Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) 4G and 5G connectivity via small cells can be a lifesaver.

Carsofthefuture.co.uk editor to host Automotive & Transportation session at Small Cells World Summit 2021

Carsofthefuture.co.uk has signed a media partnership agreement with The Small Cell Forum (SCF) for its three-day online Small Cells World Summit, The Future of Mobile Networks, on 11-13 May 2021.

Small Cells World Summit 2021 registration
Small Cells World Summit 2021 registration

As part of the deal, Carsofthefuture.co.uk editor Neil Kennett will moderate the Automotive & Transportation session from 11am on Wednesday 12 May, with high-profile speakers including: Peter Stoker, Chief Engineer for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at Millbrook Proving Ground; Dr Maxime Flament, Chief Technology Officer at the 5G Automotive Association, one of the world’s leading authorities on Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS); Bill McKinley, Connected Car Business Lead at Keysight Technologies; and Mark Cracknell, Head of Connected and Automated Mobility at Zenzic, responsible for accelerating the self-driving revolution in the UK.

Neil Kennett, said: “We are delighted to partner with The Small Cell Forum for this exciting virtual event, which brings together mobile operators, vendors and regulators from around the globe. The Automotive & Transportation session will focus on connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) opportunities, particularly vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications, in-vehicle payments, and the rival ITS-G5 and C-V2X 5G technologies.

“Small cells deliver high-quality, secure 4G and 5G coverage, so there are clearly a multitude of new use cases in the connected car world and the wider mobility ecosystem. Aside from supporting self-driving, they can facilitate everything from in-car infotainment and shopping, to fixing technical problems before they occur and pre-empting likely crash scenarios. It is no exaggeration to say they could be a lifesaver.”

Carsofthefuture.co.uk readers can benefit from a 40% discount on Small Cells World Summit 2021 tickets using the code SCWS2021. See www.smallcells.world/

CGA’s simulations train autonomous vehicles to deal with environments specific to the UK.

Self-driving and smart cities: stop wishcasting and get real with predictive simulation

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Liverpool-based Jon Wetherall, Managing Director of CGA Simulation, and Max Zadow, Director of Future Coders.

By applying gaming knowledge to real-world mobility questions, CGA has created engaging simulations to study autonomous driving and smart city solutions.

JW: “My background is gaming. I used to work for the company that did Wipeout and F1 games. We made a racing game called Space Ribbon and one day, about five years ago, we got a call from The Department for Transport (DfT). They were doing a research project on virtual reality (VR) in the testing and training of drivers, specifically hazard awareness.

“We turned it into a game and it worked – people said their attitudes changed as a result of our simulations. The hardest scenario came early in the game – a parked lorry with a big blind spot – and a lot of people crashed. VR feels so visceral, the experience can be quite vivid and shocking. Of course, smarter cars will hopefully fix these types of situations.”

CGA Simulation junction and forecourt
CGA Simulation junction and forecourt

To pursue this goal, CGA received a grant from Innovate UK to create an artificial learning environment for autonomous driving (ALEAD).

JW: “The aim was to make these cars safer and we stayed true to our computer game history. We didn’t have the resources to lidar scan the whole area, so we did our own thing using mapping data. We made a digital twin of Conwy in north Wales and unlike other simulations we kept all the ‘noise’ in – things like rain. This was important because it is now well-understood that noise is a big challenge for autonomous vehicles (AVs).

“Modern autonomous driving stacks have 20 different subsystems and we generally focus on only one or two, to do with perception. There’s been massive progress in this area over recent years, to the extent that artificial intelligence (AI) can identify an individual by their gait. What’s more, you can now do this on a computer you can put in a car – this is one of the cornerstones of driverless.

“It’s not the first time people have been excited about AI. In the 50s they were saying it was only a few years away. It has taken much longer than people thought, but major problems have now been solved.

“We are lucky to have one of the world’s leading experts in radar on our doorstep, Professor Jason Ralph of The University of Liverpool, and he helped us develop the simulation. You have to feed the car’s brain, a computer, all the information it will need – from sensors, cameras, GNSS – and you can do all that in the software.”

MZ: “In particular, The University of Liverpool were interested in how weather affects things, right down to different types of rain and mist. In California, if an AV encounters conditions it can’t handle, like heavy rain, it pulls to the side of the road. That’s ok for San Francisco but not for Manchester!

“A few years ago, everyone seemed to be using the example of an AV encountering a kangaroo. How would it cope? The point is you can use our simulations to train cars, to create algorithm antibodies for once in a lifetime events and regular things in different environments. That remains an essential part of what’s needed to make AVs a reality.

“We picked Conwy partly because it has very different patterns of land use to America. An early use case for AVs is predicted to be taxis, but in the UK these are most frequently used by people who don’t own their own car, and they often live in high density housing or narrow streets. The operational design domains (ODDs) are going to have to deal with environments specific to this country – steep hills, roads which twist and turn, and changeable weather.”

Mobility Mapper

Wetherall and Zadow’s latest collaboration is Mobility Mapper, a project to create greener and more intelligently designed transport hubs. The technology underpinning Mobility Mapper has been used previously by the team to model Covid 19 spread, autonomous vehicle technology and by the Liverpool 5G Create project (funded by DCMS as part of their 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme).

