there were 20 contributing factors. Some of those concerned the software misclassifying a pedestrian. A significant contributing factor was the safety driver’s inattentiveness.

The trolley problem assumes that a person or system is not only aware of the task of driving but also of the present and future merits of the lives of road users, he says. However, experience demonstrates that, sadly and all too frequently, road users pay the price for a lack of vigilance.

It turns out that Gingrich, a lawyer by trade, has been on quite a journey with autonomous vehicles himself. From working for Uber ATG in Phoenix, seeing first-hand the fallout from the Elaine Herzberg tragedy, to relocating to New Zealand and setting up Autonomous Consulting to push the case for driverless transport.

“I’m convinced that the future will be autonomous,” he says. “Whether it’s on public roads, in the air or on the seas, we will be utilising autonomous technology to transport our people and goods. That’s what autonomy is promising, but we’re in an interim period.

“New cars have advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like lane keep assist and automatic emergency braking. Some of us have been using cruise control for a long time, now it is adaptive – the car will keep its distance. These are autonomous features but not autonomy and we need to educate the public about the difference.

“Autonomy is about safety, resources and the environment. These ADAS systems expect me to pay attention to the road and the robot, and that’s not a recipe for safety. 93-94% of accidents are caused by human error, usually distraction – we think we’re paying attention, but we aren’t. There are repair and maintenance issues too, for example, around the correct calibration of sensors.

“In terms of resources, my personal car is a depreciating asset that isn’t used 90% of the time. Autonomous vehicles will also have a tremendous impact on town planning. An architect in the US imagined Manhattan pedestrianised and it freed up 60% of space.

“My freedom is not challenged by not having a personal vehicle. I’d have more money in my pocket and could use my smartphone to access different vehicles for different purposes.”

For further info, check out the white paper “The Driverless Revolution: What Next? The Future of Autonomous Vehicles in New Zealand”, by Mitchell Gingrich and Steven Moe, and this related podcast.

Carsofthefuture.co.uk is media partner for event boasting most senior collection of technology, AV, EV and ADAS leaders ever seen.

Carsofthefuture.co.uk is media partner for Car of the Future 2021

Carsofthefuture.co.uk has signed a media partnership agreement with Reuters Events for the two-day Car of the Future 2021 online event in June.

Intended to drive vehicle change to create a safer and more sustainable world, the event boasts the most senior collection of technology, autonomous vehicles (AV), electric vehicle (EV) and advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) leaders ever seen.

High profile speakers include: Michelle Avary, Head of Automotive and Autonomous Mobility at The World Economic Forum; Carla Gohin, Research & Innovation Senior Vice President at Stellantis; Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Cars; Sajjad Khan, Member of the Board of Management at Mercedes-Benz AG; José Muñoz, Global Chief Operating Officer at Hyundai Motor Company; and Dr Ken Washington, Chief Technology Officer at Ford Motor Company.

Carsofthefuture.co.uk founder, Neil Kennett, said: “We’re delighted to be a media partner for this exciting Reuters event which fits perfectly with our mission to chart the development of, and encourage sensible debate about, driverless cars in the UK. Full self-driving is a way off yet but as ever more advanced driver assistance systems become available, notably Automated Lane Keeping (ALK), it is vital that the public understands where we are with the technology and what it can and can’t do.”

Car of the Future 2021 will take place on 14-15 June. See reutersevents.com 

Ahead of this, Reuters Events will host a free webinar, Connectivity: Smarter and Safer Vehicles, on 24 March. Confirmed speakers include: Michelle Avary; Szabi Patay, Head of Automotive at Commsignia; Prashant Tiwari, Director of Intelligent Connected Systems at Toyota North America; and Frank Weith, Director of Connected and Mobility Services at Volkswagen Group America. Register here.

#ReutersEventsAutomotive

IPG expert says simulations can be better than real world testing.

The road to self-driving: Vehicle Certification Agency urged to accept simulation

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Elliot Hemes and Will Snyder of IPG Automotive UK.

Chartered engineer and self-proclaimed simulation evangelist, Elliot Hemes, previously worked in global product marketing at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), covering future automotive trends. Now managing director at IPG Automotive UK, he works with big-hitters including Ford and JLR to provide virtual test driving environments. Here, in discussion with IPG Automotive sales engineer Will Snyder, he explains how simulation will be vital for the shift to self-driving.

