In a wide-ranging interview, our editor Neil Kennett discusses driverless cars, driver assistance systems, proposed changes to The Highway Code, robotaxis, data privacy, the trolley problem, artificial intelligence, and the Smokey and The Bandit theme song, with Dean and Sarah Gratton on the Tech Uncorked podcast.
“I’ve been a motoring journalist for 20-odd-years and I’ve become increasingly obsessed with connected and autonomous vehicles, and very dissatisfied with the majority of national media coverage,” he said.
“As I saw it, driverless cars were presented as either goodies like Kitt from Knight Rider or baddies like The Terminator, and you didn’t really get beyond that, so I launched Carsofthefuture.co.uk to explore the issues in more depth.”
Barrister Alex Glassbrook specialises in road transport and has written two books on UK autonomous vehicle (AV) law. An expert in the law of advanced, automated and electric vehicles, serious personal injury, motor insurance and high-value vehicle damages cases, he begins by highlighting three recent developments:
The Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 coming into force on 21 April 2021;
The government announcement on 28 April that it isn’t yet publishing a list of AVs under Section 1 of the Act, but that it does expect to list vehicles equipped with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) as “automated”; and
AG: “My work overwhelmingly involves car accidents as the source of serious injury, so the AEV Act coming into force was an historic moment. Immediately though, it was clear there was something missing: the list of automated vehicles under Section 1 of the Act, which the Secretary of State is required to publish as soon as it is prepared. There was a presumption that the Act and the list would come together, but they didn’t. We have the Act but no list. In traffic light terms, we’ve gone past amber but there’s no green. What’s going on?
“That question was answered a week later with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles’ publication of its paper for the Department for Transport on whether vehicles equipped with ALKS would be listed as automated. In summary, it said the list is not yet being published because we’re waiting to find out if these vehicles will get Whole Vehicle Type Approval from the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA). If that happens, then the Secretary of State does expect to list them as automated under the AEV Act.
“This has huge implications for liability because it brings into effect a new line of motor insurance. Currently, under the Road Traffic Act, the motor insurer is effectively the body that will satisfy any judgment against a liable driver, or indeed can be sued directly under the direct rights against insurers regulations.
“The new AEV Act does something very different, something particular to AVs: it makes the insurer of the vehicle directly liable. This brings two important changes. One is the direct liability, which is slightly different from the direct rights regs. Second, it attaches to the vehicle rather than the driver, which is quite a radical step.
“There are obviously practical considerations behind this. Would publishing the list before the vehicles get Type Approval be putting the cart before the horse? Even so, it’s a little bit curious because the Act has already come into effect. Moreover, it’s not yet certain that ALKS-equipped vehicles will be classed as automated. The Secretary of State could change his mind.
“Running alongside this, we have the proposed amendments to the Highway Code. They’re quite eye-catching. The current Highway Code reiterates the orthodoxy, that the driver must at all times be in control of the vehicle and must understand the manufacturer’s instructions. The new proposed version is currently out for consultation, but the consultation period is very short, with a deadline of 28 May.
“The key section reads: “On the basis of responses to the call for evidence, and the step-change that the expected introduction of the first legally recognised automated vehicles represents, we have decided to make a more ambitious amendment to The Highway Code, coinciding with the code’s 90th year anniversary.” To me, the fact it is 90 years since the Highway Code was first published in 1931 is neither here nor there. What is notable is the reference to “more ambitious”, because that implies there was an earlier draft.
“The next sentence has the wow factor. It says: “Automated vehicles no longer require the driver to pay attention to the vehicle or the road when in automated mode, except to resume control in response to a transition demand in a timely manner.” The implications of those words are immense.
“The document continues: “Automated vehicles are vehicles that are listed by the Secretary of State for Transport. While an automated vehicle is driving itself, you are not responsible for how it drives, and you do not need to pay attention to the road.”
“Well, we don’t have that list yet, and what follows is really quite striking. It proposes an instruction in the Highway Code, the official guidance to drivers, to do nothing – to pay no attention to how the vehicle is driving or what’s happening on the road. It positively advises drivers to switch off their attention.
“The next paragraph sets some parameters: “If the vehicle is designed to require you to resume driving after being prompted to, while the vehicle is driving itself, you MUST remain in a position to be able to take control. For example, you should not move out of the driving seat.”
