Kodiak and TuSimple are both in the vanguard of the fast-growing self-driving freight industry.

Driver out: US autonomous trucks lead the self-driving charge

Here at Cars of the Future we like to keep an eye on global self-driving media coverage – that’s how we find the hyperbolic headlines – so naturally we watched this Voice of America (VOA) news report:

Voice of America: Self-Driving Trucks May Beat Autonomous Cars in Race for Acceptance

In it, Cheng Lu, Advisor to TuSimple CEO Dr Xiaodi Hou, and Don Burnette, Co-Founder & CEO of Kodiak Robotics, go into bat for autonomous trucking, while Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and economic sociologist Steve Viscelli, author of The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream, provide cautionary commentary, if not overt opposition.

Self-driving opinions

While Lu and Burnette sell the benefits and share their progress – we’ll come to that in a minute – Chase points out: “We’re the ones on the roads with these vehicles and the public right now is an unwitting participant in a very high tech science experiment.”

Viscelli adds: “I’d say all drivers are concerned about the future of those jobs. They’re not yet convinced of the potential for really upskilling your job.”

As an aside, here’s a fact: Voice of America is apparently the largest and oldest US-funded international broadcaster.

Self-driving terminology

Anyway, with the US and UK apparently heading in opposite directions when it comes to describing the self-driving / driverless / autonomous / automated vehicle industry, the bit that caught our attention was “driver out”.

A quick visit to the TuSimple website reveals that it coined the term.

“TuSimple became the first and only company to autonomously operate heavy-duty trucks on open public roads with no humans in the vehicle, no remote control, and no human intervention of any kind,” it says. “TuSimple calls these, ‘Driver Out’ runs.”

Earlier this year, the California-based trucking company announced that Union Pacific Railroad will be the first to move freight on its fully automated trucking route between Tucson and Phoenix, following a test run on a similar route in December.

“At TuSimple, our mission is to automate certain routes that make the most sense to automate — and those are longhaul applications, the ones that have greater distance, a lot of repetition,” Lu told Transport Topics.

“It frees up valuable driver resources and valuable freight capacity to other parts of the logistics network — first-mile, last-mile, stuff it doesn’t make sense to automate.”

In March, the company posted this video to YouTube:

TuSimple: Advanced capabilities of driver out

Titled “Advanced capabilities of driver out autonomous driving system”, it shows the TuSimple autonomous trucks changing lanes and carefully avoiding other vehicles, including motorcycles.

Meanwhile, on 12 May, Kodiak posted this video of its truck performing a staged “fallback”, autonomously pulling to the side of the road after a pre-planned wire-cut:

Kodiak truck performing a staged fallback

Kodiak has been delivering freight daily between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, operating autonomously on the highway section of the route, for over a year now.

Ten times each second, the company’s self-driving system evaluates the performance of more than 1,000 safety-critical processes and components in both the self-driving stack and the underlying truck platform.

Kodiak self-driving truck performs fallback on pre-planned wire cut
Kodiak self-driving truck performs fallback on pre-planned wire cut

“It’s essential that the self-driving technology powering an 80,000-pound semi-truck is capable of reacting swiftly and safely, no matter what happens,” said Burnette.

“Kodiak’s autonomous trucks are constantly monitoring themselves and preparing to pull over in case of a fault, just like a human would.

“Implementing a fallback system is a fundamental necessity to achieving that level of safety and we are the first autonomous trucking company to demonstrate this capability on public roads.

“We have integrated fallback technology into the Kodiak Driver’s architecture from the beginning – it would be incredibly hard to add this capability as an afterthought.”

Self-driving photos

Kodiak and TuSimple – both in the vanguard of the fast-growing self-driving freight industry, and therefore in the eye of the media storm – also appear to be in competition for the best ‘truck on a bridge’ photo.

TuSimple self-driving truck on bridge photo
TuSimple self-driving truck on bridge photo
Kodiak self-driving truck on bridge photo
Kodiak self-driving truck on bridge photo

We think TuSimple just edge it on that score, but the big self-driving winners are yet to be decided.

Get your grant application in! UK government announces £40m funding for commercial self-driving projects

£40m CCAV funding competition will kick-start self-driving as rival to new railway lines and bus routes

On 23 May, a new £40m funding competition to kick-start commercial self-driving services – Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility – was announced by Minister for Investment, Lord Grimstone.