EH: “As vehicle systems become more complex and interconnected, we ensure that manufacturers can virtually test their systems in realistic traffic situations, using an approach that is quick and accurate.”

WS: “IPG Automotive started in vehicle dynamics, then advanced driver assistance (ADAS) was the next big thing, now it is autonomous vehicles (AVs). The amount of testing required to achieve true autonomy is impossible to do in the real world. I believe we will get to Level5 autonomy, but there are some big hurdles such as accounting for human drivers in other vehicles – it would be much easier if every vehicle on the road was autonomous and connected.”

EH: “We might see it first in a city environment, restricted to less than 20mph. People put up lots of reasons why full autonomy can’t happen, but a blanket statement of “it’s too hard” just isn’t good enough. You could say, for example, you can’t use the M6 Toll unless you have vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. That would enable platooning – if one vehicle brakes, they all know about it. 99% of the time, great brakes will get you out of trolley problem scenarios.”

WS: “You cannot say AVs will never crash. The question should be: are they safer than human drivers? And the answer is yes, they definitely will be. When people talk about ADAS deskilling drivers, my response is: what skills?! It is well proven that concentration is badly affected by holding a conversion with someone else in the car, let alone fiddling with the radio or holding a hands-free phone call. We all get defensive about our driving prowess, but it needs to be recognised that the bar for driving is very low. You don’t even learn how to drive on a motorway – that’s not part of the driving test, which is one reason you get so many middle lane sitters.”

EH: “At the moment none of the major vehicle manufacturers are taking the leap to level 4/5, partly because they’re worried about litigation. Once the legislation is in place you will see truck platooning very quickly because of the enormous cost savings. It will require vehicle-to-everything (V2X) and V2V communications. The current ADAS technology is great but the systems are very digital and can have issues with poor light and bad weather. It will improve over time.”

WS: “We could even skip Level 3 as it is safer to move straight to Level4. In my opinion, the driver needs to be either active or not – expecting them to retake control in time in an emergency situation is just not realistic.”

EH: “Over the next decade you will see the gradual adoption of ADAS technologies. Adaptive cruise control (ACC) will become standard and that will avert so many crashes, particularly rear-end shunts. It doesn’t take away from the driver, it just intervenes. However, there is a concern about the performance of these systems in low light conditions – we need much more focus on the edge cases.

“OEMs engineer to perfect Euro NCAP test conditions. In the real world, what happens if the sun is low in the sky, or the pedestrian steps out more quickly? You cannot practically test these kinds of things on a track, which is why you have simulations. You can study that edge case over and over. We’ve had customers ask us to recreate exactly the same environment as the test track, including noise that’s nothing to do with the question in hand. Our advice is not to try to simulate the real world – design the simulation to study exactly the question you want to answer.

“In this way simulation can be better than the real world. Say, for example, you want to test a pedestrian Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) function in the early stage of development. You just want to know if, in the CarMaker environment, it performs the right output – applying enough braking to stop before it hits the dummy pedestrian. The next step is to put that software into an ECU. You can do all that with hardware-in-the-loop testing, improving the capability step-by-step without building a prototype vehicle or driving billions of real-world miles.

“Further still, under heavy braking, the front camera might well point to the floor, maybe the car might start to drift. You can do all that in simulation, to prove that your algorithms hold up and the car does what you think it will do.”

WS: “Another problem with running prototype vehicles on test tracks is that you spend an awful lot of time fixing thousands of other small faults before you get on with what you’re supposed to be testing. We can get all these edge cases done before you get to the test track. By using simulations you get so much more out of the valuable test track time.”

EH: “The ‘systems engineering V’ has all the theoretical stuff on the left, then hardware on the right and validation at the top. Ideally we’ll get to the stage where only validation happens in the physical world. Until the homologation and certification authorities are able to accept simulation results you can’t do enough testing to get AVs on the road. That’s why it is such a vital part of the Zenzic CAM Roadmap.”

For further info, visit ipg-automotive.com

The UK’s National Physical Laboratory is working on a framework for virtual sensor testing.

Developing test frameworks which build a bridge of trust to driverless cars in the UK

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Andre Burgess, digital sector strategy leader at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

NPL is the UK’s National Metrology Institute, responsible for developing and maintaining the national primary measurement standards. For over a century, it has worked to translate scientific expertise into economic prosperity, skilled employment and improved quality of life, covering everything from cancer treatments to quantum computing. In the self-driving sector, Andre Burgess’s focus is test frameworks to support the deployment of safe and reliable autonomous transport on land, sea and air.

