A highlight of this week’s Gitex tech conference in Dubai was the unveiling of the 185mph Dallara Super Formula SF23 self-driving car race, to be used in the new Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League (A2RL).
10 rival teams with cars from the legendary Italian manufacturer will take to the grid for the first time on 28 April at the Yas Marina Circuit, competing for a tasty £1.85m prize pot.
The eye-catching launch video promised: “To push the boundaries of what is possible. To compete on speed, on reaction, on agility. Not just to master the perfect lap, but to redefine it.”
A2RL says it has brought together teams of scientists, coders and developers from around the world with the aim of reshaping the future of mobility through extreme sports – to stress-test autonomous vehicles on the racetrack for safety on our roads.
As Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Aspire, the organisation behind the project, explains in the video interview below: “We believe that if consumers gain confidence then we will see cutting-edge research, such as that being undertaken here in Abu Dhabi, taking its place in production cars sooner rather than later.”
This isn’t the first attempt to get a self-driving race series off the ground. In May last year, we reported on the demise of Roborace, established way back in 2015.
Autonomous Healthlink, in Northumberland, will study the feasibility of a zero emission self-driving system on a segregated route between Seaton Delaval Station and the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington. The lead partner is Milestone Transport Planning Ltd, with Dromos Mobility Ltd, Pegasus Planning Group Ltd and Newcastle University. Grant: £155,911.
Blythe Rural Automated Vehicle Operations, in the West Midlands, will study the feasibility of a shuttle service within the Midlands Future Mobility initiative, connecting Blythe Valley Business Park to the UK Central Hub (Arden Cross HS2 interchange, Birmingham International Airport and Railway station). The lead partner is Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, with Aurrigo, Syselek (UK) Ltd, Liftango Ltd, ZF Services UK Ltd, West Midlands Combined Authority, National Highways and WMG. Grant: £197,664.
Commercialising Connected and Automated Vehicle Services in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, will study the commercial potential of a self-driving vehicle linking Inverness College University of the Highlands and Islands Campus to key locations in Inverness and connect ferry passengers to public transport at Uig Pier on the Isle of Skye. The lead partner is University of Glasgow, with Aurrigo, The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership, Darwin Innovation Group Ltd and Highland Country Buses Ltd. Grant: £160,443.
Dromos Connected and Automated System, in Bolton, will study the feasibility of an on-demand, 24/7 self-driving system running on a decommissioned railway corridor connecting the Bolton Transport Interchange to the Royal Bolton Hospital. It will consider the potential to expand and integrate the service through infrastructure and mobility projects. The lead partner is Dromos Mobility Ltd, with Transport for Greater Manchester Ltd and Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council. Grant: £199,760.
HertsLynx Connected and Automated Mobility On-Demand, in Hertfordshire, will study a self-driving service using on-demand responsive transport technology serving passengers in the Maylands Business Park region. In particular, the routes will connect Maylands to Harpenden Station and St Albans. The lead partner is Sustainicity Ltd, with Siemens Mobility, University of Hertfordshire and Hertfordshire County Council. Grant: £115,748.
Integrated Mixed Traffic Mobility for Hertfordshire Essex Rapid Transit, also in Hertfordshire, extends an existing study examining the feasibility of “Dedicated Driverless Spaces” for articulated buses running on segregated routes and public roads. Notably, the route will link Watford and St Albans town centres. The lead partner is City Science Corporation Ltd, with StreetDrone, Hertfordshire County Council and England’s Economic Heartland. Grant: £134,984.
With the Prime Minister helpfully clarifying that a list of projects potentially in line for some of the HS2 cash was purely “illustrative”, perhaps some of these exciting self-driving projects will actually happen… and deliver incredible value for money.
Essential self-driving info: SAE J3016 – the SAE Levels of Driving Automation.
The most recent version, published in May 2021, uses a six-level scale ranging from zero, “no driving automation”, up to five, “full driving automation”.
We’ll dig deeper into that in a moment, but it is important to note that most people get no further than the headline graphic. This oft-shared image sets out the responsibilities of “the human in the driver’s seat” at each level.
Levels of automation
For levels 0-2, it says: “You are driving whenever these driver support features are engaged – even if your feet are off the pedals and you are not steering” and “You must constantly supervise these support features; you must steer, brake or accelerate as needed to maintain safety”. Basically, you’re still a driver.
Expectations for levels 4-5 are straightforward enough too: “You are not driving when these automated driving features are engaged – even if you are seated in the driver’s seat” and “These automated driving features will not require you to take over driving”. Basically, you’re now a passenger.
