WMG at the University of Warwick, home of The National Automotive Innovation Centre, has reached for the sky (and sea) with ground-breaking research into safe automated land, air and marine mobility.
In early 2022, Professor Siddartha Khastgir, Head of Verification & Validation at WMG, reached out to experts in other automated transport sectors, to see if there were opportunities to learn from each other to unblock the safety challenges in the self-driving industry.
38 organisations got involved, including self-driving big-hitters Wayve, Oxa (formerly Oxbotica), Aurrigo, and Imperium Drive, along with a host of UK universities and regulatory bodies. All gave their time freely for this mission.
The result is the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, published in March 2023.
“The economic potential of the global automated transport ecosystem is projected to reach over £750 billion by 2035, with a UK market share of approximately 6% representing £42 billion and creating up to 38,000 new jobs,” the report begins – breath-taking figures.
“However, safety remains the biggest challenge for commercialisation of automated transport systems (ATS). Safety and the corresponding perceived safety of ATS technology has a direct correlation with the development of trust and acceptance in the technology.”
Quite right, as Professor Khastgir knows better than perhaps anyone. Having started his career with Tata Motors in India (having taken part in the Formula Student engineering competition during his undergraduate days at IIT Kharagpur), he worked with OEMs in Germany for FEV, before doing a PhD in trust in automation and test methodologies for automated driving systems at WMG.
With in-depth knowledge of both the engineering challenges and the human factors, he has led and helped draft many of the UK and international standards around Operational Design Domains (ODDs). He’s also a member of the Department for Transport (DfT) Science Advisory Council and a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellow.
NK: How did this cross-industry self-driving initiative come about?
SK: “After my PhD, I established a team on verification and validation at WMG, looking at how to prove that self-driving cars are safe. We spent four or five years working on a methodology which would be scalable. At that time, we were still very car focused. The methodology we created is underpinned by the ODD concept and its definition.
“We started sharing the ODD concept with different players in the self-driving ecosystem – industry players and regulators. We had a lot of discussions with the DfT, the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA), the European Commission, and also industry. I was very humbled by the response, to the extent that our framework is actually in the EU automated driving legislation that was published last year.
“We felt that, because of the framework’s scalability, it could be translated into aviation and maritime autonomy. If you look at the ODD concept and detach it from self-driving cars, from a first principles level, it can work in other sectors. So, we started liaising with different stakeholders in automated marine and aviation.
“We took what we did in self-driving, abstracted it, and identified things that we thought would be similar and different. We then held an event in London, in March last year, where we presented it to stakeholders from all the sectors. It seemed to capture the imagination – everybody wanted to come on this journey with us. All along, we knew self-driving would also benefit from learning from aviation and maritime.
“Getting people from all these different domains into the same room – people willing to collaborate and with a genuine appetite to learn – is no mean feat, a big success for WMG.”
NK: Tell us about the report itself and the main findings…
SK: “We identified three areas that the safety assurance for autonomous solutions ecosystem really needs help with. The first was a safety framework and metrics, the second was virtual test environments (simulations), and the third was communicating safety. The last one in particular – societal acceptance of this technology – is underappreciated in most discussions.
“We urged all stakeholders – developers, manufacturers, fleet service providers, regulators and policymakers – to work together to demonstrate and communicate safety, rather than competing using safety as a selling point, a philosophy we are championing.
“We created three working parties and over the last year they’ve held 10 workshops, equating to over 200 person days of work. That led to the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, which we authored, capturing all the inputs from these workshops. We launched it in March this year, and it was very well received, not only in the UK, but internationally.
“We’ve had a lot of feedback and the next step is to implement the recommendations detailed in the executive summary, covering themes of evaluating safety and communicating safety. We have already started with the implementation phase. Some of the most interesting feedback was on communicating safety. People felt that this is not talked about enough. Communicating safety is a very important USP of the work we’re doing, considering safety more holistically, not just as an engineering subject.
“Both of these concepts – evaluating safety and communicating safety – remain true for land, aviation and maritime autonomy applications. But not everything is similar. For validation of your simulation, a classic difference is the qualifying thresholds between real-world and virtual world, which would be different for each sector. However, a lot of the processes and approaches used would be common, but those kinds of subtleties are important.”
NK: How will the report’s recommendations be implemented?
SK: “At the report launch event, we had the chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Greg Clark, the chair of the Transport Select Committee, Iain Stewart, and the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Louise Haigh, as well as high level speakers from many different organisations.
“A major part of our work at WMG, apart from the research and working with industry, is driving impact for our research through leading and influencing the international standards and regulation. We are involved with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards, and I am part of the discussions at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) forum. It is all about translating strong research evidence into regulations, because I strongly believe that regulations can be an enabler for automated technology.”
The MP’s notable commitments can be seen in this video:
Iain Stewart, MP for self-driving hotbed Milton Keynes South, said: “This technology is coming. We have to get it right. Together, we will be able to come up with that sensible set of world-leading regulations.”
Greg Clark, MP for Royal Tunbridge Wells, said: “In terms of the impacts of this programme, which are already considerable, Iain and myself, and our members, will make sure that government is aware of, and takes up, the requirements of the recommendations that are made.”
Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley, said: “There’s a real economic opportunity in this type of innovation – from enhancing wellbeing and improving quality of life, through to reducing carbon emissions, the potential is there.”
There are further telling national and international contributions from Dr Biagio Ciuffo, Smart Mobility Project Portfolio Leader at the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Tony Boylen, Principal Specialist in Assurance of Autonomy at Lloyd’s Register, Michael Gadd, Head of Office of Airworthiness at Blue Bear Systems Research, Tim Johnson, Policy Director at Civil Aviation Authority, Dr Genovefa Kefalidou, Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at University of Leicester, and Nick Fleming, Associate Director of Transport & Mobility at BSI, amongst many others.
The full Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report (March 2023) can be found here.