JW: “E-hubs are basically an extension of what used to be called transport hubs – train or bus stations. They’ll provide charging facilities and access to different modes of transport, for example, you can drop off an e-scooter and hop into a shared autonomous car.

“Here in Liverpool, there was a big trial of e-scooters, big in international terms not just UK. The worry was that a lot of them would end up in the canal, but that didn’t happen. The trial was incredibly successful. It’s all about linking that movement and nudging people away from car ownership.”

MZ: “We were already thinking about how Jon’s technology could be used for mobility as a service (MAAS) when we attended a virtual future transport conference in LA with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).

“That was an influence, as was an Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) trade show in Copenhagen, where we saw an autonomous tram system designed to take bicycles. It was a small step from there to imagining autonomous trams carrying autonomous delivery pods.

“This is classic smart city stuff but you need to know how these e-hubs are likely to be used, with no track record, nothing to go on. We need simulated environments to make best guesses in. That’s Mobility Mapper.”

JW: “It is early days, still in the development phase, but the authorities in both Manchester and Liverpool have agreed there’s a need for such a predictive simulation tool.”

As we wrap-up a thoroughly enjoyable interview, Max dons his Director of Digital Creativity in Disability hat: “Autonomous delivery bots are basically electric wheelchairs without a person, so there’s clearly a potential benefit, but there needs to less wishcasting and more real work on how accessibility will be affected.”

For further info, visit CGAsimulation.com

Dr Joanna White says Highways England is currently more focused on the connected bit of connected and automated mobility (CAM).

Highways England expert predicts Level4 self-driving in towns before motorways

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Dr Joanna White, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England.

As the body responsible for designing, building and maintaining our motorways and major A-roads, Highways England (HE) is a uniquely important player in the UK connected and automated mobility (CAM) ecosystem. Here, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England, chartered engineer Dr Joanna White, outlines its work on CAM.

Dr Joanna White, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England
Dr Joanna White, Head of Intelligent Transport Systems at Highways England

JW: “A key aim in improving our service is to look at how we can safely use emerging technology to better connect the country – people and places, families and friends, businesses and customers. This includes what digital channels we might use, delivering a cleaner road environment and achieving net zero carbon.

“Our connected corridor project on the A2/M2 in Kent finished 10 months ago and we are just completing the evaluation. Collaboration is vital and this was a joint project with Kent County Council (KCC), Transport for London (TfL), the Department for Transport (DfT) and others. It was also part of a wider European project, Intercor.

“We are currently more focused on the connected bit of CAM, building on the services we already provide. This includes beaming information directly into vehicles (replicating what you see on the gantries) and also what data we can anonymously collect from vehicles’ positioning sensors. Can we maintain service from one part of the network to another? Can we do it in an accurate, timely and secure way? How do people feel about it?

“We try not to choose particular technologies – whether it’s radar, lidar, cellular – we are interested in all of it. It could be 5G and, via the DfT, we work closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which leads on that. One of the most positive government actions was the requirement for mobile operators to provide 90% coverage of the motorway network by 2026.

Highways England car interior 2
Highways England in-car upcoming junction message

“We were very proud to be involved with the HumanDrive project in which a self-driving Nissan Leaf navigated 230 miles from Cranfield to Sunderland. It was a great learning experience in how to  conduct these trials safely, underpinned by our safety risk governance. We had to identify all the risks of running such a vehicle on the strategic road network (SRN), and find ways to mitigate them. It was fascinating to see how it coped on different types of roads, kept to the lines and responded to road sign information.

“Then there’s our Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Infrastructure Appraisal Readiness (CAVIAR) project, which has been slightly delayed due to Covid. We are building a simulation model of a section of the M1, a digital twin, and we have a real-world car equipped with all the tech which will start operating in 2021. That will collect a lot of data. This is one of our Innovation competition winning projects, run by InnovateUK.

“Within Highways England we have a designated fund for this kind of research, and that means we can invest in further trials and do the work needed to provide more vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications.

“Personally, I think that Level4 self-driving, eyes off and mind off, is years away, perhaps decades, certainly in terms of motorway environments. However, we are constantly in discussion with government on these issues, for example, we contributed to the recent consultation on Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS).

“Working closely with industry and academia, we have already started off-road freight platooning and are looking to move to on-road trials. We’ve had lots of discussions about freight-only lanes and the left lane is often suggested, but you have to consider the design of the road network. There are lots of junctions close to each other, so how would that work, especially at motorway speeds? At first, I see self-driving more for deliveries at slower speeds in urban areas but, as always, we will listen to consumer demand.”

For further info see highwaysengland.co.uk.

Bold predictions about our driverless future by petrolhead Clem Robertson.

Meet the maverick radar expert of UK drones and driverless

Welcome to a new series of interviews with our fellow Zenzic CAM Creators. First up, Clem Robertson, CEO of R4dar Technologies.