Which leaves Level 3, and the instruction: “When the feature requests, you must drive”, applicable to features such as “traffic jam chauffeur”. This is the most controversial part of the guidance, with some experts vehemently opposed to systems which rely on the handing over and/or retaking of control.
Earlier this year, Bill Gates, noted: “Right now, we’re close to the tipping point – between levels 2 and 3 – when cars are becoming available that allow the driver to take their hands off the wheel and let the system drive in certain circumstances. The first Level 3 car was recently approved for use in the United States, although only in very specific conditions.”
That was Mercedes’ Drive Pilot, available on 2024 S-Class and EQS Sedan models. “Certification in Nevada marks the start of its international rollout and, with it, the dawning of a new era,” said Mercedes-Benz CTO, Markus Schäfer.
On this side of the pond, in April, The Department for Transport approved the use of Ford’s BlueCruise system on parts of our motorway network – the first time any UK driver can legally take their hands off the wheel. Ford, Government ministers, Thatcham, and others, emphasised it is Level 2 driver assistance, but that didn’t stop the media from misleadingly describing it as self-driving.
And here’s the crux. As Professor Nick Reed, of Reed Mobility, told the Transport Select Committee recently, the SAE levels “…work from an engineering perspective, but they don’t work very well from a communications perspective.” That’s not a criticism of the SAE, which describes itself as a “standards developing organization for engineering professionals”.
David Wong, senior technology manager at The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), told the Committee: “A self-driving vehicle is a vehicle that’s fitted with an automated driving system capable of performing the entire dynamic driving tasks without human intervention within an Operational Design Domain (ODD).”
The ODD differentiates level 4 from 5, with BSI’s CAM vocabulary telling us this can include environmental factors, time-of-day restrictions, and road characteristics. At Level 5, automated systems “can drive the vehicle under all conditions”.
In world-leading testing, Level 4 buses are currently being trialled on UK public roads, with a safety driver. For example, by First Bus at Milton Park, and Stagecoach’s CAVForth. Last year, Oxa (previously Oxbotica), said its zero-occupancy trial was facilitated by a new kind of insurance. That’s telling. For car manufacturers, the leap to Level 4 is now as much about regulation as it is technology.
Please note: a version of this article was first published in the Institute of the Motor Industry’s MotorPro magazine.
Self-driving Industry Awards (#SDIA23) deadline extended to 23 October as date for presentation ceremony confirmed.
Celebrating excellence in automated mobility, in the UK and internationally, entries are open now for the inaugural Self-driving Industry Awards.
Presented by Cars of the Future, the Self-driving Industry Awards 2023 cover all aspects of this exciting and fast-growing ecosystem.
From impressive engineering and design developments, to essential work in areas such as insurance and public trust, peer recognition plays an important part, with all entrants nominating a self-driving Person of the Year and Vehicle of the Year.
A Self-driving Industry Awards spokesperson said: “If you’ve made a telling contribution to self-driving – launched the world’s best robotaxi or last-mile delivery robot, made a technological leap, or provided incredible thought leadership – then you should be entering these awards.”
The deadline for entries is now 5pm UK-time on Monday 23 October 2023, with all shortlisted candidates receiving an invitation to the Awards ceremony (in the UK on Friday 17 November).
We were delighted to be invited to the Self-Driving All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) workshop on “Safety and Public Perception” at the House of Commons on Monday (18 Sep 2023).
Chaired by Ben Everitt, MP for self-driving hotspot Milton Keynes North, ably assisted by Lord Borwick, former long-serving chief exec of London taxi manufacturer, Manganese Bronze, it invited expert opinions on important questions including:
What does a robust and credible safety framework for self-driving vehicles look like?
What are the implications of AI safety policy for the self-driving vehicle sector?
How will the roll-out of self-driving vehicles affect pedestrians and other road users?
What can the industry do to improve public understanding of self-driving vehicles?
How can Government support the industry to highlight the benefits of self-driving vehicles?
Emphasising that the four leading causes of road traffic accidents (RTAs) are driver error, reckless behaviour, disobeying traffic laws and driver impairment, it set out to explore public perceptions around safety, and asked how self-driving can reduce casualties as part of a wider smart transport system.
Without wishing to pre-empt the findings, which will inform an independent policy report, three interesting opinions were: 1) that people will quickly become bored with the protest action of ‘coning’, 2) that more ‘friendly-looking’ vehicle design would be helpful, and 3) that legislation to clarify liability would be very welcome – perhaps in the next King’s Speech?