Run by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) – the government unit tasked with shaping the safe and secure emergence of connected and self-driving vehicles in the UK – the competition aims to bring together companies and investors so that sustainable business models can be rolled out nationally and exported globally.

The types of self-driving vehicles that could be deployed include delivery vans, passenger buses, shuttles and pods, as well as those for airports and shipping ports.

Self-driving Spokesperson

Lord Grimstone launched CCAV's self-driving funding competition
Lord Grimstone launched CCAV’s self-driving funding competition

Minister for Investment, Lord Grimstone, said: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise people’s lives, whether it’s by helping to better connect people who rely on public transport with jobs, local shops, and vital services, or by making it easier for those who have mobility issues to order and access services conveniently.

“This funding will help unlock the incredible potential of this new and growing industry, building on the continued development of self-driving technology, attracting investment and helping make our transport cleaner, safer and more efficient.”

Regular readers will note that this is the second high profile self-driving comment by Lord Grimstone this week, following his praise for Oxbotica’s landmark self-driving success of running a zero-occupancy vehicle on UK roads.

Transport Minister, Trudy Harrison, added: “We know that self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys cleaner, easier and more reliable. But our absolute priority is harnessing the technology to improve road safety.

“With around 88% of road collisions currently caused by human error, this funding will drive the introduction of new technology to improve travel for all, while boosting economic growth and highly skilled jobs across the nation.”

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Chief Executive, Mike Hawes, was also quoted in the official competition launch press release, saying: “Self-driving vehicles offer major benefits to society – improving road safety, supporting new jobs and economic growth, and enabling greater mobility for everyone – so the UK is rightly seeking to be at the forefront of this technological evolution.

“Recent regulatory reforms have helped Britain establish itself as a leader in the rollout out of self-driving passenger vehicles, and today’s announcement is a significant step towards self-driving public transport and goods delivery services becoming a reality.

“This new funding competition will help drive innovation and, potentially, private investment in UK automotive, ensuring cutting-edge self-driving technology finds a clearer path to UK roads.”

CCAV self-driving funding competition 2022
CCAV self-driving funding competition 2022

Self-driving Statistics

The statement went on to trot out the now familiar lines that self-driving “could be worth £42bn to the UK economy by 2035… potentially creating 38,000 new skilled jobs”.

However, deeper into the announcement came more interesting nuggets: £1.5m of the funding will be used to study using self-driving vehicles as an alternative to mass transit systems, for example, instead of new railway lines or bus routes.

Although there was no mention of it in the actual speech, unlike rail, the competition launch also included this eye-catching line: “The government announced a Transport Bill in the recent Queen’s Speech that will introduce comprehensive legislation for self-driving vehicles to enable safe and responsible deployment.”

Slightly worryingly, it went on to confirm that: “The first vehicles to be listed as self-driving in the UK – vehicles approved under the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) Regulation – could be available for people to purchase, lease or rent later this year.”

We get tired of saying it, but the continuing conflation of assisted driving and self-driving really isn’t helpful.

To be fair, the “notes to editors” section did reiterate that “Currently, there are no vehicles approved for self-driving on Britain’s roads meaning drivers must always remain in control of the vehicle.”

Further headline stats included:

  • In 2035, 80% of Britain’s jobs relating to CAV technology production are estimated to be in software-related industries. The remaining 20% would be in the production of CAV hardware, such as sensors.
  • Over 90% of the jobs created in developing CAV software and over 80% of the jobs relating to the manufacture of CAV hardware are expected to be in professional, technical and skilled trade occupations.
  • The SMMT estimates that self-driving vehicles could save 3,900 lives and prevent 47,000 serious accidents by 2030.
  • The Connected Places Catapult forecasts that, by 2035, 40% of new UK car sales could have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value of £41.7bn.

Key To UK Self-driving

The Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility competition officially opened on 23 May 2022, the day before a CCAV, Innovate UK, Innovate UK KTN and Zenzic industry engagement event at the National Digital Exploitation Centre in Ebbw Vale, Wales.

As an indicator of the documents the Government considers most important, projects must align with the nine principles of the Future of Mobility Urban Strategy, those using public roads must comply with the DfT’s Code of Practice: Automated Vehicle Trialling, while terminology in applications should comply with the meanings set out in BSI’s CAV Vocabulary.

