One of the biggest barriers to the successful introduction of driverless cars is confusion over what constitutes true self-driving.
In America, the controversial autonomous vehicle expert, Alex Roy, has suggested a self-driving litmus test called Roy’s Razor. “Can you get in, pick a destination and safely go to sleep?” he asks. “If yes, it’s self-driving. If no, it’s not.”
While this has some merit, the key word “safely” gets somewhat lost. The internet is awash with less than sensible people climbing out of the driver’s seat with their Tesla in Autopilot.
So, here’s an idea to head off such recklessness… the best way to tell if a car is truly self-driving is to ask this simple question: Has it got a steering wheel?
Audi has apparently been down this road in the thinking behind its new Grandsphere concept car. When in “hands-off” mode, the steering wheel folds neatly away.
That certainly removes any doubt as to whether the driver is responsible for driving or just a user in charge, to use The Law Commission of England and Wales’ new lingo.
“We will be ready for Level 4 driving in the second half of this decade,” said Josef Schloßmacher, Audi’s spokesperson for concept cars.
“That’s an important timeframe for us and we will interact with authorities in the different continents and countries in all important markets on the homologation of this new technology.”
While somewhat open to the accusation of a fudge – if it is truly self-driving, why do you need a steering wheel at all? – this looks like progress.
Driverless Toyota e-Palette bus hits blind Japanese judo star
A golden PR opportunity for driverless cars backfired badly this week when a Toyota self-driving e-Palette shuttle bus hit a visually impaired athlete at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
It had all been going so well. A fleet of eye-catching autonomous electric vehicles successfully ferrying competitors and officials around the Olympic village was a major triumph for the self-driving industry, and Toyota in particular.
But this Olympic fairy tale received a nasty reality check when a slow-moving e-Palette collided with Japanese judo veteran Aramitsu Kitazono, apparently ending his medal hopes.
Kitazono had been due to face Ukraine’s Dmytro Solovey the following day, but didn’t take to the mat. Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda swiftly apologised, but the damage was done.
Somewhat ironically now, given the accident involved a blind man, our headline endorsed “flickering lights to replace eye contact in facilitating trust”. Perhaps audible warnings are also warranted.
“Throughout the development process, athletes, especially Paralympians, helped us understand how the e-Palette could be adapted and upgraded to better meet their needs for simple, convenient and comfortable mobility,” said Takahiro Muta, the project’s development leader, in 2019.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Last December, the idea of these autonomous vehicles playing a practical role at this showcase sporting event was enticing, to say the least – some questioned whether it would even be possible.
Now we are left with Toyoda’s grim assessment of the incident. “It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” he said.
Use of the e-Palette fleet was suspended for several days but has now resumed.
PAVE is on a mission to inform the US public about self-driving vehicles.
There are many lessons America can teach us Brits about the safe introduction of driverless cars, and the vital work of Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) is a prime example.
The US is well ahead of the UK in terms of on-road testing and there have been crashes. These high-profile incidents have dented consumer confidence and calls for greater oversight have now been met.
On 29 June 2021, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that the manufacturers and operators of vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), or higher SAE level automated driving systems, must report crashes.
Against this background, PAVE has a mission “To inform the public about automated vehicles and their potential so everyone can fully participate in shaping the future of transportation”.
Executive Director of PAVE, Tara Andringa, explains: “PAVE was born at CES in Las Vegas in 2019 and unites industry, academia, non-profits and the public sector. PAVE aims to bridge the gap between the huge resources that industry is investing in AV technology, and opinion polls that show that the public is largely confused and distrustful. Our mission is to educate and engage the public.
“We don’t advocate for any particular policy. We are all about education, having a conversation and raising the level of understanding – we want to equip everyone to be part of the conversation. We started with 18 members at CES, and we’ve grown to over 80 members. There has been a lot of agreement about the need for this kind of effort, including many big industry players.”
Importantly, PAVE now has many of these big players on-board: vehicle manufacturers including Audi, Ford, Toyota and VW; AV specialists Cruise, Oxbotica and Waymo; IT and comms giants Intel and Blackberry; motoring bodies including the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA); influential campaign groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD); and charities such as The National Federation of the Blind.