Please note, the APPG’s deadline for written evidence on the economic, environmental and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles is this Friday (22nd Sep 2023).
Predicting rapid growth in the number of cities that will offer robotaxi services in the next few years, it highlights the issue of ‘coning’ in San Francisco – where protestors attempt to render self-driving cars inoperable by placing a traffic cone on the bonnet.
There are obvious parallels with the recent attacks on Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) cameras in London.
The most interesting element of the research, however, is the key metric that IDTechEx uses to monitor autonomous vehicle safety: miles per disengagement.
First, it sets out the testing miles submitted by the top testing companies – including Waymo, Cruise, Pony AI, Zoox and Nuro – in California between 2015 and 2022.
It then analyses the miles per disengagement, measuring how frequently the autonomous vehicle safety driver needs to intervene with the autonomous system.
Safety driver interventions
In 2022, Cruise led when it came to disengagement. During its 863,000 miles of testing, safety drivers only needed to intervene nine times. What’s more, IDTechEx concluded that four of these nine disengagements were caused by the poor performance of other nearby drivers.
The study then applies a slightly spurious method – assuming that each disengagement would lead to a collision… and comparing this to the average US human driver performance of approx. 200,000 miles between collisions – in order to justify the ‘some AVs are already better than humans’ claim.
It isn’t an exact science, but the important point stands. Self-driving cars are getting safer year-on-year.
New ISO 34503:2023 international standard on safe self-driving trials.
Experts from the UK have been instrumental in developing the very first international standard for the safe operation of self-driving vehicles, the new ISO 34503:2023.
Based on BSI PAS 1883, developed by the UK National Standards Body, it uses the Operational Design Domain (ODD) concept championed by Professor Siddartha Khastgir, of WMG at the University of Warwick.
As covered extensively on Cars of the Future, the ODD is basically a definition of where a self-driving vehicle is going to operate.
The new ISO standard (full title: Road Vehicles — Test scenarios for automated driving systems — Specification for operational design domain) provides specifications for three key categories:
Scenery elements: non-movable elements e.g. roads, bridges, traffic lights
Environment conditions: weather and other atmospheric conditions
Dynamic elements: all movable objects and actors
The ISO website explains that the document is mainly applicable to level 3 and level 4 automated driving systems (ADS). It is primarily intended to be used by organisations conducting trials, testing and commercial deployment, and may also be of interest to insurers, regulators, service providers, national, local and regional governments.
Professor Khastgir praised the work of partners from around the world, including the US, Germany, Japan, China, France, Austria, Canada, Israel, Sweden, Finland, South Korea and Australia.
“Successful standardisation efforts are only possible with true international collaboration,” he said. “I am grateful to experts from various countries worldwide who have engaged and contributed actively to this standard.”
Guiding safe self-driving
Nick Fleming, Associate Director of Transport and Mobility at BSI, said: “It’s exciting to see the launch of this new international standard, given the potential benefits that can be realised by testing automated vehicles so they can operate safely on our roads.
“This new ISO standard has been inspired by the UK document, BSI PAS 1883:2020, the first taxonomy for ODDs developed in conjunction with UK experts and the government’s Centre for Connected and Automated Vehicles.
“BSI would like to thank Professor Khastgir for his effort in helping to lead this work at the international level which, along with PAS 1883, shows the leadership the UK is having in the development of global standardisation for self-driving vehicles.”
Sarah Gates, Director of Public Policy at Wayve, added: “The concept of ODDs is the basis of deploying self-driving vehicles safely. A common way of describing ODDs across industry is therefore vital for creating the highest safety standards, bolstering public trust and supporting the regulatory frameworks required to commercially deploy self-driving technology on a global scale.”
This wider adoption of the ODD is a big win for UK thought leadership, with US-based self-driving expert, Philip Koopman, author of the book “How Safe Is Safe Enough?”, recently describing us as “the adults in the room” when it comes to regulation.
Can we get a Bebot beach cleaning robot for Margate please?
Being Margate-based, with friends in the amazing Rise Up Clean Up community initiative, this new beach cleaning robot very much caught our attention – meet the BeBot – it would certainly be busy after a bank holiday weekend here!
To be clear, this little battery-powered machine is currently remote controlled rather than self-driving. It can cover 3,000 square metres of sandy beach per hour, picking up all manner of small debris – from seaweed to bottle caps and cigarette butts – rubbish that can be hard to see and therefore very time consuming to pick by hand.