Only UK-registered organisations can apply. Your project’s total grant funding request must be between £500,000 and £9m, and projects must start by 1 March 2023.

Entries close at 11:00am on 20 July 2022.

Lord Grimstone says Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy feat will strengthen UK as a leading destination to develop self-driving vehicles

Minister praises Oxbotica’s landmark self-driving success: 1st zero-occupancy vehicle on UK roads

On 20 May 2022, Oxford-based autonomous vehicle software specialist, Oxbotica, announced a landmark success – the first zero-occupancy, fully self-driving, electric vehicle on publicly accessible roads anywhere in Europe.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel praised Oxbotica for Europe’s first zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle journey
Lord Grimstone praised Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy self-driving feat

The sensational road test, conducted in Oxford earlier this month, was praised by Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, Minister of State for Investment jointly at the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), formerly Gerry Grimstone, chairman of Barclays Bank.

“Oxbotica’s completion of Europe’s first zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle journey on the road is testament to the UK’s world class automotive sector,” he said.

“This exciting development will further strengthen the UK’s reputation as a leading destination to develop and deploy self-driving vehicles, as well as helping grow a sector that will support highly-skilled jobs across the country.”

Self-driving European 1st

In a video detailing the achievement, Oxbotica founder & CTO, Paul Newman, explained: “Today, we ran an autonomous vehicle with no driver on open roads in the UK for the first time. It’s a great moment for this business and for the ecology of driverless vehicle technology in the UK.”

Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle

The peculiar-looking all-electric AppliedEV boasts radar vision, laser-based sensors and the Oxbotica Driver System, but what is more striking is what it doesn’t have – doors, windows, seats, pedals or a steering wheel.

Instead, it features an array of self-driving tech mounted on a small pylon fixed to the centre of the chassis.

The Oxbotica Driver software provides the vehicle with a rich understanding of its surroundings, with multiple Artificial Intelligence (AI) continuously checking decisions.

Oxbotica’s European 1st zero-occupancy self-driving
Oxbotica’s European 1st zero-occupancy self-driving

Coming hot on the heels of its strategic partnership agreement with NEVS, Oxbotica says the successful trial sets a new benchmark for safety standards in autonomous vehicle (AV) testing, as well as marking “the next step in commercialising AV technology”.

Newman continued: “Oxbotica is changing the way people and goods move. Our goal is to be indistinguishable from perfect on safety, and this achievement, alongside our partners, is proof of that. It’s a historic moment for the UK, the transport and logistics sector, and autonomous vehicle technology.”

Zero-occupancy self-driving

The plan is to deploy a goods delivery variant for grocery business Ocado as early as next year (2023).

Alex Harvey, Chief of Advanced Technology at Ocado Technology, said: “This is a fantastic milestone and we are delighted to see Oxbotica making significant progress towards zero-occupancy goods deliveries.

“We continue to collaborate closely with Oxbotica and are excited about providing this transformational capability to Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) partners at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The successful on-road trial, conducted in line with the UK Code of Practice 2019, and BSI’s PAS 1881:2020 and PAS 1883:2020 standards, also represents important progress for insurance solutions as part of the UK’s evolving mobility network.

The insurance was arranged by broker Marsh and created by Apollo Group’s Insuring Businesses Of Tomorrow, Today (ibott) initiative, in partnership with Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe.

Oxbotica says it is the first insurance of its kind in the UK, tailored specifically for the risks associated with Level 4 autonomy on open roads.

Gavin Jackson, Oxbotica CEO, concluded: “This Europe-first trial positions the UK as the number one destination for autonomous vehicle development and leapfrogs us towards commercialisation and the subsequent economic benefits available in this hyper-growth technology category.

“Autonomous vehicles will create billions of pounds in new revenues and generate thousands of high-skilled jobs, while helping cities and businesses meet their targets for carbon reductions.

“Our zero-occupancy, all-electric, fully autonomous prototype is exactly the new-type vehicle that will form the mainstay of the transportation industry for decades to come.”

Oxbotica will now focus on accelerating commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles globally, working with big-name partners including ZF, BP and NEVS.

You like autonomous and we like self-driving, as US and UK push different descriptors.

A divergence in self-driving terminology: has Tesla’s FSD wrecked general usage in America?