“So, you shouldn’t get out of the driving seat – that’s quite a low standard. This appears to be saying it’s fine to watch a movie, it’s fine to go on Instagram, it’s fine to read and respond to business emails. All these tasks are entirely absorbing of concentration and require some disengaging from.
“I’ve done a lot of trials in which I’ve asked witnesses about their appreciation of time during a crash and heard expert evidence about what can happen within a short window of time. Particularly when you’ve got three or four lanes of motorway, multiple vehicles, an awful lot can happen in 10 seconds.
“There are two fairly well-known exceptions to driver control recognised in the law. One is a medical emergency, if a driver is suddenly incapacitated. The other is moments of peril, sometimes known as agony of the moment – when it is such a difficult situation that a driver causing injury by their evasive manoeuvre is not to be judged by the usual demanding standard.
“So, the common law has formed exceptions to liability, but in this case it’s more complex. First, it introduces, for want of a better phrase, artificial intelligence (AI) into the picture. Adjudicating the actions of AI is still a very undeveloped area of law. Second, it brings into the picture something that has been manufactured, namely a computer and sensor system within a moving vehicle. Again, the laws of product liability are at a very early stage of development in relation to AI and new technologies. A notorious example of that is over-the-air (OTA) software, which is not understood as goods.
“From a legal perspective, it is vitally important not to have guidance which leaves open very obvious questions. Unfortunately, these proposed changes to the Highway Code do just that. On the one hand, the Highway Code might say it’s perfectly fine to completely distract yourself from driving. But on the other hand, it’s not okay to do things like climbing out of the driving seat. That leaves open a very broad set of situations and the courts are going to find themselves dealing with some very difficult problems.
“Of course, what the court has to deal with is very much secondary, the primary question must be: what is safe? There are plenty of lessons in the history of motor vehicles when innovation has overreached. Famously, Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe At Any Speed (published in the USA in 1965), highlighted rear suspension which lost traction when going round corners. That changed product liability law across all sectors.
“I’m not a road traffic engineer but, as an observer of many road traffic accident cases over many years, I have real doubts as to the safety of this guidance.”
The Automated Vehicles Review at the Law Commission of England and Wales plays a pivotal role in in the UK government’s push to be at the forefront of the burgeoning global self-driving industry.
Since 2018, when the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) asked The Commission to undertake a far-reaching three-year review of the UK’s regulatory framework for automated vehicles, Jessica Uguccioni, the lead lawyer for the review, has been immersed in reforms to enable their safe and effective deployment.
Notably, in December 2020, The Commission unveiled a consultation setting out a comprehensive regulatory scheme for automated vehicles. The consultation closed in March 2021 and the outcomes are not yet public.
Two concepts are particularly striking: 1) a start-to-finish self-driving vehicle safety assurance scheme; and 2) a user-in-charge.
Under the proposals, when the vehicle is driving in automated mode the person in the driving seat is no longer a driver, but instead a ‘user-in-charge’ with responsibilities to take over driving following a transition demand, and for driver duties that do not relate to dynamic driving (like maintenance of the vehicle, or ensuring children are wearing seatbelts).
Importantly, the user-in-charge would not be criminally liable if an accident occurred while the vehicle was in self-driving mode. Transport Minister Rachel Maclean hailed the work as “leading the way on the regulation of this technology”.
JU: “Our analysis is still evolving, not just in terms of the framework we would like to see, but suggesting changes to existing legislation and identifying gaps.
“For passenger cars, there are two main routes to market: gradually adding driving automation features to consumer vehicles, which may be capable of self-driving for part of a journey but still rely on a human driver to complete a trip; and the ride hail model, with vehicles that can carry passengers or drive empty, and can complete trips while self-driving.
“The oversight needs to be very different, although there is some common ground. The safety assurance scheme applies regardless of the use case. But for cars which cannot complete a journey in self-driving mode, it is important to have a user in charge – a new legal role reflecting the responsibilities of being less than a driver but more than a passenger. On the other hand, fleet operators play a crucial supervisory role for automated vehicles that do not need a user-in-charge.