Searial Cleaner robots
Part of the Searial Cleaner range, which also includes the Pixie Drone, an aquatic drone that picks up debris on water surface, the Collec’Thor, a fixed waste collector for marinas and ports, the BeBot was developed by Poralu Marine, a world leader in aluminium marinas. Poralu Marine is a partner of 4ocean, a company dedicated to ending the ocean plastic crisis.
With other big-name partners, including the BlueFlag international tourism label, Searial describes beach cleaning as “an essential and fundamental civic act that transforms mindsets and practices”.
Successfully tested on the shores of Lake Tahoe in America, we’re in discussion about getting a BeBot over here for a demo – watch this space.
DfT and CCAV publish two new reports on self-driving public engagement
In summer 2023, The Department for Transport (DfT) and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) published two new reports on The Great Self-Driving Exploration.
Last year, in partnership with Thinks Insight & Strategy, University College London (UCL) and Aurrigo, they held a series of large-scale public engagement events in areas of the country where there had previously been little or no engagement with self-driving vehicles.
Further feedback came from “medium exposure” and “low exposure” audiences, of 450 and 250 participants respectively.
In workshops, the high exposure participants were shown educational videos on various aspects of self-driving. They featured, among others, Rebecca Posner of CCAV, Camilla Fowler of Oxbotica (now Oxa), Siddartha Khastgir of WMG, Jessica Uguccioni of the Law Commission, Dr Nick Reed of Reed Mobility, Brian Matthews of Milton Keynes Council, Steve Gooding of the RAC Foundation, Tom Cohen of the University of Westminster, David Sharp of Ocado, Martin Griffiths of Stagecoach Group, Colin Robertson of Alexander Dennis, Jim Hutchinson of Fusion Processing, and Waymo – familiar names to regular Cars of the Future readers.
The participants were then asked to design an advert to describe self-driving vehicles (SDVs) to the public. As an aside, being pedants, we note a battle with software-defined vehicles for the SDV acronym. Anyway…
The report found: “Given the generally positive attitude towards SDVs [self-driving vehicles], the information campaigns and adverts designed by participants overwhelmingly focused on communicating the potential benefits of introducing SDVs rather than any of their concerns.
“Broadly speaking, to effectively improve awareness of SDVs it was seen as necessary to communicate their advantages over and above traditional human-driven vehicles.
“Using information campaigns and adverts to normalise the concept of SDVs, either as privately owned vehicles or as part of shared or public transport provision, was considered important.”
Familiarity with self-driving increased significantly among the high exposure participants, with 68% saying they knew ‘a fair amount’ by the end of the research, compared to just 11% at the outset.
In particular, these participants felt they had a better understanding of the ‘rules’ for using self-driving vehicles. However, there were still areas of potential confusion, such as what level of autonomy is currently legal on UK roads.
On “medium to high levels of Engagement, Excitement and Interest”, that participants “have a degree of affinity with the task and tended to have more positive emotional responses to the technology.”
On “lower scores for Focus, Stress and Relaxation”, that participants “were relatively comfortable with the experience despite its novelty”.
And “as participants become more familiar with the technology the more immediate and emotional reactions, both positive or negative subside”.
Interestingly, males tended to show higher levels of ‘Excitement’ than females when on the shuttle, while the opposite was seen for the pod.
The report concluded: “These differences will have implications on both engineering and policy choices to help mitigate certain emotional states if self-driving vehicles become more widespread. The changes in emotional state observed throughout a journey also suggest the value of providing members of the public with the opportunity to trial the technology.”
Together, these two reports provide important insights into the expectations of the UK public in relation to self-driving – a valuable contribution to this fast-growing ecosystem.
43 British companies win CCAV funding for self-driving supply chain projects.
On 4 September 2023, the UK government announced the recipients of £50m in funding “to cement the UK as the best location in the world to manufacture”. The winners included several major self-driving projects.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, said: “From farm tractors fuelled by hydrogen to rapid-charge first responder motorcycles, these projects receiving funding today show we are not short of innovators in this country.
“By supporting growth in the industries of the future, including through better regulation, we are delivering on our plan to get the economy growing and make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.”
In addition to 12 mainly clean fuel-related projects to be funded via the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) announced £18.5m in joint government and industry funding for 13 new self-driving projects.
Designed to address critical technology gaps, enhance safety and security, improve performance and reliability, and create scalable opportunities both domestically and globally, these connected and automated mobility (CAM) supply chain projects will be delivered in partnership with Zenzic and Innovate UK.
