Autoura’s Bainbridge says China has won the self-driving engineering race and Level4 is near-term in the UK.

UK urged to concede the self-driving engineering race and focus on the business opportunity

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with the CEO of Autoura, Alex Bainbridge.

Since selling online reservation service TourCMS in 2015, tourism entrepreneur Alex Bainbridge has been working on his next industry gamechanger: Sahra the sightseeing robot – a digital assistant, concierge and tour guide. Sahra is already available as an app for tourists on foot, but combine her with a driverless car and you get an AI holiday rep and your own personal tour bus in one, all completely human-free. Bringing a different perspective to our other Zenzic CAM Creators, the affable Bainbridge has words of wisdom and some brutal home truths for the UK self-driving industry.

AB: “Over the last 20 years we’ve seen web, mobile and social dramatically change the sightseeing industry. These inventions were forced upon us and we’ve had to grapple with them. Self-driving is next and governments around the world are rushing to legalise it. A lot of the focus here is still on engineering, but China has already won that race. The faster we all accept that, the sooner we as a nation can shift to winning the commercialisation race. We’re driven by the money-making opportunity.

Sightseeing Autonomous Hospitality Robot by Autoura – Sahra

“50% of sightseeing is by vehicle and these new automated forms of transport will bring change, whether it’s an e-scooter for a city tour, or a self-driving car for a vineyard visit or road trip. I’m interested in the pure leisure uses and the customer experience, not deliveries or getting from A to B. We’ve built a digital platform that can work on any robo-taxi. Google, Apple, Amazon and Baidu will all run self-driving fleets, and they’re going to have to compete with Uber and Lyft. We want the customer experience layer.

“Most urban vehicle-based sightseeing is currently done by hop-on hop-off buses, but major cities are beginning to ban them – either directly, by closing roads, or indirectly, by not allowing them to park. The transition to autonomous will start with CAVs running routes like buses. This means we can get trading from Level4, and we only need a few vehicles to start. We’re a step away from the hardware but look at Waymo in Phoenix and Cruise in San Francisco – this is near-term and we’re going to see some big changes in the second half of 2021.”

For further info on Autoura’s “in-destination travel experiences”, see autoura.com.

California-based Xona Space is working on new generation Low Earth Orbit GPS for self-driving cars.

Next generation: self-driving GPS is out of this world

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with the Co-Founder and CEO of Xona Space, Brian Manning.

Compared to the familiar British reserve, California-based Xona Space is from a different planet. This self-declared “group of space ninjas, engineers, GPS nerds, motorcycle racers and adventurers” has helped to put over 50 vehicles in space and published over 50 scientific papers on navigation technology. That’s handy because today’s sat navs are creaking under the sky high requirements of self-driving cars. Brian Manning says his company’s new Pulsar positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) service will provide the necessary security, availability and accuracy.

BM: “We’re primarily working on new generation GPS from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – something much more secure, precise and resilient. It will sure-up a lot of issues. GPS has been phenomenal, it has given a lot of value for a long time, but people are now trying to use it for applications it wasn’t designed for. It’s tough to get where you’re going when you don’t know where you are.”

A reference perhaps to the GPS spoofing incident at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, when cars from a host of manufacturers displayed their location as Buckingham, England, in 2036! Apparently Americans also do sarcasm now. We swiftly move on to realistic timescales for the SAE levels of driving automation.

BM: “Ubiquitos Level5 is probably still far off, but personally I think we’ll start seeing deployments in contained environments within five years. I came from SpaceX so I know that with the right team you can get an amazing amount done in a very short time. A big part of Xona’s focus is to get Level5 tech out of the contained environments and also to work in bad weather and more rural environments, where current systems struggle. Rather than which sectors will be early adopters, I look more geographically – to highways with autonomous lanes. That said, it will probably be more on the freight side first because there’s more safety standards involved when you have passengers on board.”

We were wondering which might come first, Level5 or a winner in the Presidential election, but that’s all sorted now, isn’t it?

For further info, visit Xonaspace.com

Aside from recognising Cars of the Future as a CAM Creator, Zenzic’s new Roadmap features other notable developments…

Zenzic unveils updated UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap

On Tuesday 20 October 2020, Zenzic unveiled the latest (second) version of its UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap to 2030.

Bringing together government, industry and academia, Zenzic is tasked with establishing the UK as a world leader in self-driving.

Aside from the headline news that Cars of the Future was recognised as an official CAM Creator (sorry, had to get that in), there were notable developments in relation to regulation, safety and public perception.

During a virtual launch event (due to the ongoing Covid plague), Daniel Ruiz, CEO of Zenzic, outlined the “phenomenal progress” made in the 12 months since the launch of the first Roadmap. For instance, the fact that the first self-driving vehicle testing safety standards milestone is on track to be reached by end of this year.

He also highlighted the increased support for local governments on connected vehicles and emphasised the “need to continue to invest”.