“There is a lot of unease over the safety of the transition process: human factors input is crucial to ensure the human can be brought back into the loop and take over driving in a safe manner. Circumstances (the ‘operational design domain’ or ODD) must also be taken into account. For example, being in a dedicated lane travelling at 10mph is a very different safety case to motorway driving.
“The SAE levels are helpful, but they don’t tell the whole story. The AV must be safe within its ODD, but any public place brings an amount of randomness. The AV therefore needs to be able to cope with a wide variety of situations. For example, pedestrian safety needs to be taken into consideration for ALKS on motorways – people shouldn’t be walking along or across motorways, but sometimes they are. We need to make sure that redistribution of risk does not disadvantage vulnerable road users – that’s a priority.”
Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing.
As a partner in the ambitious CAVForth project, predicted by the Scottish Mail on Sunday to make Edinburgh “the most ‘driverless’ city in the world”, Fusion Processing is delivering on its promise to design and build world leading systems for the automation of vehicles. Here, CEO Jim Hutchinson talks ADAS, cyclist detection and autonomous vehicle safety, explaining how CAVForth is set to make a major mark on the global self-driving map.
Please can you outline Fusion Processing’s work on connected and automated mobility?
JH: “We’ve been going since 2012. We set up to develop automated vehicle systems with the ultimate goal of being fully autonomous – able to do anything that a human-driven vehicle can. We knew from the start there were a lot of steps along the way and, for essentially a commercial company, we needed to have products along those steps rather than trying for a ‘Level 5 or nothing’ approach.
“We developed the CAVstar platform as a scalable solution – a drive system we could put into pretty much any vehicle, from small cars up to HGV. Along the way we’ve been involved in some great schemes like the Venturer project, one of the original three UK AV projects.
“Then, more or less in parallel with that, we were involved in the Gateway project in London. We provided the autonomous drive system for the pods that drove along the Thames path. That was a big trial with random members of the public – some who came along specifically to experience it, and many others who just wanted to get from the O2 to the other end of the route. The pods encountered various other people on the route – the vehicles had to be mindful of dog walkers and cyclists. The feedback was by and large very positive, and it was a good proof point for us of how our system can be used off-highway.
“It also led to other things, notably our partnerships with Stagecoach and Alexander Dennis. First-off we were exploring using autonomy in bus depots. Every night a lot of operations have to happen involving the movement of vehicles – they have to be fuelled, washed, made ready for the morning, so we put together a system which could automate that. The concept was based on a fleet manager directing all this from a control tower once the bus arrives back at the depot.
“The system proved very successful, demonstrating operating efficiency and improved safety for those working in the depot, so that led to CAVForth – an autonomous bus service. Again, we’re working with Stagecoach and Alexander Dennis, joined by Transport Scotland, Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Napier University.
“The intent is to put into service a number of Level 4 autonomous buses between the Fife Park & Ride and the Hermiston Gait Interchange. It’s a commuter route so we’re expecting a large number of daily commuters who want to travel to the Hermiston Gait Interchange, where they can transfer on to trams for the city centre, the airport or the rail network. We expect tourists will want to use it too to reach the Forth Road Bridge, a UNESCO heritage site.
“It’s a useful service, running every day of the week, and the hope is that it will go from a pilot service to a full service. It’s being registered as a new route, providing a service that wasn’t previously there, and Stagecoach anticipate around 10,000 journeys a week.
“The route includes a mix of road environments – motorway, bus lanes, roundabouts, signalled interchanges – so from our point of view it makes for a great demonstration of capability. There’s the technology side, which Fusion is focussed on, but there’s also key research around public acceptance and uptake. That’s really exciting too.
“The launch date isn’t set in stone due to Covid uncertainties, and the point at which they start taking passengers is still to be determined, but we will be running autonomous buses this year. That’s an incredible milestone, absolutely huge. It will be a very significant achievement to demonstrate a Level 4 capability on that class of vehicle – a big thing for the UK which will be noticed around the world.
“There are one or two other groups working on similar projects, but I haven’t seen anything with this level of ambition, this level of complexity, or length of route. It’ll obviously be fantastic for us and our CAVForth partners, but also for the UK autonomous vehicle industry as a whole. It will really put us on the worldwide map.”
Please can you outline Fusion Processing’s work on driver assistance?
