Aurrigo and Blind Veterans UK join forces for world first driverless test

Coventry-based autonomous vehicle specialist Aurrigo has partnered with Blind Veterans UK for what it says is the world’s first real-world driverless trial involving disabled people.

As outlined in the University of Michigan’s teach-out, self-driving cars have huge potential to help the blind community.

Starting in April 2019, a six-month programme of testing will explore how they can deliver improved mobility and independence.

An Aurrigo four-seater pod has been specially adapted with the needs of vision-impaired people in mind. For example, with improved lighting, prominent colours on grab rails and voice activated controls.

It will travel at a maximum 15mph around the charity’s training and rehabilitation centre in Ovingdean, near Brighton.

“Having feedback from Blind Veterans UK and their members taking part will be a massive boost in improving our pods and making them more user-friendly for people with disabilities,” said Miles Garner, sales and marketing director at Aurrigo.

Major General Nick Caplin CB, chief executive of Blind Veterans UK, added: “So many of the blind veterans we support say that not being able to drive is one of the most significant things that hits you when you lose your sight. It’s another way of losing independence and can make people feel more isolated.

“Anything we can do to assist and feedback on this new technology will hopefully benefit the lives of our veterans and the wider disabled community in the years to come.” 

Aurrigo has already hit the headlines this year for its impressive work with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) using light projections to communicate the intentions of self-driving vehicles – for example, stopping or turning left or right.

Aurrigo and Jaguar Land Rover light projection test

“The trials are about understanding how much information a self-driving vehicle should share with a pedestrian to gain their trust,” said Pete Bennett, future mobility research manager at JLR.

“This pioneering research is forming the basis of ongoing development into how self-driving cars will interact with people in the future.”

Must-see: Waymo’s driverless police stop

Waymo, the company which began life as Google’s self-driving car project back in 2009, has posted a 16-second video of perhaps the most impressive driverless feat to date.

The signal lights on a busy US crossroads are out, so a policeman is stood in the middle of the junction directing traffic – illustrated by the yellow box in the graphic.

The Waymo driverless car stops and waits for the officer to wave it across – see the speeded-up film in the bottom right.

Waymo self-driving car navigates a police controlled intersection

Adding to its reputation as the world leader in autonomous vehicles, in October 2018 Waymo revealed that its self-driving cars have already driven over 10 million miles on public roads.

Must-see: Mercedes Vision Urbanetic concept gets two million views on YouTube

A short film by Mercedes-Benz about its Vision Urbanetic mobility concept has been viewed over two million times on YouTube.

The 1min 38sec video published last September showcases a self-driving, electrically-powered chassis with switchable bodies.

It can be used as a ride-sharing vehicle with space for up to 12 passengers, or as a goods transporter with space for 10 pallets.

Leaping off the drawing board, a scale version of the car was on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Mercedes says it can reduce traffic flows, take the pressure off strained city infrastructures and contribute to an improved quality of urban life.

Most small businesses expect their vehicles to be electric by 2030 and driverless by 2040

55% of small enterprises think their fleets will be fully autonomous within 20 years, with 38% expecting it to happen in half that time, according to new research by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi light commercial vehicle (LCV) business.

In a survey of 3,257 small businesses in the UK, USA, China, France, Mexico, Australia and Japan, 66% also predicted that their fleets would be fully electric within 20 years, with 50% expecting it to happen in half that time.

35% said they were already using smarter technology in their fleets, with efficiency improvements and cost savings the main motivations.

30% said the key benefit of connectivity would be the ability to communicate with the people they’re delivering to.

“We recognize the importance of smart technology to increase efficiency and continue to work together to develop connected and autonomous vehicles that cater to the needs of business fleets of all shapes and sizes,” said Ashwani Gupta, senior vice president of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi LCV business.

Between now and 2022, the alliance says it will launch 12 new zero-emission vehicles, utilising new common electric vehicle platforms. Over the same period, it plans to introduce up to 40 models with autonomous features, although equipment levels will vary.

Online teach-out gives bite-sized answers to driverless car questions

If you’ve got a couple of hours to digest important driverless car questions, try this online course from the University of Michigan: Self-Driving Cars Teach-Out.