Andringa continues: “Although our organisation includes very diverse members with diverse missions, we find that our efforts are more impactful if all of these groups come together.
“We like to put on demonstration events to demystify the technology and the good news is that knowledge and experience change attitudes. When we get people into AVs, they often say it is just like being in a human-driven car, and it’s almost boring. For us, that’s a success. It builds trust and understanding, which are universal concepts.
“We also conduct surveys and have found a lot of confusion about the technology that’s on the road today – from people who say self-driving cars will never happen, to people who think their cars are already equipped to drive themselves.
“In particular, people confuse driver assistance with self-driving. We very much believe ADAS can improve safety, but we always emphasise that all cars for sale today require a responsible driver behind the wheel.
“Another way we have reached a lot of people is through our weekly panel discussions looking at all different aspects of AVs. These originally came about due to the pandemic, but they have gotten over 12,000 views on YouTube.
“Recently we partnered with the State of Ohio to engage the public sector. Town and city authorities want to be ready, but they have lots of questions. We ran a workshop on how AVs work from the point of view of regulation, freight, law enforcement and linking with existing transport. The response was incredibly positive.”
For more information, including links to the panel discussions and other helpful resources, visit pavecampaign.org
Tim Dawkins explains why the UK is so well placed to develop self-driving vehicle technologies and regulations.
With its laudable aim “to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance”, transformational technologies like autonomous vehicles are natural territory for The World Economic Forum. Here, we get the considered views of the Forum’s Automotive & Autonomous Mobility Lead, Tim Dawkins – an Englishman working for the Geneva-based organisation in sunny California.
Tell us about your path to autonomous vehicles and The World Economic Forum
TD: “I started out studying motorsport engineering at Brunel and my first job out of university was in vehicle security for automotive consulting firm, SBD, helping manufacturers meet Type Approval requirements with anti-theft technologies. When SBD opened an office in North America, I went there, to lead their consulting in autonomous driving. Then, in 2018, I got my MBA and wound-up joining The World Economic Forum.
“Here at the Forum, our mission is greater than to convene events for business leaders, but actually to improve the state of the world. In my domain, that means making sure that the future of transportation is as safe as possible. Broadly, we work with governments and industry leaders to help them understand each other better. In the world of autonomous vehicles that means helping governments understand how the technology is evolving and the creation of new governance structures – which can be used in regulations, standards and assessment criteria.
“A crude analogy is to think about a driving test for the self-driving cars of the future – what does that look like? It’s obviously a lot more nuanced and complex than that, but by being a neutral entity – bringing together the likes of Aurora and Cruise with leading academics and regulators to have focused discussions around autonomous vehicle operation and deployment, or what it means to define a safe autonomous vehicle – is a very effective way of achieving better outcomes for all.
“It’s not just about the advanced technologies of the future, our portfolio also includes road safety research – improving the infrastructure, reducing crashes and fatalities with today’s ADAS technologies, and looking ahead to creating a safer future of mobility with autonomous vehicles.”
With your global perspective on autonomous mobility, how is the UK doing in terms of the government’s stated aim of being “at the forefront of this change”?
TD: “The automotive industry has always been very important to the UK economy, so it is natural that that industry and the government agree on the strategic priority to make the UK an attractive place to develop and test these technologies. We have world-leading engineering talent, universities and research and test facilities within our borders, so it’s shifting the focus from sheet metal and engines over to Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) technologies. Really, it’s a great fit.
“What UK governments have done – I say governments plural, because this has been going on for over 10 years – is to create institutions which spur development. There’s been dedicated funding and research grants not only to grow the CAV ecosystem within the UK, but to encourage international organisations to come and develop in the UK as well.
“What we see now is the result of many years of building the business case, to position the UK as a competitive place to test and develop new technologies. This top-down industrial policy, combined with an open code of practice to facilitate automated vehicle trialling, make the UK a great place to test and develop AVs.
“This ecosystem view is something we study here at the Forum. We recently published a joint paper with The Autonomous – The AV Governance Ecosystem: A Guide for Decision-Makers – which looks at how the standards bodies, alliances and consortia are coming together to develop solutions which will become policy, or at least be used in future governance. You will notice that a lot of UK entities feature very prominently in this study.