The issue of confusing terminology in the, er, self-driving / driverless / autonomous / automated vehicle industry, has raised its ugly head once again, with the US and UK apparently heading in opposite directions.

An article on the 2025AD website this week, titled “Autonomous driving: Do we need a common language to move forward?”, warned that “unclear terminology limits understanding”. 

The oft-quoted Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has recently updated its “Levels of Driving Automation”, revealing in itself, reflecting a shift towards “Automated” and away from “Autonomous” in some quarters.

SAE levels of driving automation 2022
SAE levels of driving automation 2022

Self-driving in the UK

Then there’s “self-driving”. In the UK, the Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and others have been keen to embrace it in place of “driverless”.

For example, in its “Government paves the way for self-driving vehicles on UK roads” statement in April, and the two mentions in the Queen’s Speech 2022 lobby pack.

You can see the logic. It isn’t generally good practice to brand something by what it’s not, so “self-driving” certainly has the advantage over “driverless” in that respect.

We’re talking headline descriptors here. Let’s not even get into acronyms… like the fact there’s one letter difference between Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and Automated Driving Systems (ADS) when confusing the two is so dangerous. Grrr.

Self-driving in Korea

Anyway, back to self-driving. We’re not alone in liking it. For example, this month saw the launch of the epically-named Self-driving Robot Alliance in Korea.

Park Jae-young, official for Korean industrial policy, said: “I hope that the Self-driving Robot Alliance will become a place to drive the growth of the domestic self-driving robot market.”

Argument over then, self-driving it is. Not if the largest economy in the world has anything to do with it!

Autonomous in America

Across the pond, Americans are falling out of love with the term “self-driving” and going back to “autonomous”.

TechCrunch reported last year that Waymo was dropping self-driving. Now, the lobbying group the Self-driving Coalition for Safer Streets (including big hitters like Cruise, Ford and Argo AI) has changed its name to the Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Industry Association.

You have to question Tesla’s part in all this. It’s a shame, given everything Elon Musk has done for electric cars, that so many hyperbolic headlines are caused by its confusingly-named Full Self-Driving (FSD) package.

It simply isn’t self-driving as the rest of the industry understands it, and it risks drivers misunderstanding what their cars are capable of.

As Forbes reported back in 2020, Tesla has already had to rebrand its Autopilot as Autodrive in Germany. Has its Full Self-Driving (FSD) brand wrecked the self-driving name for everyone else?

Define self-driving

Not in the UK apparently. British Standards group, BSi, with its famous kitemarks, recently updated its connected and automated vehicles (CAV) vocabulary, sponsored by the autonomous-leaning CCAV.

Thanks to lead technical author Nick Reed, of Reed Mobility, BSI Flex 1890 v4.0:2022-03 included some notable additions, not least for “self-driving”.

BSi's CAV vocabulary includes "self-driving"
BSi’s CAV vocabulary includes “self-driving”

Referencing other definitions in the document, BSi defined self-driving as: “Full function of the dynamic driving task (2.1.24), performed by the automated driving system (2.1.7) within its operational design domain (2.1.48)”.

By way of justification, the definition was accompanied by two notes: 1) Although this term is deprecated within SAE J3016 (2021), it is included here because this is the term best understood by the public to mean the definition as stated (which is the same as that for automated driving).

And 2): The Law Commission of England and Wales and Scottish Law Commission joint report (2022) extended this definition with the condition that the vehicle is to drive “safely and legally, even if an individual is not monitoring the driving environment, the vehicle or the way that it drives”.

Peter Stoker, Chief Engineer for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at Millbrook, nutshelled the issue last year, telling us: “The key to the future of self-driving is education, education, education – for everyone, the public, vehicle manufacturers, the aftermarket… we have to work on the terminology – autonomous, driverless, CAV, CAM – it’s confusing, even to people who know what they’re talking about.”

With marketing teams in the US pushing “autonomous” and the UK and others pushing “self-driving”, the confusion looks set to continue.

Highway Code changes to move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution” sparked some stonking new driverless headlines…

Top 5 jaw-dropping self-driving headlines UK press April-May 2022

As part of our mission to encourage more sensible debate about self-driving, it’s important to keep an eye on how the rest of the media covers our industry.

As usual, extra points are available for informed commentary and nuanced safety messages in another exciting edition of… Hyperbolic Headlines!