Ruiz then handed over to Mark Cracknell, head of technology at Zenzic and architect of the Roadmap, who praised the UK’s collaborative approach over that of other countries where tech companies push the agenda.

“The Roadmap details the route to delivering the vision,” he said. “We are only one year into a 10 year plan and we are in a great position, with activity and progress reflected in the real world.”

Cracknell then joined a panel discussion, moderated by Alex Kreetzer of Auto Futures, with Imogen Pierce, head of experience strategy at Arrival (formerly of Jaguar), and Dr Richard Fairchild, operations director at Aurrigo. Given the participants, it understandably focussed on mobility as a service (MAAS) and first and last mile transport solutions.

It was unfortunate that this event coincided with Bauer’s Virtual Smart Transport Conference. Surely the driverless highway is not yet so congested that organisations have to tread on each other’s toes?

Anyway, if you’d like to explore the new Roadmap, you are very welcome to do so here.

Space age navigation for driverless cars

In a fascinating new article, published on 18 September 2020, NASA explained how its laser-based lunar landing technology could be adopted by self-driving cars.

Facing many of the same navigational and hazard avoidance challenges, NASA brought sensors, cameras, algorithms and high-performance computers together under the Safe and Precise Landing Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE) project.

Considering Mars is approximately 34 million miles from earth, and NASA successfully landed the Curiosity rover within a 12×4 mile target area, autonomous vehicle developers would be wise to pay attention.

What’s more, NASA intends to be even more precise in future, with a new variation called Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), which detects the movement and velocity of distant objects, as well as a spacecraft’s own motion relative to the ground.

Steve Sandford, former director at NASA’s Langley Research Center and now Chief Technology Officer at Psionic, said: “Doppler lidar’s high resolution can distinguish between objects that are only several inches apart and even at a distance of several hundred feet.” Potentially perfect for detecting, for instance, a pedestrian crossing a road.

For further info, read the original NASA article.

The driverless dilemma: touchstone or red herring?

Much of the debate about autonomous vehicles (AVs) has focused on the driverless dilemma – who to save, or kill, in no-win crash situations.

This subject is often explored via a thought experiment called The Trolley Problem, which imagines a runaway train and five people tied to the track. If you intervene by pulling a lever, the train will switch to a track with just one person.

Numerous studies, notably The Moral Machine, suggest broad agreement that: 1) humans should be saved over animals; 2) the lives of many should outweigh the few; and 3) the young should have precedence over the old.

However, in this article for Robotics Business Review, Julian De Frietas, of the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and Sam Anthony, of Perceptive Automata (a company specialising in human behaviour in robotic systems), question the merit of applying such thinking to driverless cars.

“There are two problems with the trolley dilemma – first of all, it’s a distraction to the work that is being done on making AVs safer, and second, it has this built-in assumption that AVs can see the world perfectly,” says Anthony.

Initially this seems cavalier, an affront to the mainstream view that the driverless dilemma is vital to the debate. It is certainly an issue that cuts through with the public.

De Frietas goes on to assert that such dilemmas – situations where you have the time to make a considered decision as to who to kill but can’t use that time to avert it – are rare.

A better approach, he argues, is aiming to avoid harm: “That means that if most of what you’re doing on the road is just avoiding more mundane things, then optimizing to that goal will cover you.”

There’s a lot to digest there, particularly considering the infamous comments reportedly made by a Mercedes-Benz executive at the 2016 Paris Motor Show about saving the driver and passengers over pedestrians.

On a personal note, I’ve been driving for 25 years and have only found myself in something resembling a trolley dilemma once. A car pulled out in front me – pedestrians left, solid traffic right. I almost managed to stop but went into the side of the car that pulled out. We all walked away but, believe me, one trolley dilemma in a lifetime is more than enough.

In the same situation, what will a driverless car’s programming tell it to do? Will this vary across different makes and models? Should vehicle owners have any control over the settings?

Perhaps Anthony and De Frietas deserve credit for scrutinising the driverless dilemma, but their stance only reaffirms my view that it should be the touchstone for all autonomous vehicle development.

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.

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.

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.

Must-see video: why is Ford disguising drivers as car seats?

Ford Europe has posted a new video highlighting an innovative approach to autonomous vehicle testing:

Drivers frequently use hand gestures (!), head nods and eye contact to communicate with other road users. For example, to establish that a pedestrian is crossing, that a cyclist has seen them or that they’re letting another car go first.

But how will self-driving vehicles achieve a similar degree of interaction? One idea is to use flashing lights of different colours.

To test the theory without spending a fortune on autonomous tech, Ford created the “Human Car Seat” – camouflaging a driver so the vehicle, at first glance at least, looks driverless.

This homespun method allows observers to more effectively gauge real-world responses.

According to Automotive World, 60% of people surveyed thought the Transit Connect was an autonomous vehicle and turquoise emerged as the preferred light colour.

Ford, in partnership with electronics specialist Hella, is now conducting further tests, including positioning the lights on the grille and headlamps.