Andre Burgess, digital sector strategy leader at NPL
Andre Burgess, digital sector strategy leader at NPL.

AB: “We’re all about measurement and how it can be applied to the autonomous vehicle space. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning represents a great transformation. Whereas in the past we’ve developed tests for whether a human is fit to do something, in this new world we need a new set of tests to assure autonomous systems and build a bridge of trust. This is not a one-off test, it is ongoing work to develop new methodologies and support the development of new standards.

“One of the key things this country has developed is Testbed UK, a collaboration between government and industry which has delivered a formidable testing environment – a network of safe, highly controlled environments increasingly linked to virtual testing.

“Working with the Met Office on behalf of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) over the last year we have focused on the usability and reliability of sensors in different weather conditions. How do you know if sensors are performing well? How do you validate the decision making? How do you apply metrics and KPIs to this? Having undertaken a proof of concept for a testing framework, we are confident this can be delivered and deployed throughout the industry.

“There is much talk about pass/fail tests but our focus is confidence, improving confidence in the outputs and building confidence in the system. We collaborate across the board, with regulators, testers, developers – engaging with them to understand their requirements.  Our approach is to provide tools which help reduce the barriers to innovation without compromising regulation and safety assurance.  Striking the right balance between reliability and usability is key. Our work will support validation and help the UK to influence international standards.

“The biggest transformation in road transport over the next decade will be emissions reduction and self-driving vehicles and smart mobility systems will be key drivers. It will require changes to infrastructure and changes in habits – batteries or hydrogen will be critical, perhaps a need to drive more slowly, maybe less private car ownership. The impact of Covid has led to a move away from trains and buses, so a resurgence of public transport is vital.

“In terms of self-driving, I envisage there will be personally driven vehicles and on-demand vehicles. Increasingly I expect we’ll see a transition into smaller public transport vehicles, perhaps for 8-10 people, in continuous use. There’s real value in getting to places that don’t have bus stops and there’ll be benefits from autonomous safety features too. It won’t be everywhere but I hope within 10 years there’ll be good examples of that in the UK. The question is will we be ahead or behind the curve? In some more authoritarian countries implementation might be faster but maybe not better.

“We’ll also start to see autonomous low level aviation and autonomous shipping, for example, short cargo sea freight. Combined, these things will make roads less congested. Key transport stakeholders have expressed the need to integrate, to pursue the most efficient way to get goods into and around the UK.

“For our part, we are focused on the framework for virtual sensor testing, and also integration between virtual and physical testing. To give an accurate level of confidence requires understanding the common metrics and the areas of uncertainty. The human factor is so important, for example, what about the people with cars that don’t have this tech – how do they respond?”

For further info visit www.npl.co.uk.

Autonomous vehicle software specialist set to become a major UK success story.

Oxbotica secures huge BP investment and targets anything that moves people or goods

Oxford University spin-out, Oxbotica, has been on our must-speak-to list for a while, and on Friday we got some Zoom time with the top people – CEO, Ozgur Tohumcu, and co-founder and CTO, Professor Paul Newman.

It’s three weeks since the autonomous vehicle software specialist announced a US$47m Series B investment led by bp ventures. Yes, that BP. The press release asserts that this will accelerate the deployment of Oxbotica’s platform “across multiple industries and key markets”, but Prof. Newman is quick to emphasise this is not about robotaxis, not even about cars.

Prof Paul Newman, Oxbotica co-founder and CTO.
Prof Paul Newman, Oxbotica co-founder and CTO.

“We’ve been deploying our software in industrial settings – mines, airports – for six years now, and not only in the UK, in Europe, North America, Australia,” he says. “Everyone talks about cars but all vehicles are game for us – anything that requires moving people or goods. That’s the advantage of being pure software.

“We’re a global business and raising this kind of money during a pandemic speaks volumes. We have clear water behind and blue sky ahead. Having these new investors and strategic partners will really allow us to drive home the opportunities that came last year. Vehicles are common but software of our standard is not. We’re showing that great IP can be generated everywhere, not just Silicon Valley, and that’s very refreshing.”