The winning projects are, in alphabetical order:
· Autonomous Cargo
· Driven By Sound
· High-Performance Imaging Radar (HPIR)
· Photonic Inertial Sensors for Automotive (PISA)
· Systems for Autonomy in Fail Operational Environments (SAFE)
Decarbonisation and Technology Minister, Jesse Norman MP, commented: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to transform how we get around, making journeys safer, more convenient and more accessible while also creating skilled jobs. These grant winners underline how the UK is at the cutting edge in developing automated technologies that are not only innovative but have safety at their heart.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Industry and Economic Security, Nusrat Ghani MP, visited Wayve, one of the 43 British companies involved, yesterday (5 September). “The automotive industry will go through a self-drive revolution = huge economic growth & new jobs,” she said on Twitter (X). “We are supporting AI tech firms in leading the way.”
The headline facts and figures for each winning project are as follows:
AIM-DBW – lead partner Aim Technologies, with TRL – to deliver a universal drive-by-wire system to enable the automation of throttle, steering, braking and gears. Grant: £400,000.
Autonomous Cargo – lead partner Aurrigo, with UPS – to create a self-driving 7.5 tonne dolly for airside cargo movements, along with a simulation tool. Grant: £480,000.
Certus – lead partners Horiba Mira, with Coventry University, Connected Places Catapult, Polestar Automotive UK, and IPG Automotive UK – to provide a verification and validation (V&V) test requirements toolset for an automated driving system (ADS). Grant: £1.5m.
DeepSafe – lead partner Drisk.ai, with Imperial College London, Claytex Services, DG Cities, and rFpro – to support the V&V of ADSs through industry-critical data and a next-generation simulation toolchain. Grant: £2m.
DriveSafeAI – lead partner Wayve Technologies, with University of Warwick – to develop a safety assurance framework for the safe deployment of AI in self-driving technology across all driving domains. Grant: £1.9m
Driven By Sound – lead partner Calyo, with Baro Vehicles – is a collaborative initiative to create a robust navigation system for automated vehicles, with a particular emphasis on adverse weather handling. Grant: £910,000.
evolvAD – lead partner Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK, with TRL, Humanising Autonomy, Connected Places Catapult, and SBD Automotive – to develop an AV capable of safely driving in residential, urban and rural environments. Grant: £2.3m.
High-Performance Imaging Radar (HPIR) – lead partner Aptcore, with Garfield Microelectronics, Plextek Services, and Cambridge Sensoriis – aims to develop a high-performance imaging radar specifically for AVs. Grant: £1.8m.
Photonic Inertial Sensors for Automotive (PISA) – lead partner Zero Point Motion, with WAE Technologies, University of the West of England, and the Royal Institute of Navigation – to leverage Micro Electromechanical Systems (MEMS), Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs), and low-cost laser/detectors to develop advanced position and navigation sensors. Grant: £1.4m.
Sim4CAMSens – lead partner Claytex Services, with University of Warwick, National Physical Laboratory, Syselek (UK), Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, rFpro, Oxford RF Solutions, and Techworkshub – to enable accurate representation of ADS sensors in simulation. Grant: £2m.
StreetCAV – lead partner Smart City Consultancy, with Dell Corporation, Milton Keynes Borough Council, and Ohmio UK – will create a ‘plug-and-play’ roadside connectivity solution for self-driving shuttles, robots and drone-based services. Grant: £1.8m.
Systems for Autonomy in Fail Operational Environments (SAFE) – lead partner Streetdrone, with Alcon Components, University Of Surrey, and Chassis Autonomy – will develop a fail operational drive-by-wire technology platform to enable safe SAE Level 4 autonomy. Grant: £1.2m.
Torque Overlay Automated Steering Technology (TOAST) – lead partners Titan Motorsport & Automotive Engineering, with Alexander Dennis, and TRL – will develop a modular dual redundant steer-by-wire system for heavily automated and electric vehicles. Grant: £760,000.
Quick on the draw with a press release, Alex Kendall, CEO of Wayve, said: “Leveraging AI, we have the chance to bring the benefits of self-driving vehicles to everyone’s door. But first, securing trust in AI is paramount. DriveSafeAI will give the public and policymakers confidence in this technology, which has the potential to revolutionise transport.”
Professor Siddartha Khastgir, Head of Verification & Validation at WMG, added: “AI and particularly embodied AIs like self-driving vehicles is one of the biggest disruptors for society. Deploying this technology safely is essential.”
Congratulations to all, particularly TOAST for the best acronym, and we will follow all of these exciting projects with great interest.