The university’s Ann Arbor campus is home to the 32-acre Mcity test facility, the first purpose-built proving ground for connected and automated vehicles (CAVs).

Carrie Morton, deputy director of Mcity, describes it as “the ultimate sandbox”, a place to foster collaboration with industry, government and academic partners.

Following a quick overview of the key on-board technologies – sensors, lidar, GPS etc – the university’s experts get into the nitty gritty of their specialisms.

Liz Gerber, professor of public policies, sets the scene, saying: “The promise of driverless vehicles is super exciting for communities and for society. We talk about the promise of reduced congestion, increased mobility options and enhanced safety and convenience.”

Professor Matthew Johnson Roberson discusses the fragility of artificial intelligence (AI) in dealing with new systems, the challenge of getting from 95% to 99.99% accuracy, and the importance of failing gracefully in the event of an error.

Professor Dan Crane looks at balancing competition, differentiation and standardisation, asserting that we should encourage “a thousand flowers to bloom”, because no one yet knows which technologies will work best.

Ian Williams, inaugural fellow for the Law & Mobility Program, addresses privacy concerns and the ability to change settings. He also raises the possibility of motorists being encouraged out of driving via the prohibitive cost of insurance.

Big picture thinking comes from Alex Murphy, assistant professor in sociology, who considers the profound impacts of a lack of transportation – from the kinds of jobs people can take to the schools they can access. “It has huge implications for inequality,” she says.

Lionel Robert, associate professor in the School of Information, predicts that we’ll see level five, fully autonomous, go anywhere CAVs “in our lifetime”. He focusses on giving consumers “accurate trust” in the technology, not under- or over-trust.

One reassuring point which crops up time and again is the continuing need for humans – from John the safety conductor on the Mcity Shuttle, to roles variously described as truck operators, fleet attendants, concierges and guides.

This evolution could potentially help to offset the fear that driverless technology will immediately put people out of a job, a belief which has been blamed for attacks on self-driving test cars.

CAV’s potential to help the blind community was also particularly thought-provoking.

Deadly driverless car crashes

Probably the highest profile fatal crash involving a driverless car occurred in Arizona in March 2018.

An Uber test car, in autonomous mode but with a safety driver, hit a 49-year-old homeless woman in the city of Tempe.

Elaine Herzberg was walking with a bicycle and not on a crossing. It was the first reported fatal crash in the US involving a self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian.

Fast forward nearly a year and the University of Michigan has unveiled a new project to predict pedestrian movements with greater accuracy.

“Prior work in this area has typically only looked at still images,” said Ram Vasudevan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “It wasn’t really concerned with how people move in three dimensions.”

By studying things like gait pace, foot placement and the symmetry of arms and legs, the team attempt to predict the future locations of one or several pedestrians up to 50 yards from the vehicle.

“If a pedestrian is playing with their phone, you know they’re distracted,” said Vasudevan. “Their pose and where they’re looking is telling you a lot about their level of attentiveness. It is also telling you a lot about what they’re capable of doing next.”

Previously, the most notorious driverless crash was also in the US, in 2016, when a Tesla Model S in autopilot mode smashed into a truck’s trailer, killing the car’s 40-year-old driver.

There have been numerous close shaves too.

Just last week in St. John’s, Canada, a driverless car reportedly set off at high-speed down a residential street, jumped a snow bank and slammed into a nearby garage.

Incredibly, no one was hurt. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) is investigating.

UK drops to 7th in Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index

A new report by KPMG shows the UK has dropped two places, to seventh, in its Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index.

While this could be interpreted as a blow to the UK government’s commitment to be at the forefront of driverless technology, KPMG was at pains to emphasize that this was “only due to high-performers Norway and Finland joining the index”.

Countries were assessed on 25 different measures across four pillars – policy & legislation, technology & innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance.

KPMG 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index image
KPMG 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index image

As last year, The Netherlands ranked #1, praised for its efforts to run platoons of driverless trucks on major ‘Tulip Corridor’ routes from Amsterdam to Antwerp and Rotterdam to the Ruhr valley. Singapore ranked #2 thanks to its test town for driverless vehicles.

