Why digital twins are crucial to the development of ADAS and CAV.

This is no game: how driving simulations save lives

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Josh Wreford, automotive manager at driving simulation software provider, rFpro.

With digital twins so crucial to the development of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), carmakers including Ferrari, Ford, Honda and Toyota have turned to driving simulation software provider, rFpro. Here, automotive manager Josh Wreford explains the company’s cutting-edge work.

Josh Wreford of rFpro
Josh Wreford of rFpro

JW: “While others use gaming engines, our simulation engine has been designed specifically for the automotive industry, and particularly connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). That’s a big difference because gaming software can use clever tricks to make things seem more realistic, whereas our worlds are all about accuracy.

“We use survey grade laser scanning to create highly detailed virtual models and have an array of customers testing many different ADAS and CAV features, everything from Level1 right up to Level5. We can go into incredible detail, for example, with different render modes for lidar, radar and camera sensors, it is possible to simulate different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum for detailed sensor modelling. It is up to the customer to decide when their system is ready for production, but we save them a lot of time and money in development.

rFpro simulation Coventry
rFpro simulation: Coventry town centre

“Safety critical situations are extremely difficult to test in the real world because it’s dangerous and crashing cars is expensive! That’s why digital twins are great for things like high speed safety critical scenarios – you can test human inputs in any situation in complete safety. Whenever you have a human in play you’re going to have problems because we’re great at making mistakes and are very unpredictable! rFpro provides high quality graphics running at high frame rates to immerse the human in the loop as much as possible. This allows accurate human inputs for test scenarios like handover to a remote driver. We can even allow multiple humans to interact by driving in the same world.

rFpro simulation Holyhead
rFpro simulation: Holyhead

“Before joining rFpro, I worked at McLaren Automotive on gearbox control software, which involved very similar control coding to ADAS. Ethical questions are always interesting, but ultimately a control engineer has to decide what the next action should be based on the exact situation. Our simulations drive robust engineering and better algorithms, so you get the best reaction no matter what occurs.”

For further info, visit rfpro.com.

Kevin Vincent, Director at the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Automotive Research, says the UK is at the cutting edge of driverless car technology and business models.

The UK: probably the best self-driving roadmap in the world

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Kevin Vincent, Director at the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Automotive Research (CCAAR), part of Coventry University’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities.

CCAAR brings together expertise from both academia and industry, working in partnership with Horiba Mira’s engineering and test teams (Horiba Mira is a global leader in advanced vehicle engineering, research and product testing). With an impressive 150 Post Graduate Research (PhD) students, the centre plays a key role in addressing the skills gap as the automotive sector presses ahead with connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) development. It’s an important hub for developing new connected and automated mobility products and services, covering everything from design and safety to human factors, such as trust and perception.

Right, let’s start with a big question: How is the UK doing in terms of becoming a world leader in self-driving?

KV: “In partnership with the government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), Zenzic has overseen the cost-effective creation of a complete ecosystem of testbeds. It has also delivered a comprehensive roadmap, probably the best in the world. We have great disruptive companies, such as Aurrigo, who are pushing the boundaries of both the technology and the business model. The UK is absolutely at the cutting edge.”

So far, so good. How do we build from here?

KV: “First, we have to get the right skills in place to push this at pace and scale. There’s an important challenge to understand the near-misses because, even if accident rates are down, we might not be getting the full picture. Growing trust is vital and harmonious regulation is key – from understanding the operational design domains, through safety case development, to vehicle resilience and cybersecurity, it all has to fit together. We have to get the MOT right too. Once you have fully connected vehicles with self-driving features receiving over-the-air (OTA) updates, the current test will not be fit for purpose. You certainly can’t leave it three years from new.”

How long are we talking before Level4 and 5 autonomy is achieved? For definitions please see our glossary.

KV: “In some respects, under tightly controlled domains with vehicles where the fallback position is the system rather than the driver, Level4 is already with us (for example at Heathrow terminal five). For wider adoption, my opinion has changed over the last couple of years. I can now see highly automated vehicles at Level4 in numbers by 2030. There’s still a question mark over whether you go straight to Level4, or use Level3 as a stepping stone. It is important that the customer understands the capability of the vehicle and certainly doesn’t overestimate it, as that is very dangerous. Level5 in terms of anytime anywhere automation is very difficult; I sometimes wonder if it will be possible, and whether people will even want it.”

Which sectors will be first?

KV: “If the industry is smart it will focus on freight, buses, trams and last-mile solutions first. I expect robotaxis will get there about the same time, with more gradual adoption for passenger cars. There will be sea-changes in the automotive industry over the next 10-15 years. Rather than shifting metal, vehicle manufacturers should look to service level agreements like they have in aviation. Farming is interesting because of the defined areas and repetitive nature of the work.”

Is there anything you’d like to expand on?

KV: “Digital twinning is a key part of our activity through CAM Testbed UK projects such as Assured CAV Highway, Assured CAV Parking and Midlands Future Mobility. Because the physical testing of all CAVs, involving billions of driving miles, simply isn’t feasible. It has been recognised as vitally important that digital framework methodologies are developed to create simulated engineering and synthetic environments, with cybersecurity as an overriding consideration. We have to get to the point where you can have confidence in the results, to the extent that it will stand up in a court of law.”

… And there the interview wound-up and I mused on a near miss of my own that very morning. A red BMW flew down my local high street, engine roaring, prompting much shaking of heads. It didn’t get 50 yards before getting stuck in traffic.

“My background is safety,” said Vincent. “Years ago, I thought self-driving was a bit Big Brother, but there are 1,700 road deaths a year in the UK. Think about the vast cost in terms of grief for families and pound notes. Self-driving cars will get you where you want to go, by the most efficient route, and potentially you can relax or read your emails on the way. And the only compromise is not breaking the speed limit.”

As final points go, that’s quite compelling.

For more information: CCAAR is part of Coventry University’s Institute for Future Transport and Cities (IFTC). From accelerating the progression towards zero-carbon transport and developing inclusive design practices to ensuring the safe implementation of autonomous transport solutions, IFTC is central to solving global mobility challenges.

SMMT report promotes UK leadership in driverless cars

A new report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and Frost & Sullivan claims the UK is “among the front runners” in developing and deploying driverless cars.

Published in April 2019, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Winning the Global Race to Market highlights the UK driverless car road trials and identifies three key factors: 1) enabling regulations; 2) enabling infrastructure; and 3) market attractiveness.

SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes, said: “Over the coming decade, today’s driver assistance technology and the next generation of autonomous systems are set to save 3,900 lives and create 420,000 new jobs across automotive and adjacent sectors – with an overall annual £62 billion economic benefit to the UK by 2030.”

Head of mobility at Frost & Sullivan, Sarwant Singh, said: “The UK has a near perfect blend of attributes that will help it capitalise on CAV deployment. These include a forward-thinking approach to legislation, advanced technology infrastructure, highly skilled labour force and technology savvy customer base.”

A big caveat, according to Hawes, is the need to leave the EU in an orderly fashion.

You can read the full report here.