As a keen cyclist who built his own Cosworth-powered Quantum sportscar from scratch, it’s no surprise that the founder of Cambridge-based R4dar takes a unique approach to self-driving. Indeed, his involvement can be traced directly to one shocking experience: driving down a local country lane one night, he had a near miss with a cyclist with no lights. He vividly remembers how a car came the other way, illuminating the fortunate rider in silhouette and enabling an emergency stop. It proved to be a light bulb moment.

R4dar urban scene tags
R4dar urban scene tags

What does R4dar bring to connected and automated mobility (CAM)? 

CR: “I’d been working in radar for five or six years, developing cutting edge radar for runways, when the incident with the cyclist got me thinking: Why could my cruise control radar not tell me something was there and, importantly, what it was? This kind of technology has been around for years – in World War II we needed to tell the difference between a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt. They placed a signal on the planes which gave this basic information, but things can be much more sophisticated these days. Modern fighter pilots use five different methods of identification before engaging a potential bogey, because one or more methods might not work and you can’t leave it to chance whether to blow someone out of the sky. The autonomous vehicle world is doing similar with lidar, radar, digital mapping etc. Each has its shortcomings – GPS is no good in tunnels; the cost of 5G can be prohibitive and coverage is patchy; cameras aren’t much good over 100 metres or in the rain, lidar is susceptible to spoofing or misinterpretation; digital maps struggle with temporary road layouts – but together they create a more resilient system.”

How will your solutions improve the performance of self-driving cars?

CR: “Radar only communicates with itself, so it is cyber-resilient, and our digital tags can be used on smart infrastructure as well as vehicles – everything from platooning lorries to digital high vis jackets, traffic lights to digital bike reflectors. They can tell you three things: I am this, I am here and my status is this. For example, I’m a traffic light up ahead and I’m going to turn red in 20 seconds. Radar works in all weathers. It is reliable up to 250-300m and very good at measuring range and velocity, while the latest generation of radars are getting much better at differentiating between two things side-by-side. We are working with CAM partners looking to use radar in active travel, to improve safety and traffic management, as well as with fleet and bus operators. We are also working with the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry to create constellations of beacons that are centimetre-accurate, so that delivery drones can land in a designated spot in the garden and not on the dog!”

R4dar cyclists in fog
R4dar cyclists in fog

What major developments do you expect over the next 10-15 years?

CR: “Fully autonomous vehicles that don’t carry passengers will come first. There are already little robots on the streets of Milton Keynes and, especially with Covid, you will see a big focus on autonomous last mile delivery – both UAVs and unmanned ground vehicle (UGVs). You never know, we might see delivery bots enacting a modern version of the computer game Paperboy. More and more people in urban areas with only roadside parking will realise that electric cars are tricky to charge, unless you put the chargers in the road, which is expensive. If you only need a car one or two days a month, or even for just a couple of hours, there will be mobility as a service (MAAS) solutions for that. Why would you bother with car ownership? E-scooters are one to keep an eye on – once they’re regulated they will be a useful and independent means of getting around without exercising. Town centres will change extensively once MAAS and CAM take off. There will be improved safety for vulnerable road users, more pedestrianisation, and you might see segmented use at certain times of day.”

Do you see any downsides in the shift to self-driving?

CR: “Yes! I love driving, manual gearboxes, the smell of petrol, the theatre, but you can see already that motorsport, even F1, is becoming a dinosaur in its present form. People are resistant to change and autonomous systems prompt visions of Terminator, but it is happening and there will be consequences. Mechanics are going to have less work and will have to retrain because electric motors have less moving parts. Courier and haulage driving jobs will go. Warehouses will be increasingly automated. MAAS will mean less people owning their own cars and automotive manufacturers will have to adapt to selling less vehicles – it’s a massive cliff and it’s coming at them much faster than they thought – that’s why they’re all scrambling to become autonomous EV manufacturers, it’s a matter of survival.”

R4dar lights in fog
R4dar lights in fog

So, to sum up….

CR: “Fully autonomous, go-anywhere vehicles are presented as the utopia, but there’s a realisation that this is a difficult goal, or at least a first world problem. There might always be a market for manned vehicles in more remote locations. A lot of the companies in this industry specialise in data, edge processing and enhanced geospatial awareness, and that will bring all kinds of benefits. How often have you driven in fog unable to see 10m in front of you? Self-driving technology will address that and many other dangers.”

Hearing bold predictions like these from a petrolhead like Clem, suddenly Zenzic’s ambitious 10-year plan seems eminently achievable.

For further info, visit the R4dar website.

Driverless river transport: the roboat

We profiled various “other driverless vehicles” in our recent bikes, trucks, bots and planes article, well here’s another one… and it has a great name: the roboat.

So far, only small prototypes have been deployed but a bigger model with a 6x13ft hull is in development, featuring GPS, water quality testers, cameras and LIDAR.

The robotic boat is the result of a five-year research project – a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS).

Carlo Ratti, of MIT’s senseable city lab, envisages a new kind of on-demand infrastructure – autonomous platforms joining together to form floating bridges or stages, as well as individual roboats being able to deliver goods, transport people or collect waste.
 
This 1min 43sec video gives an overview of the project to date:

Looking ahead, the team will concentrate on finding ways to account for waves, currents, more passengers and heavier cargos.