Since April, when the government set out changes to The Highway Code to move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution”, there have been some absolute stonkers in the UK press.

Self-driving revolution stories

Here’s our Top 5 from the last few weeks…

At No.5, this, from The Guardian on 20 April, is a good example of the widespread reaction: “Sit back and enjoy a film at the wheel in your driverless car – but don’t use the phone”.

At No 4. Is it helpful or is it scary? From inews.co.uk on 11 May: “Driverless cars will need ‘L-plates or flashing lights’ to combat widespread fear and distrust, report finds”.

At No.3. Give this one a second or two. Missing the point in spectacular style, The Express on 30 April, with: “Autonomous learner cars could be a reality – but not for at least 20 years”.

The bar is getting pretty high now.

At No.2. The Telegraph, who have form for self-driving pessimism, were at it again on 2 May: “Driverless cars will be a disappointment, if they ever arrive”.

I know. How can that ever be beaten? Well…

At No.1, step forward Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun on 22 April with: “Driverless cars are pointless – and they have built-in instructions to kill you”.

As we’ve noted before, the self-driving industry has a public perception mountain to climb.

AB Dynamics and NASCAR conduct 130mph self-driving crash test at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama

Video: amazing 130mph self-driving NASCAR crash test at Talladega Superspeedway

On 12 May 2022, automotive test specialist AB Dynamics posted this smashing self-driving video of its recent work with NASCAR, developing “a driverless solution for conducting a 130mph crash test”:

AB Dynamics and NASCAR 130mph self-driving crash test

The on-track planned accident, featuring the “Next Gen” NASCAR race car, was conducted at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, with the aim of generating real-world crash test data to correlate with simulations.

The test vehicle was driven at 130mph (209km/h) on a pre-programmed course into the wall, hitting a precise point in the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier at an angle of 24 degrees.

Self-driving tech

The hardware used included AB Dynamics’ SR60 driving robot for steering and CBAR600 for pedals, plus its Gearshift Robot – all off-the-shelf products.

The inputs were provided by AB Dynamics’ path following software, which used pre-recorded driving information and geometric GPS data to accurately navigate the route.

AB Dynamics and NASCAR self-driving crash test in-car
AB Dynamics and NASCAR self-driving crash test in-car

This package ensured the vehicle hit the wall at 130.015mph within one degree of the prescribed angle.

Official comments

Craig Hoyt, Business Development Manager at AB Dynamics, said: “The challenge was trying to get this extremely complex machine to do a very precise test without a human driver piloting the car.

“AB Dynamics robots allowed NASCAR to use a fully running race car and conduct the test at a real race track at real race speeds. There is no better data than replicating crash tests in a real environment and our robots enable us to do that accurately and repeatedly.

“This is one of the highest speed crash tests we have ever conducted and the robots only suffered minor damage. It really is a testament to the safety of the vehicle, the barriers and the ruggedness of our products.”

John Patalak, Managing Director of Safety Engineering at The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), said: “This is a truly innovative way to test the safety of vehicles in motorsport. The data we obtained from the test was extremely important and was not possible to get from any crash test facilities at the time.

“The test provided valuable information for correlation with our computer crash simulations and confirmed that the predicted vehicle impact performance from the simulation was duplicated in this real-world crash test.”

The video is another great demonstration of high-speed self-driving, following the PoliMOVE car setting a new world speed record (192.2mph) on the famous Space Shuttle landing strip at Cape Canaveral in late April.

50 years on from a forward-looking BBC news report on driverless cars, how close did they get to today’s reality?

Video: BBC Archive releases remarkably prescient 1971 news report on driverless cars

On 5 May, the BBC Archive released a news broadcast from May 1971 showcasing “driverless cars and the future of motoring”, as part of its Retro Transport strand.

Self-driving 1971 style

Filmed at the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) in Berkshire – which became the Transport Research Laboratory, and then TRL, which now runs London’s Smart Mobility Living Lab – our man from the Beeb makes some bold predictions.

So, with the massive benefit of hindsight, how did he get on?

He begins: “There’ll be 30 million cars on the roads of Britain by the end of this century. And motoring will be quite different.”

That’s a strong start as, according to Statista, the number of licensed cars in the UK in the year 2000 was 27.2 million, hugely up from around 10 million when he made the prediction. Not bad crystal-ball gazing!