“For example, BSI are one of the long-established standards institutions that have been mission-aligned to further CAV mobility, by delivering technical standards and guidance to address governance gaps in the sector, such as the new Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 1881, 1882 and 1883 documents and a vocabulary of CAV terms. Then you have entities such as Zenzic to create the business environment and inform the overall roadmap to making autonomous vehicles a reality, supported by entities such as Innovate UK, and a whole ecosystem of universities and research entities creating a thriving network for innovation.
TD: “One of the things our team like to tackle is how to incentivise these companies to go not just where they can make the most profit, but to provide services to those who most need transportation. This means providing services in areas that are underserved by public transport.
“Think about commuting into London – you drive to the train station, then get onto the TFL network. If you can make that journey more efficient, hopefully more affordable, and accessible, suddenly the economic opportunities that come with commuting into London are open to a greater swathe of people. It’s a very local issue. You have to look at each city and say: where are the areas with the least economic opportunities and how can mobility provide them with greater access to jobs, healthcare and all the things they need?
“Fundamentally, mobility should be considered a human right. It’s not codified as one, but the link between good access to mobility and access to a good future is extremely strong. When we talk to city regulators, for example, they’re very keen to view autonomous vehicles as a way of making their transportation ecosystem more efficient – using AVs to get people onto the existing network, rather than replacing buses or train services.”
That’s certainly opened our eyes to the important work of the World Economic Forum, and we’ll be hearing more from Tim’s colleague, Michelle Avary, Head of Automotive and Autonomous Mobility, at next month’s Reuters event, Car Of The Future 2021.
Law Commission proposes user-in-charge – a new legal role reflecting the responsibilities of being less than a driver but more than a passenger.
The Automated Vehicles Review at the Law Commission of England and Wales plays a pivotal role in in the UK government’s push to be at the forefront of the burgeoning global self-driving industry.
Since 2018, when the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) asked The Commission to undertake a far-reaching three-year review of the UK’s regulatory framework for automated vehicles, Jessica Uguccioni, the lead lawyer for the review, has been immersed in reforms to enable their safe and effective deployment.
Notably, in December 2020, The Commission unveiled a consultation setting out a comprehensive regulatory scheme for automated vehicles. The consultation closed in March 2021 and the outcomes are not yet public.
Two concepts are particularly striking: 1) a start-to-finish self-driving vehicle safety assurance scheme; and 2) a user-in-charge.
Under the proposals, when the vehicle is driving in automated mode the person in the driving seat is no longer a driver, but instead a ‘user-in-charge’ with responsibilities to take over driving following a transition demand, and for driver duties that do not relate to dynamic driving (like maintenance of the vehicle, or ensuring children are wearing seatbelts).
Importantly, the user-in-charge would not be criminally liable if an accident occurred while the vehicle was in self-driving mode. Transport Minister Rachel Maclean hailed the work as “leading the way on the regulation of this technology”.
JU: “Our analysis is still evolving, not just in terms of the framework we would like to see, but suggesting changes to existing legislation and identifying gaps.
“For passenger cars, there are two main routes to market: gradually adding driving automation features to consumer vehicles, which may be capable of self-driving for part of a journey but still rely on a human driver to complete a trip; and the ride hail model, with vehicles that can carry passengers or drive empty, and can complete trips while self-driving.
“The oversight needs to be very different, although there is some common ground. The safety assurance scheme applies regardless of the use case. But for cars which cannot complete a journey in self-driving mode, it is important to have a user in charge – a new legal role reflecting the responsibilities of being less than a driver but more than a passenger. On the other hand, fleet operators play a crucial supervisory role for automated vehicles that do not need a user-in-charge.
“There is a lot of unease over the safety of the transition process: human factors input is crucial to ensure the human can be brought back into the loop and take over driving in a safe manner. Circumstances (the ‘operational design domain’ or ODD) must also be taken into account. For example, being in a dedicated lane travelling at 10mph is a very different safety case to motorway driving.