While Prof. Newman focuses on the vision, Tohumcu provides the detail. “Since the funding announcement, the exchange rate means it’s actually worth closer to $50m, so that’s not bad,” he says. “We’ve just conducted a review of the business and it was pleasing to see that we achieved exactly what we said we’d do two years ago – delivering results against measurable goals.

Ozgur Tohumcu, Oxbotica CEO.
Ozgur Tohumcu, Oxbotica CEO.

“We’ve done a lot of planning recently – some well-defined, other things we’re still making choices about. We’ve been approached by new companies interested in using our tech and there are exciting deals in the pipeline, deals that come with investment. We’ll be making further announcements over the coming weeks and months.”

Make no mistake, Oxbotica is set to become a major UK success story… just don’t mention driverless cars!

Dr Charlie Wartnaby says there’s an industry consensus that Level3 self-driving is not reasonable if it requires quick driver intervention.

Self-driving world first: multi-car cooperative crash avoidance

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Dr Charlie Wartnaby, chief engineer at Applus IDIADA.

Way back in 2019 we covered IDIADA’s role in the construction of the new CAVWAY testing facility, and that investment continued with a large new venture. With a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Cambridge, Charlie Wartnaby was technical lead for the ground-breaking Multi-Car Collision Avoidance (MuCCA) project.

Charlie Wartnaby, chief engineer at Applus IDIADA
Charlie Wartnaby, chief engineer at Applus IDIADA

CW: “Certainly the funding from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) for MuCCA and CAVWAY were big wins for us. Traditionally, we’d focused on automotive electrics and engine management, but we could see there was all this exciting CAV work. Now we’re working with an OEM I can’t name to run an field operational test using our IDAPT development tool – a high performance computer with GPS and car-to-car communications – as a spin-off from MuCCA.

“With the MuCCA project, we think we achieved a world first by having multiple full-sized vehicles do real-time cooperative collision avoidance. We still have the cars for further R&D when time, budget and Covid allow.

IDIADA’s Multi-Car Collision Avoidance (MuCCA) project

“In the UK, we’re focussed on building a new proving ground (CAVWAY) near Oxford, which should open in 2021. There’s also our CAVRide Level4 taxi project, at our headquarters near Barcelona. CAVRide shares some of the technology developed for MuCCA and they’ve done some really interesting vehicle-in-the-loop testing, having the real vehicle avoid virtual actors in a simulation environment.

“In the short term, we’re really working hard on the C in CAV. Connected vehicles offer massive safety and efficiency improvements, for example, by warning about stopped vehicles or advising on speed to get through traffic lights on green. There’s a bit of a VHS versus Betamax situation, with both WiFi-based short-range communications and the C-V2X 5G-based protocol, so we’ve upgraded IDAPT to support both.

“Personally I think that while heroic work by the big players shows robotaxi applications are feasible, economic viability is a long way off, 2030 maybe. Watch the latest Zoox and Waymo videos from America, they’re mesmerising! No way is that kind of tech going to be installed in private cars any time soon because it’s eye-wateringly expensive. Think about the costs involved in making every taxi driverless – it’d be out of all proportion to replacing driver salaries, especially considering backup teleoperators and maintenance and charging personnel.

“These big self-driving companies aren’t operating in the UK yet, but we do have very successful smaller players with intellectual property to sell. The UK government has been supporting a good number of R&D projects, via the CCAV and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the regulatory environment has been reasonably friendly so far.

“I feel the first practical applications are likely to be low-speed shuttle buses and small autonomous delivery droids, but trucking is a very important area. If lorry drivers were permitted to stop their tachographs while napping in the back of the cab once on the motorway – only clocking up hours for parts of long journeys – that would make a viable economic case for a Level4 operating design domain (ODD) of ‘just motorways’, which is harder to justify merely as a convenience feature in private cars.

“In terms of current tech, emergency lane keeping systems (ELK), to stop drifting, are a major breakthrough, requiring cameras, sensors and autonomous steering. I welcome the road safety, however, if drivers engage automation systems like ALKS (automated lane keeping) by habit, for sure their skills will be affected. Perhaps there’s a case for the system enforcing some periods of manual driving, just as airline pilots perform manual landings to stay in practice even in planes that can land themselves.