He goes on to discuss how on-board black-box recorders will assist with toll-paying and traffic regulation, saying: “They’ve been showing us for the first time some of the machinery which will enable them to bill us by computer for driving in these places.

“The idea is that at the entrance to the busy city centre or to other crucial points on the road, there’ll be electrified loops of wire underneath the road surface. And as a car passes, it activates these electric wires.”

Not 10 out of 10 maybe, but still remarkably prescient given congestion charging and telematics-based insurance are now a reality.

It also brings to mind our interview last year with Elliot Hemes, of IPG Automotive UK, who suggested:You could say, for example, you can’t use the M6 Toll unless you have vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. That would enable platooning.”

So, 50 years on, in terms of road-charging and vehicle connectivity in the UK, his prediction is well on the way to becoming true. Can he keep it up?

The next segment covers research into the most efficient means of getting vehicles on and off Channel Tunnel trains.

Again, he’s pretty spot on, apart from optimistically suggesting this could be in operation by 1978. In reality, construction didn’t start for another decade and the service wasn’t available until 1994. Still, on the big points, he hasn’t been wrong yet.

Driverless crystal-ball gazing

The report saved the best til last, with the segment on self-driving beginning just over two-minutes in.

The reporter enthused: “The very last word is the totally automatic car, no driver at all. The whole thing’s remotely controlled by cables and electrics under the road.”

Hmmm, that’s sounds more like Scalextric than an autonomous vehicle.

Still, he pressed on: “Steering, accelerating, gear-changing, braking and stopping, all the switches and electronics in the car could be provided for £100.”

If only. Maybe costs will come down over time and he’ll end up being proved right.

Thankfully, he rediscovers his inner Nostradmus towards the end, explaining: “The radar device on the front will one day be able to tell how near you are to the car in front of you and slow you down automatically.”

Basically, automated emergency braking (AEB).

Adding: “It’s all needed because you and I are not as good as machines. We tire, we lose concentration, we get cross. One day we will just be able to link our car onto an automatic system to take us right up the motorway.”

I heard something very similar at the Zenzic Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) Innovators event just last month.

He concluded: “So, we’ve had a glimpse or two of driving of the future. It’s going to be probably easier, certainly more regimented. And the day may come when the driver becomes totally redundant.”

Most impressive, as Darth Vader said in Empire Strikes Back, especially considering the Star Wars universe was still a figment of George Lucas’s imagination.

Finnish company Sensible 4 tests two self-driving Toyota Proace vans at minus 20 degrees.

Snow way! Finland successfully trials L4 self-driving in worst weather for years

At this week’s FT Future of the Car Summit, Volkswagen Group CEO, Herbert Diess, predicted it could take years for self-driving cars to master extreme weather.

He’s probably right, but the technology is progressing at a startling rate. See this incredible footage from testing in Q1 2022 by Finnish self-driving company, Sensible 4:

Video: Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace in Tampere, Finland, in 2022

Conducted in Tampere, southern Finland, the two-and-a-half month pilot scheme involved two self-driving Toyota Proace vans operating in mixed traffic on a 3.5km route at up to 30km/h, in what Sensible 4 describe as “the worst and most challenging winter conditions in years”.

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace in street in Tampere, Finland, 2022
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace in street in Tampere, Finland, 2022

The treacherous conditions included temperatures below -20°C, heavy snowfall, freezing rain, and additional slipperiness due to temperature variations around zero degrees. Not exactly the glorious sunshine of San Francisco, or even Margate for that matter!

Sensible 4 develops SAE Level 4 full-stack autonomous driving software potentially capable of giving any vehicle self-driving capabilities. The technology combines software and information from different sensors to enable operation, it claims, “in all weather conditions”.

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace cabin view
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace cabin view

The pilot was a part of the EU-funded SHOW project, with an aim to find out how autonomous vehicles could work as a part of future urban transportation.

Public reaction to the vans – emblazoned with the slogan “I’m Driverless” – was said to be positive.

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace with I’m driverless slogan
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace with I’m driverless slogan

Mika Kulmala, Project Manager for the City of Tampere, said: “The self-driving vehicles ran smoothly and felt safe. In the future, I see these kinds of vehicles complementing the public transportation system for certain routes and amounts of passengers.