“The SAE levels are helpful, but they don’t tell the whole story. The AV must be safe within its ODD, but any public place brings an amount of randomness. The AV therefore needs to be able to cope with a wide variety of situations. For example, pedestrian safety needs to be taken into consideration for ALKS on motorways – people shouldn’t be walking along or across motorways, but sometimes they are. We need to make sure that redistribution of risk does not disadvantage vulnerable road users – that’s a priority.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Thanks to LinkedIn, self-driving experts from the UK and New Zealand have united to decry the trolley problem in relation to driverless cars.
Mitchell Gingrich, President of Autonomous Consulting in Christchurch, New Zealand, responded to our interview with Professor John McDermid, Director of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme at the University of York, saying: “Spot on about the trolley problem.”
Professor McDermid had asserted that: “The trolley problem is a nonsense… all these elaborate versions require self-driving vehicles to make distinctions that you or I could not.”
The trolley problem is a thought experiment which runs like this: Imagine there’s a runaway trolley and, ahead, five people are tied to the track; You are standing some distance off, next to a lever. If you pull it, the trolley will switch to a track only one person is tied to. What do you do?
Or, as Professor McDermid puts it: “Who do you save, a child or an older person? The child because they can be expected to live longer and benefit more. However, this is based on false assumptions. I don’t believe in the split second of a crash you go into that sort of thought process – you focus on controlling the vehicle and in most cases the best option is to (try to) stop.”
Gingrich opined that the March 2018 fatal accident involving an Uber Advanced Technology Group (Uber ATG) self-driving vehicle can aid in evaluating the trolley problem. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the US recently completed an 18-month-long investigation and concluded there were 20 contributing factors. Some of those concerned the software misclassifying a pedestrian. A significant contributing factor was the safety driver’s inattentiveness.
The trolley problem assumes that a person or system is not only aware of the task of driving but also of the present and future merits of the lives of road users, he says. However, experience demonstrates that, sadly and all too frequently, road users pay the price for a lack of vigilance.
It turns out that Gingrich, a lawyer by trade, has been on quite a journey with autonomous vehicles himself. From working for Uber ATG in Phoenix, seeing first-hand the fallout from the Elaine Herzberg tragedy, to relocating to New Zealand and setting up Autonomous Consulting to push the case for driverless transport.
“I’m convinced that the future will be autonomous,” he says. “Whether it’s on public roads, in the air or on the seas, we will be utilising autonomous technology to transport our people and goods. That’s what autonomy is promising, but we’re in an interim period.
“New cars have advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like lane keep assist and automatic emergency braking. Some of us have been using cruise control for a long time, now it is adaptive – the car will keep its distance. These are autonomous features but not autonomy and we need to educate the public about the difference.
“Autonomy is about safety, resources and the environment. These ADAS systems expect me to pay attention to the road and the robot, and that’s not a recipe for safety. 93-94% of accidents are caused by human error, usually distraction – we think we’re paying attention, but we aren’t. There are repair and maintenance issues too, for example, around the correct calibration of sensors.
“In terms of resources, my personal car is a depreciating asset that isn’t used 90% of the time. Autonomous vehicles will also have a tremendous impact on town planning. An architect in the US imagined Manhattan pedestrianised and it freed up 60% of space.
“My freedom is not challenged by not having a personal vehicle. I’d have more money in my pocket and could use my smartphone to access different vehicles for different purposes.”
Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Peter Stoker, Chief Engineer for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at Millbrook.
Part of CAM Testbed UK, Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedford boasts 700 acres of private roads on which to develop and test connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies. As Chief Engineer, Peter Stoker is right at the forefront of self-driving in the UK.
Please can you outline Millbrook’s work on connected and automated mobility?
“My primary role is to bring focus to two testbeds, our CAV testbed and our 5G testbed. We are not a purpose-built CAV testbed – we have safety, propulsion and conventional vehicle test facilities too – so CAV is something we’ve blended into the existing business.
“For the CAV testbed, we partnered with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), particularly the Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (RACE) division, to provide a controlled urban environment. We have three open source StreetDrone vehicles and miles of track with targets for very precise measurements, accurate to 1-2cm. We offer safety driver training and also have a simulation environment for driver-in-the-loop and hardware-in-the-loop testing. The whole idea is to fail in private, not in public, and to progress, to evolve out of the testbeds and on to open roads.