“Concerns about timely handover are well-founded and I think there’s an industry consensus now that Level3 is not reasonable if it requires quick driver intervention. We see up to 20 seconds before some unprepared drivers are properly in control when asked to resume unexpectedly. It really requires that the vehicle can get itself into (or remain in) a safe state by itself, or at least there needs to be a generous takeover period. The difference between L3 and L4 is that the latter must always be able to achieve that safe state.”

For further info, visit www.idiada.com

Prof John McDermid says the trolley problem is a nonsense, requiring self-driving vehicles to make distinctions that you or I could not.

Why assuring machine learning is crucial to self-driving

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Professor John McDermid OBE FREng, Director of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme at the University of York.

Professor John McDermid has been Director of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme, a partnership between Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the University of York, since 2018. He advises government and industry on safety and software standards, including Five and the Ministry of Defence, and was awarded an OBE in 2010. The author of 400 published papers, his 2019 article, Self-driving cars: why we can’t expect them to be ‘moral’, was highly critical of the oft-quoted trolley problem in relation to driverless vehicles.

Professor John McDermid, University of York
Professor John McDermid, University of York

PJM: “I’ve been at York for 30 years working on the safety of complex computer-controlled systems. What you define as complex changes all the time. In January 2018 we started a new programme, looking at the assurance of robots and autonomous systems, including automated mobility, but also robots in factories, healthcare and mining.

“It’s important to demonstrate the safety and security of novel technologies like machine learning, but there’s often a trade-off involved, because you can make things so secure they become unusable. If I open my car with the remote key I have a couple of minutes before it automatically locks again, and there’s a small possibility that someone could get their finger trapped if they try to open the door just as it automatically re-locks. We encounter these types of trade-offs all the time.”

What major shifts in UK transport do you expect over the next 10-15 years?

PJM: “Over the next decade we will get to Level4 autonomous driving, so in defined parts of the road network cars will drive themselves. We will solve the safety problems of that technology, but I’d be surprised if it is within five years. Despite the rhetoric, Tesla’s approach is not on track for safe autonomous driving within the year.

“At the same time, there will be a trend towards Mobility as a Service (MAAS). I love my car, but I’ve had it for 18 months and have only driven 7,000 miles. I sometimes ask myself why I have this expensive piece of machinery. A recent study showed that the average car in the UK is only used for 53 minutes a day. Mostly, they sit doing nothing, which, considering the huge environmental impact of manufacturing all these vehicles, is very wasteful.

“If I could call upon a reliable autonomous vehicle and be 99% certain that it would arrive in a timely manner, say within five minutes, I’d probably give up my car. It should also be noted that the two trends go hand-in-hand. Having Level4 is critical to achieving MAAS, delivering all the convenience of having your own car without any of the hassle.”

Can you address some of the data privacy concerns surrounding connected cars?

PJM: “We are back to this issue of trade-offs again. I want my MAAS so I’ve called it up and given the service provider some information about where I am. If they delete that information after I’ve paid then I’m prepared to accept that. What if the company wants to keep the information but won’t allow access except for law enforcement – would that be acceptable to the public? What can government agencies require this company to do?

“Another example: What if your 10-year-old daughter needs MAAS to take her to school? A reasonable concerned parent should be able to track that. What if the parents are divorced, can they both access that data? There’s clearly a privacy issue and there needs to be a legislative framework, but it’s a balance. For the purposes of getting from A to B, most people would accept it, so long as their data is normally kept private.”

Can you address concerns about the trolley problem in relation to self-driving cars?

PJM: “My basic feeling is that the trolley problem is a nonsense, a distraction. All these elaborate versions require self-driving vehicles to make distinctions that you or I could not.

“The big Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study sets a higher standard for autonomous vehicles than any human can manage. Who do you save, a child or an older person? The child because they can be expected to live longer and benefit more. However, this is based on false assumptions. I don’t believe in the split second of a crash you go into that sort of thought process – you focus on controlling the vehicle and in most cases the best option is to (try to) stop.

“I don’t know why people find the trolley problem so compelling, why they waste so much energy on it. I really wish it would go away. Fortunately, most people seem to be coming to that conclusion, although one of our philosophy lecturers strongly disagrees with me.”

Which sectors do you think will adopt self-driving first?

PJM: “Farming applications might come first as they are short of people in agriculture and the problems are simpler to overcome. If you geofence a field where you wish to use a combine harvester and equip it with technology so it doesn’t run over a dog lying asleep in the field – there’s already tech which is getting quite close to that – then that’s an attractive solution.