JH: “CycleEye is an important product for us. We identified a need for collision avoidance technology. There are lots of collisions with cyclists and quite often they occur because the bus driver doesn’t know the cyclist is there. CycleEye is like a subsystem of CAVstar in a lot of ways – one of those steps to get some proof points on bits of the technology. It recognises and classifies different types of vehicle, and the driver gets an alert when there’s a cyclist in the danger zone. It is currently being used in a few cities around the UK, including on the Bristol Metrobus. It’s a good system. Whenever it has been evaluated against other cyclist detection systems it has always come out on top.
“We’re particularly excited about the next incarnation of CycleEye, evolving it to become a camera mirror system. It’s legal now to use cameras instead of mirrors, so we can provide that functionality too – monitors in the driver’s cab instead of mirrors. That has several benefits. Mirrors, on buses particularly, can be a bit of a liability – they quite often get knocked and sometimes they knock people. They stick out and head strikes are unfortunately quite common. They also get smashed, putting the bus out of service, which is an inconvenience and an operational cost. We think that being able to offer this camera mirror with CycleEye functionality is going to prove attractive to a lot of operators.”
Over what timescale do you expect Level 4 and 5 autonomy to be achieved in the UK and which sectors will be early adopters?
JH: “With CAVForth we’ll be running Level 4 autonomous vehicles, where you’ve got a restricted operational design domain (ODD), in the UK this year. Restricting these vehicles to particular routes or environments lends itself very well to public service, where the vehicles are maintained by an operator. That’s very achievable right now. As well as passenger service vehicles, other service vehicle fleets are easy wins, as well as off-highway stuff like industrial sites. Then you’ve got delivery vehicles.
“When it comes to true Level 5 – go anywhere, do anything vehicles – repair and maintenance is an issue. We know that with privately owned cars, some people maintain them exactly as they should, and other people don’t. There are other complications too – things that people perhaps don’t do that often but like their vehicles to be able to do, like parking in a farmer’s field at a festival – that’s a little bit further out still.
“If you just roll back slightly from true Level 5, if people want a city car or a comfortable car for a long motorway journey, nothing off-road, there’s a case for vehicles which have an autonomous mode. That certainly appeals to me.”
Can you address the concerns about ADAS, particularly handover of control, driver concentration levels and driver deskilling?
JH: “I’m not a big fan of Level 3. If you haven’t been driving for an hour to suddenly be asked to take the wheel because the car has encountered something it can’t handle, it’s just unrealistic. Whereas a Level 4 system, which can put itself into a safe state when it reaches the limits of its ODD – perhaps ready to be restarted in a manual mode when the driver wants to take control – that’s much more practical.
“If there are circumstances when the driver needs to take over then clearly the driver needs to be of a standard that they can drive safely. Once you have widespread adoption of autonomous systems, and people are not driving routinely, there is a risk of driver deskilling. If that were the case you’d really need to look at greater regulation of drivers.
“That said, you can sometime envisage problems that don’t really transpire. We’ve had cruise control and adaptive cruise control for a while now and I don’t think they’ve had the effect of particularly deskilling drivers. So, with Lane Keep, maybe it’s not such a big deal. Once you get to the point where cars are properly self-driving, there is a danger. If you haven’t got anything to do your mind will wander, that’s human nature, so it is a concern.”
That, I thought, was conclusion reached, the end of the matter. Far from it! In response to the latter article, Karim Jaser, Senior Product Manager specialising in artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of things (IoT) for blue chip companies, posted a resolute defence of the much-maligned thought experiment on our LinkedIn page.
“I do agree that humans don’t go through the trolley problem evaluation in the split decision second, however I also think not all experts agree it is a nonsense,” he said. “It is for society as a whole to discuss these ethical problems. From the point of view of self-driving technology, this can be solved in many ways, with probability theory and estimations on minimal loss, but it is not up to developers or self-driving experts alone to decide how to tackle the point. It needs the involvement of regulators, governments and the industry.”
KJ: “I was always fascinated by robot intelligence, so at university I studied telecommunication engineering. There were lots of exams on probability theory, system control, software engineering. I was also involved in coding in my spare time, and later did it as a job.
“Self-driving is a control problem first and foremost. There are elements of robotics, including perception state estimation and trajectory planning, but also software, hardware and AI working together.