“The 5G testbed is a completely separate consortium, backed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). We have 59 masts looking at all types of connectivity and I’d say the millimetre wave at 70GHz is currently the most interesting.”
What major shifts in UK road transport do you expect over the next 10 years?
“Getting the crystal ball out, I see increased use of connectivity in existing vehicles and some very interesting new use cases – buses connected to city networks, video analytics from cameras, smart ambulances streaming live data, autonomous deliveries on campuses. What I don’t see within 10 years is millions of privately owned driverless cars. That will start in the luxury sector but to begin with it will be more about transporting goods.”
How do you see the testing framework for CAVs developing?
“There’s a lot of simulation in the automotive world – crash testing, fatigue testing, computational fluid dynamics. These days, manufacturers are developing whole vehicles before building a prototype. You have to have a good simulation on a good simulator and there’s an interesting shift that needs to happen on regulation. It’s early days on that, but it’s essential.
“The strength of virtual space is that you can run hundreds of scenarios in machine time – not only set up complicated scenarios that would take days with real cars, but actually speed up the process so it runs faster than real time. The national scenario database is already really good and regulation will move to being a mixture of real and virtual certification – global, European, UK and perhaps even city-specific. We are happy to advise, but don’t set policy.”
What are the biggest challenges in the shift to self-driving and how can these risks be mitigated?
“The key to the future of self-driving is education, education, education – for everyone, the public, vehicle manufacturers, the aftermarket, recovery operators. We have to work on the terminology – autonomous, driverless, CAV, CAM – it’s confusing, even to people who know what they’re talking about.
“At the moment, we’re making it harder to understand, not easier. We’re in a really grey area of transition with different trade names for systems. There’s a lot of groundwork needed to prepare people and, for example, the brilliant website mycardoeswhat.org does a great job of trying to explain it.
“If you get into a hire car, you need to have the right expectation of what it does and what it doesn’t do. If you buy a new car, you should read the manual, but how many people do? Especially with Covid, more cars are being delivered with minimal interaction – it’s a case of “there’s the key, where’s the station?”. Too often, the customer handover just isn’t there.
“How are garages, the aftermarket and the amber light sector going to deal with all this? Basic questions like how do you put it in neutral? ADAS has already led to huge changes in training and skill sets – how to calibrate and monitor them.
“We haven’t talked about over-the-air (OTA) updates, cameras embedded in the tarmac or even electrification – there’s a huge amount of things! How do you learn about them? Hopefully in testing rather than in crash situations.”
Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Dr Charlie Wartnaby, chief engineer at Applus IDIADA.
Way back in 2019 we covered IDIADA’s role in the construction of the new CAVWAY testing facility, and that investment continued with a large new venture. With a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Cambridge, Charlie Wartnaby was technical lead for the ground-breaking Multi-Car Collision Avoidance (MuCCA) project.
CW: “Certainly the funding from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) for MuCCA and CAVWAY were big wins for us. Traditionally, we’d focused on automotive electrics and engine management, but we could see there was all this exciting CAV work. Now we’re working with an OEM I can’t name to run an field operational test using our IDAPT development tool – a high performance computer with GPS and car-to-car communications – as a spin-off from MuCCA.
“With the MuCCA project, we think we achieved a world first by having multiple full-sized vehicles do real-time cooperative collision avoidance. We still have the cars for further R&D when time, budget and Covid allow.
“In the UK, we’re focussed on building a new proving ground (CAVWAY) near Oxford, which should open in 2021. There’s also our CAVRide Level4 taxi project, at our headquarters near Barcelona. CAVRide shares some of the technology developed for MuCCA and they’ve done some really interesting vehicle-in-the-loop testing, having the real vehicle avoid virtual actors in a simulation environment.
“In the short term, we’re really working hard on the C in CAV. Connected vehicles offer massive safety and efficiency improvements, for example, by warning about stopped vehicles or advising on speed to get through traffic lights on green. There’s a bit of a VHS versus Betamax situation, with both WiFi-based short-range communications and the C-V2X 5G-based protocol, so we’ve upgraded IDAPT to support both.