“Last mile freight via small delivery robots (like Nuro in the US and Starship here in the UK) might also come quickly, but longer distance freight will probably require a segregated lane. Even last mile robots come with risks, like people tripping over them.

“There’s a lot of commercial desire for robotaxis, and this is potentially a very big market. There are already genuine driverless taxis in the US now, but they have a much simpler road structure than here in the UK.

“The crucial technical bit is finding accepted ways of assuring the machine learning. I would say that, I work on it, but without that regulators and insurers won’t allow it.”

For further info, visit www.york.ac.uk/assuring-autonomy

Why digital twins are crucial to the development of ADAS and CAV.

This is no game: how driving simulations save lives

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Josh Wreford, automotive manager at driving simulation software provider, rFpro.

With digital twins so crucial to the development of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), carmakers including Ferrari, Ford, Honda and Toyota have turned to driving simulation software provider, rFpro. Here, automotive manager Josh Wreford explains the company’s cutting-edge work.

Josh Wreford of rFpro
Josh Wreford of rFpro

JW: “While others use gaming engines, our simulation engine has been designed specifically for the automotive industry, and particularly connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). That’s a big difference because gaming software can use clever tricks to make things seem more realistic, whereas our worlds are all about accuracy.

“We use survey grade laser scanning to create highly detailed virtual models and have an array of customers testing many different ADAS and CAV features, everything from Level1 right up to Level5. We can go into incredible detail, for example, with different render modes for lidar, radar and camera sensors, it is possible to simulate different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum for detailed sensor modelling. It is up to the customer to decide when their system is ready for production, but we save them a lot of time and money in development.

rFpro simulation Coventry
rFpro simulation: Coventry town centre

“Safety critical situations are extremely difficult to test in the real world because it’s dangerous and crashing cars is expensive! That’s why digital twins are great for things like high speed safety critical scenarios – you can test human inputs in any situation in complete safety. Whenever you have a human in play you’re going to have problems because we’re great at making mistakes and are very unpredictable! rFpro provides high quality graphics running at high frame rates to immerse the human in the loop as much as possible. This allows accurate human inputs for test scenarios like handover to a remote driver. We can even allow multiple humans to interact by driving in the same world.

rFpro simulation Holyhead
rFpro simulation: Holyhead

“Before joining rFpro, I worked at McLaren Automotive on gearbox control software, which involved very similar control coding to ADAS. Ethical questions are always interesting, but ultimately a control engineer has to decide what the next action should be based on the exact situation. Our simulations drive robust engineering and better algorithms, so you get the best reaction no matter what occurs.”

For further info, visit rfpro.com.

Influential designer sees an opportunity to rethink the whole UK transport system.

Designer Priestman questions carmakers and champions elegant public transport

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with award-winning designer Paul Priestman, co-founder of PriestmanGoode

Famous for designing Virgin’s Pendolino train and the BT HomeHub, Paul Priestman is one of the UK’s 500 most influential people, according to The Sunday Times. Here, he describes three exciting connected and automated mobility concepts: 1) The Moving Platforms infrastructure network; 2) A modular electric car for autonomous network transit (ANT) company, Dromos; and 3) The Scooter for Life automated electric scooter.

PP: “I’ve always been interested in mass transit and its relationship with the city. Over 30 years, the company has grown and we’re now involved in all forms of transport, even space travel. We take ideas from one sector and transfer them to others.”

Moving Platforms

PP: “This was an idea that grabbed people’s attention: a tram that can move around a city, then go to the outskirts and join a high speed rail line, without stopping, and take you to another town or even country.

PriestmanGoode Moving Platforms animation

“First and last mile is the logjam. If you can crack that then people won’t need personal transport. The cost of private car ownership is astronomical – you have to park it, maintain it, it depreciates something rotten. But carsharing isn’t working yet because the cars themselves are not designed for it – they are designed to be personal.

“There’s an opportunity to rethink the whole system from purchase through leasing to shared ownership and public for hire models, alongside designing an interior which is appropriate for these variants of use. There are a number of disruptors in the market and just as we’ve seen other markets completely transformed through disruptors such as Uber or Amazon, so there’s an opportunity to look at the car industry in the same way.

“The car industry keeps forcing the same product on us, but the market wants change. For the majority of people, especially in cities, you can’t equate private car ownership with the open road, where you can do what you want, it’s just not realistic, but I understand that there are different needs for rural and urban dwellers.