“We still need more testing to make sure of reliability, and that the service either brings cost-savings or gives a better service level to the population.”

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace with bus in Tampere
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace with public transport in Tampere

The project’s national coordinator, Pekka Eloranta, from Sitowise, added: “We got a good amount of passengers to try and test the service, even some regular customers.

“Also, we were able to collect feedback, for example, concerning accessibility. This aspect is important to take into account to be able to provide service to all user groups in the future.”

Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace vans
Sensible 4 self-driving Toyota Proace vans

Jussi Suomela, of Sensible 4, was understandably very satisfied. “This pilot was valuable for understanding the customer and end-user needs better, including especially the accessibility aspects,” he said.

“The weather was exceptionally snowy but the software and vehicles performed well and we were able to collect important test data of the extreme conditions and experience of the challenging weather.”

Sensible 4 will continue operating pilots later this year in Norway, Switzerland, Japan and Germany.

CAVForth self-driving bus begins landmark two-week road trial in Scotland

UK self-driving success as CAVForth bus project conducts first public road test

A full-size autonomous bus took to public roads for the first time in the UK this week, as CAVForth began a landmark two-week trial in Scotland.

Cars of the Future readers will recognise the name as, almost a year ago to the day, we published a long-read interview with Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing, one of the partners in the project, along with Stagecoach, Alexander Dennis and Transport Scotland.

Self-driving expert and CEO of Fusion Processing, Jim Hutchinson
Self-driving expert and CEO of Fusion Processing, Jim Hutchinson

He explained then how Fusion was involved in the Gateway project in London, and how that led to CAVForth. “The hope is that it will go from a pilot service to a full service,” he said. “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.

“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.”

UK self-driving first

Well, 12 months on, CAVForth is very much on schedule. Level 4 automation, according to the SAE International standard, means no human is driving and, unlike Level 3, won’t be required to take over. Make no mistake, this is a big deal.

Around 500 members of the public have provided feedback on what would make them feel “comfortable and confident in travelling”. As a result, a decision has been made to keep a member of staff on board.

The test phase will run for two weeks in preparation for the launch of the CAVForth pilot this summer. That’s when things will get really exciting, with passengers.

Stagecoach plans to recruit 20 specially trained ‘Autonomous Bus Professionals’ from across its East Scotland business. When the service goes live, these experienced bus drivers will monitor the autonomous system alongside a ‘Captain’, who will move around the bus answering any questions passengers may have about the service.

Part-funded by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), five single-decker autonomous buses will operate at SAE Level 4 over the Forth Road Bridge, between Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park Train and Tram Interchange.

The buses will be fitted with Fusion Processing’s CAVstar sensor and control technology, enabling them to run on pre-selected roads without the safety driver having to intervene.

A nugget to note here, as Hutchinson explained to us last year: “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.” Think about the potential.

The CAVForth buses will carry up to 36 passengers over a 14-mile route and, to support the project, Transport Scotland recently opened a section of Actively Managed Hard Shoulder for all buses on the M8 eastbound.

CAVForth self-driving bus with Fusion Processing tech and branding
CAVForth self-driving bus with Fusion Processing tech and branding

Official comments

Sam Greer, Regional Director for Stagecoach in Scotland, said: “This is a hugely exciting project for Scotland and we are pleased to be starting live testing on roads. This is a major step forward in our journey to launch the UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus service and will provide easy access to a brand-new bus route in the heart of East Scotland.”

Chris Gall, Group Engineering Director at busmaker Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL), said: “CAVForth helps us to explore new technologies that will make buses even safer and more efficient. As we move towards passenger services later in the year, the project will be a landmark demonstration of future technologies in transport.”

Jim Hutchinson added: “We are delighted to be leading the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme. CAVForth will provide a useful service to local people as well as being a great demonstration of Fusion’s automated vehicle technology.

“On road testing is an exciting milestone in the development of autonomous commercial vehicles and we look forward to welcoming passengers onboard in a few months’ time.”

Interest in self-driving

As an indicator of growing interest in the project, satirical site Newsthump ran a story on it this week, under the headline “UK’s first self-driving bus passes ‘ignore passengers running to bus stop’ test”.

It may be mainstream now but, remember, you heard it here first.

Changes to The Highway Code move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution”.