“Personally I think that while heroic work by the big players shows robotaxi applications are feasible, economic viability is a long way off, 2030 maybe. Watch the latest Zoox and Waymo videos from America, they’re mesmerising! No way is that kind of tech going to be installed in private cars any time soon because it’s eye-wateringly expensive. Think about the costs involved in making every taxi driverless – it’d be out of all proportion to replacing driver salaries, especially considering backup teleoperators and maintenance and charging personnel.
“These big self-driving companies aren’t operating in the UK yet, but we do have very successful smaller players with intellectual property to sell. The UK government has been supporting a good number of R&D projects, via the CCAV and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and the regulatory environment has been reasonably friendly so far.
“I feel the first practical applications are likely to be low-speed shuttle buses and small autonomous delivery droids, but trucking is a very important area. If lorry drivers were permitted to stop their tachographs while napping in the back of the cab once on the motorway – only clocking up hours for parts of long journeys – that would make a viable economic case for a Level4 operating design domain (ODD) of ‘just motorways’, which is harder to justify merely as a convenience feature in private cars.
“In terms of current tech, emergency lane keeping systems (ELK), to stop drifting, are a major breakthrough, requiring cameras, sensors and autonomous steering. I welcome the road safety, however, if drivers engage automation systems like ALKS (automated lane keeping) by habit, for sure their skills will be affected. Perhaps there’s a case for the system enforcing some periods of manual driving, just as airline pilots perform manual landings to stay in practice even in planes that can land themselves.
“Concerns about timely handover are well-founded and I think there’s an industry consensus now that Level3 is not reasonable if it requires quick driver intervention. We see up to 20 seconds before some unprepared drivers are properly in control when asked to resume unexpectedly. It really requires that the vehicle can get itself into (or remain in) a safe state by itself, or at least there needs to be a generous takeover period. The difference between L3 and L4 is that the latter must always be able to achieve that safe state.”
Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Beam Connectivity CEO, Thomas Sors.
Having previously led Dyson’s Connected Vehicle programme, Thomas Sors launched Beam Connectivity in January this year. It might be one of the newest cogs in the UK automotive wheel, but its Connected Vehicle as a Service (CVaaS) product is already attracting interest from car, freight and public transport manufacturers.
TS: “When it comes to connected and automated mobility (CAM) and connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), we see a lot of focus on the ‘A’ part, but not so much about ‘C’, which is our focus. Connectivity is the essential foundation for automation later on, but at the moment it often doesn’t perform very well. For example, OEM apps sometimes get two point something star ratings due to problems with the initial connection and latency.
“Our CVaaS solution provides a better user experience and can unlock the value of data generated by vehicle fleets. It offers a new way of getting data from vehicles to the cloud and back-end, or to send data into the vehicle. Because we’re brand new, there are no issues with legacy software – privacy by design and security by design are embedded all the way through our process, not an afterthought or a bolt-on. That starts with ensuring that we fulfil General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) access rights, including the right to be forgotten.
“I’ve seen quotes that by 2030 all cars will have some form of connectivity. eCall [the EU initiative to enable cars to automatically contact the emergency services in the event of a serious accident] is mandatory for new cars, and that’s just the start. It’s about transparency and explaining the benefits. If you give people the option to say ‘yes, take this data in order for me to get feature X’, then that builds trust.
“From the manufacturer or fleet operator perspective, prognostics is an interesting area – fixing things before they go wrong. Then there’s the ability to understand usage patterns and perform over the air (OTA) updates. Another thing we’re already seeing is support to improve the driving experience, for example, vehicle to infrastructure communications being used to reduce congestion. We expect that to build up quickly over the next 2-4 years.
“We’re only a few months in but we’ve already deployed an end-to-end system to several vehicles and we’re looking to do more and more. It’s not unusual for manufacturers to spend 12-18 months building a connected vehicle solution, so our platform can really speed up their development lifecycle. Why build a connectivity team when we’ve already done it very effectively?
“As to self-driving, the technology is leading the way and moving along quickly, so the focus needs to be on standards, legislation and public acceptance.”