“London is an example of a great public transport system, although most of our stations were designed 150 years ago and haven’t changed much. I use an app to see when the next bus is due and then walk up to the bus stop. The bus usually arrives on time and we fly down our own lane on the Euston Road, passing all the cars stuck in traffic.”

Dromos ANT

PP: “The system is important, not just the vehicle. It is elegant public transport designed around the passenger – the first autonomous system to deliver mass transit, and the infrastructure belongs to the city. The car we designed is half the width of a normal car, with space for two or three people, and it can be steam cleaned. It’s a personal vehicle which will come to you, wherever you are, and then join a dedicated track, becoming almost like a train, before peeling off to complete the journey.”

PriestmanGoode modular electric car for Dromos
PriestmanGoode modular electric car for Dromos

At this point, Priestman refers to our interview with the arch critic of driverless cars, Christian Wolmar. PP: “The problem with some self-driving concepts is you still get traffic jams full of cars with no one in them. A lot of that congestion is caused by delivery vehicles – every time you buy something online you’re causing a traffic jam. Once you have a vehicle which has a dedicated highway you’re free from other traffic and can travel faster and closer together.”

Scooter for Life

PP: “The Scooter for Life was a special commission for the New Old exhibition at the Design Museum. We gave it three wheels, so it doesn’t fall over, and a basket for your bag or dog. It’s electric and can also be automated, so there’s a take-me-home button. People immediately think of autonomous vehicles as being car-sized, but I think they might be smaller. The only reason cars were that size in the first place was to fit in the huge engine, which you no longer need.

PriestmanGoode Scooter for Life
PriestmanGoode Scooter for Life

“People taking the tube for only a stop or two really slow things down, whereas bikes, scooters and walking mean you see more of the city. It’s a bit reclaim the streets and reminds me of the Walklines we designed years ago. The Covid situation, terrible as it is, has shown us a less congested London –an increase in the use of bikes and walking, a city moving in a much healthier way. For me, that’s much more beautiful.”

For more on these designs, and a prototype Hyperloop passenger capsule, visit priestmangoode.com.

Autoura’s Bainbridge says China has won the self-driving engineering race and Level4 is near-term in the UK.

UK urged to concede the self-driving engineering race and focus on the business opportunity

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with the CEO of Autoura, Alex Bainbridge.

Since selling online reservation service TourCMS in 2015, tourism entrepreneur Alex Bainbridge has been working on his next industry gamechanger: Sahra the sightseeing robot – a digital assistant, concierge and tour guide. Sahra is already available as an app for tourists on foot, but combine her with a driverless car and you get an AI holiday rep and your own personal tour bus in one, all completely human-free. Bringing a different perspective to our other Zenzic CAM Creators, the affable Bainbridge has words of wisdom and some brutal home truths for the UK self-driving industry.

AB: “Over the last 20 years we’ve seen web, mobile and social dramatically change the sightseeing industry. These inventions were forced upon us and we’ve had to grapple with them. Self-driving is next and governments around the world are rushing to legalise it. A lot of the focus here is still on engineering, but China has already won that race. The faster we all accept that, the sooner we as a nation can shift to winning the commercialisation race. We’re driven by the money-making opportunity.

Sightseeing Autonomous Hospitality Robot by Autoura – Sahra

“50% of sightseeing is by vehicle and these new automated forms of transport will bring change, whether it’s an e-scooter for a city tour, or a self-driving car for a vineyard visit or road trip. I’m interested in the pure leisure uses and the customer experience, not deliveries or getting from A to B. We’ve built a digital platform that can work on any robo-taxi. Google, Apple, Amazon and Baidu will all run self-driving fleets, and they’re going to have to compete with Uber and Lyft. We want the customer experience layer.

“Most urban vehicle-based sightseeing is currently done by hop-on hop-off buses, but major cities are beginning to ban them – either directly, by closing roads, or indirectly, by not allowing them to park. The transition to autonomous will start with CAVs running routes like buses. This means we can get trading from Level4, and we only need a few vehicles to start. We’re a step away from the hardware but look at Waymo in Phoenix and Cruise in San Francisco – this is near-term and we’re going to see some big changes in the second half of 2021.”

For further info on Autoura’s “in-destination travel experiences”, see autoura.com.