Sarah Owen-Vandersluis, head of public mobility strategy for KPMG in the UK, commented: “The UK has made a lot of inroads with big investments, a committed government and world-leading policy; it has seen many positive announcements regarding both private sector initiatives and local and central government strategies.”

In a separate paper – Mobility 2030: Transforming the mobility landscape – KPMG highlighted three key disruptive forces: 1) Electric vehicles (EVs) and alternative powertrains; 2) Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs); and 3) On-demand mobility services.

Driverless delivery vehicle maker Nuro gets billion-dollar boost

Whenever anyone spends a billion dollars in the self-driving world it is probably worthy of a mention here.

In this case, unmanned delivery vehicle specialist, Nuro, has been boosted by a US$940m investment from Japanese multinational, SoftBank.

Founded in 2016 by two former Google engineers, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, Nuro operates mainly in San Francisco but plans to expand its delivery service to new areas, add new partners and expand its fleet.

“We’ve spent the last two and a half years building an amazing team, launching our first unmanned service, working with incredible partners and creating technology to fundamentally improve our daily lives,” said Ferguson.

“This partnership gives us the opportunity to take the next step in realizing our vision for local commerce and the broad application of our technology.”

Nuro’s other backers include Greylock Partners and Gaorong Capital.

Must-see video: new driverless cars world record set in China

Guinness World Records has posted this video of what is officially now the largest parade of autonomous cars ever:

55 self-driving cars built by Changan Autmobile set the record at the Dianjiang test site in Chongqing, China, on 28 November 2018.

Design Boom reported that a 56th car was disqualified after the safety driver briefly took back control of the vehicle.

The challenge of London: can driverless cars unblock the world’s sixth most gridlocked city?

Today’s two new statements from the London Assembly – one on the cost of congestion and the other on changes to the licensing guidelines for taxis and minicabs – have highlighted major transport problems in the capital… issues which connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) could potentially help to solve.

Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM, chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, said: “The revelation that London is the sixth most gridlocked city in the world, behind Moscow, Istanbul, Bogota and Mexico City, will come as no surprise to most road users.
 
“This is a shockingly expensive fact and hugely damaging to our global reputation. Getting millions of Londoners to and from work every day is a massive challenge – but we really have to try harder for the sake of our economy and our environment.
 
“The need to improve London’s public transport capacity is desperate – hence the urgent necessity for Crossrail and for more people to walk and cycle whenever possible.” 

Notably, the Transport Committee’s 65-page 2017 report London Stalling described the current Congestion Charge as “no longer fit for purpose” and recommended that “the Mayor should make plans now to introduce road pricing.”

Transport data firm Inrix has since calculated that the average road user in London lost up to £1,680 last year due to traffic jams.

There’s little doubt that smart highways and connected cars could help to ease congestion, or that electric vehicles would cut the damage from tailpipe emissions.

Admittedly, Adam Millard-Ball’s concern that self-driving cars could exacerbate the problem by cruising to get around paying for parking (as outlined in A dystopian vision of polluted London) would need to be tackled.

As to the government’s proposed new licensing guidelines for taxis and minicabs – which would require cabbies to pass enhanced criminal record checks – Pidgeon said: “Anything that improves the safety of passengers has to be a good thing.
 
“We need to prevent the likes of John Worboys from being able to operate as a legitimate licensed driver again and stop the worrying numbers of sexual assaults in minicabs.
 
“The big miss in the government response to the Department for Transport (DfT) Review is the statutory definition of plying for hire not being resolved. This has long been a major bone of contention and it appears to be too hard to resolve, so they aren’t going to try.”

Under existing regulations, private hire vehicles (PHVs) may only pick up passengers when pre-booked, rather than from a rank or being hailed.

However, the RMT, the union for transport workers, asserts that: “ smartphone apps such as Uber are circumventing the law governing the taxi and minicab industry”.

If the authorities haven’t even got their heads around smartphones yet, they’ve certainly got a lot of thinking to do when it comes to driverless cars, not least the thorny issue of who to save in no-win crash situations.