“The interest grew stronger when I started studying machine learning and AI about four years ago. When I was at university in the 90s, AI was not really a popular subject. It was a topic I picked up later in my career. As a senior product manager at a high technology company, AI is everywhere now – it’s an essential part of the skills necessary to perform and innovate, from biometric scans and image recognition to automated travel.
“AI has a lot of potential to have a beneficial impact on society – fewer accidents, better mobility, less pollution, more autonomy for people with disabilities – but it doesn’t come without challenges, for example, cyber threats, and also ethical and regulatory issues, which is why I got involved on the trolley problem.”
“It’s not straightforward. If we take a step back, you we need to understand how self-driving cars take decisions. They’re using supervised learning, reinforcement learning, convolutional neural networks (CNN) and recurrent neural networks (RNN), deep learning for computer vision and prediction. Specifically, reinforcement and inverse reinforcement learning are very tightly linked to the way driverless vehicles behave through means of policies.
“Policies are related to the distribution of probabilities, but the trolley problem is an ethical choice, so I understand why a lot of people in the industry dismiss it. It’s not the way autonomous vehicles take decisions, going through philosophical considerations in a split second, so it might seem irrelevant, right? Like the Turing Test and Asimov’s Robot Rules, the trolley problem can be perceived as a distraction from more practical considerations.
“It can be distracting for two reasons: first, these considerations are corner cases – there are other priorities, more likely scenarios still to be addressed; second, autonomous vehicles will not be given ethical guidelines to link with probabilities.
“With regards to the first objection, as Patrick Lin (director of the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University) has pointed out, it shouldn’t matter if these scenarios are impossible, because the job of these thought experiments is to force us to think more carefully about ethical priorities, not to simulate the realities.
“The second objection is related to self-driving cars taking decisions through distribution of probabilities. The actions of these vehicles are linked not to hard coding, but all statistical contextual information, and that makes each scenario difficult to interpret. You can potentially have millions of mini trolley problems in different contexts.
“The trolley problem is a reminder that corner cases and autonomous vehicle behaviours are not a technical irrelevance. This is an issue that belongs to society and should be discussed in the same way as other AI pitfalls like privacy and bias.
“Actually, the trolley problem is more related to the third pitfall of AI, replicability. When trying to understand why and how an autonomous vehicle takes a decision, it is important to note that most autonomous vehicle developers are taking ethical considerations into account.
“In 2017 in America, Apple commended the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for including ethical considerations in its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. It even highlighted three particular areas: 1) the implications of algorithmic decisions for the safety, mobility and legality of automated vehicles and their occupants; 2) the challenge of ensuring privacy and security in the design of automated vehicles; and 3) the impact of automated vehicles on the public good, including their consequences for employment and public spaces.
“The automotive industry has also approached the issue of accidents caused by autonomous vehicles in relation to ethics. For example, Volvo stated in 2015 that it would take responsibility for all Volvo self-driving car accidents. This is an ethical decision, because it did so without regulation forcing it to do so.
“We will see what happens. If there are no ethical decisions by the industry, the regulators will step in. On a fun note, looking to the past, horses were not considered responsible for their actions, the rider was. Whereas in this case, responsibility for the autonomous vehicle will lie not with the owner but with the carmaker.
“So, to conclude, automakers and AV developers are taking ethical and regulatory matters into account, which underlines the importance of these discussions. We cannot just dismiss the trolley problem because it’s not the way an autonomous vehicle decides, or because it distracts from technical development.
“The way to deal with this is to discuss the implications in the right context, being aware of how autonomous vehicles are developed without scaring the public with sensationalist articles. The trolley problem might be perceived as a Terminator-style situation, and that’s where it gets on the nerves of a lot of people that are developing and testing AI. It’s not black and white, it’s a grey area, and that takes us to the path of discussions.
“The trolley problem forces us to consider ethics in vehicle development and confront the fact that ethical principles differ around the world, as documented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) simulation.
“Are we at the point where discussing the trolley problem should be a priority? I believe that would be beneficial to the success of the self-driving industry, guiding us in the thinking process of building the right mix of safeguards and transparency.”
Mitchell Gingrich on the Elaine Herzberg tragedy and why the future will be autonomous.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
IPG expert says simulations can be better than real world testing.
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.”
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.
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?”
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.
“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.
“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!