UK Highway Code self-driving announcement sparks media uproar

In a major development for connected and automated mobility (CAM) in the UK, on 20 April 2022 the government set out changes to The Highway Code to move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution”.

The announcement, by Department for Transport (DfT), the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), and Trudy Harrison MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the DfT, certainly had the wow factor.

Self-driving safety

The bullet points at the start stated the important overriding aim to “ensure the first self-driving vehicles are introduced safely on UK roads”.

The planned changes to The Highway Code are therefore intended to “clarify drivers’ responsibilities in self-driving vehicles, including when a driver must be ready to take back control”.

Eyebrows were raised at the line: “While travelling in self-driving mode, motorists must be ready to resume control in a timely way if they are prompted to – such as when they approach motorway exits.”

More hyperbolic self-driving headlines

But the announcement ran into real trouble with this: “The plans also include a change to current regulation, allowing drivers to view content that is not related to driving on built-in display screens, while the self-driving vehicle is in control. It will, however, still be illegal to use mobile phones in self-driving mode, given the greater risk they pose in distracting drivers.”

The national press went into meltdown and we’ll look at this in more detail in a special edition of Hyperbolic Self-driving Headlines. But it was enough to prompt senior CAM industry figures to come out in defence of the technology.

Edward Houghton, Head of Research and Service Design at DG Cities, took to Twitter to criticise a Guardian article – A self-driving revolution? Don’t believe the hype: we’re barely out of second gear – for significantly playing down where self-driving R&D is in the UK and for failing to acknowledge its potential to improve road safety.

List of cars approved for self-driving

Back to the announcement itself. This section is worth rereading: “Britain’s first vehicles approved for self-driving could be ready for use later this year. Vehicles will undergo rigorous testing and only be approved as self-driving when they have met stringent standards.”

What does that actually mean? Ever astute, Barrister Alex Glassbrook, who last year expressed real doubts about proposed changes to the Highway Code, took to Linkedin to highlight the launch of a new government webpage for “Self-driving vehicles listed for use in Great Britain”.

At the time of publication the page lists, er, no vehicles. However, it does include the line “You must insure your self-driving vehicle as self-driving”.

New webpage to check if a vehicle is listed as self-driving for use in Great Britain
New webpage to check if a vehicle is listed as self-driving for use in Great Britain

So, the question remains: Will cars equipped with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) be the first to make the grade and be official recognised as “automated”?

Glassbrook also noted a 2025 target for having a full regulatory framework in place to support the widespread deployment of self-driving technology.

Official comments

The announcement – which asserted that self-driving vehicles could create 38,000 new, high-skilled jobs in Britain by 2035 – was accompanied by statements from Transport Minister Trudy Harrison, the RAC’s Steve Gooding and the SMMT’s Mike Hawes.

Transport Minister Harrison said: “This is a major milestone in our safe introduction of self-driving vehicles, which will revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys greener, safer and more reliable.

“This exciting technology is developing at pace right here in Great Britain and we’re ensuring we have strong foundations in place for drivers when it takes to our roads.

“In doing so, we can help improve travel for all while boosting economic growth across the nation and securing Britain’s place as a global science superpower.”

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The Highway Code has been updated a number of times in recent years. These latest additions will help us all understand what we must and must not do as we move forward to an environment where cars drive themselves.

“The final part of the jigsaw is to ensure these amendments are widely communicated to, ​and understood by,​ vehicle owners. Vehicle manufacturers and sellers will have a vital role to play in ensuring their customers fully appreciate the capabilities of the cars they buy and the rules that govern them.”

Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “Amending The Highway Code to reflect the pace of technological change will help clarify what motorists can and can’t do when a self-driving feature is engaged, so promoting its safe use.”

As you can imagine, there was reaction to the news from across the automotive industry, including the service and repair sector.

Neil Atherton, Sales and Marketing Director at Autoglass, rightly drew attention to the need for sensor recalibration.

“Much has been made of the dawn of fully autonomous vehicles, but in reality many of these technologies are already in our vehicles,” he said.

“Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), especially the windscreen fitted sensors that monitor road conditions and hazards in real time, will need to be fitted in all new cars rolling off the production line later this year, and drivers and the wider automotive industry need to be ready to use and maintain them properly. 

“Calibration and recalibration of these technologies is absolutely critical for their effective operation.”