Fusion-equipped vehicles

“We will be running autonomous buses this year. That’s an incredible milestone.”

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The future is here, 2021: CAVForth buses will put UK on the driverless map


Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing.

As a partner in the ambitious CAVForth project, predicted by the Scottish Mail on Sunday to make Edinburgh “the most ‘driverless’ city in the world”, Fusion Processing is delivering on its promise to design and build world leading systems for the automation of vehicles. Here, CEO Jim Hutchinson talks ADAS, cyclist detection and autonomous vehicle safety, explaining how CAVForth is set to make a major mark on the global self-driving map.

Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing
Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing

Please can you outline Fusion Processing’s work on connected and automated mobility?

JH: “We’ve been going since 2012. We set up to develop automated vehicle systems with the ultimate goal of being fully autonomous – able to do anything that a human-driven vehicle can. We knew from the start there were a lot of steps along the way and, for essentially a commercial company, we needed to have products along those steps rather than trying for a ‘Level 5 or nothing’ approach.

“We developed the CAVstar platform as a scalable solution – a drive system we could put into pretty much any vehicle, from small cars up to HGV. Along the way we’ve been involved in some great schemes like the Venturer project, one of the original three UK AV projects.

“Then, more or less in parallel with that, we were involved in the Gateway project in London. We provided the autonomous drive system for the pods that drove along the Thames path. That was a big trial with random members of the public – some who came along specifically to experience it, and many others who just wanted to get from the O2 to the other end of the route. The pods encountered various other people on the route – the vehicles had to be mindful of dog walkers and cyclists. The feedback was by and large very positive, and it was a good proof point for us of how our system can be used off-highway.

“It also led to other things, notably our partnerships with Stagecoach and Alexander Dennis. First-off we were exploring using autonomy in bus depots. Every night a lot of operations have to happen involving the movement of vehicles – they have to be fuelled, washed, made ready for the morning, so we put together a system which could automate that. The concept was based on a fleet manager directing all this from a control tower once the bus arrives back at the depot.

“The system proved very successful, demonstrating operating efficiency and improved safety for those working in the depot, so that led to CAVForth – an autonomous bus service. Again, we’re working with Stagecoach and Alexander Dennis, joined by Transport Scotland, Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Napier University.

Fusion Processing CAVstar
Fusion Processing’s CAVstar

“The intent is to put into service a number of Level 4 autonomous buses between the Fife Park & Ride and the Hermiston Gait Interchange. It’s a commuter route so we’re expecting a large number of daily commuters who want to travel to the Hermiston Gait Interchange, where they can transfer on to trams for the city centre, the airport or the rail network. We expect tourists will want to use it too to reach the Forth Road Bridge, a UNESCO heritage site.

“It’s a useful service, running every day of the week, and the hope is that it will go from a pilot service to a full service. It’s being registered as a new route, providing a service that wasn’t previously there, and Stagecoach anticipate around 10,000 journeys a week.

“The route includes a mix of road environments – motorway, bus lanes, roundabouts, signalled interchanges – so from our point of view it makes for a great demonstration of capability. There’s the technology side, which Fusion is focussed on, but there’s also key research around public acceptance and uptake. That’s really exciting too.

“The launch date isn’t set in stone due to Covid uncertainties, and the point at which they start taking passengers is still to be determined, but we will be running autonomous buses this year. That’s an incredible milestone, absolutely huge. It will be a very significant achievement to demonstrate a Level 4 capability on that class of vehicle – a big thing for the UK which will be noticed around the world.

“There are one or two other groups working on similar projects, but I haven’t seen anything with this level of ambition, this level of complexity, or length of route. It’ll obviously be fantastic for us and our CAVForth partners, but also for the UK autonomous vehicle industry as a whole. It will really put us on the worldwide map.”

Please can you outline Fusion Processing’s work on driver assistance?

JH: “CycleEye is an important product for us. We identified a need for collision avoidance technology. There are lots of collisions with cyclists and quite often they occur because the bus driver doesn’t know the cyclist is there. CycleEye is like a subsystem of CAVstar in a lot of ways – one of those steps to get some proof points on bits of the technology. It recognises and classifies different types of vehicle, and the driver gets an alert when there’s a cyclist in the danger zone. It is currently being used in a few cities around the UK, including on the Bristol Metrobus. It’s a good system. Whenever it has been evaluated against other cyclist detection systems it has always come out on top.

“We’re particularly excited about the next incarnation of CycleEye, evolving it to become a camera mirror system. It’s legal now to use cameras instead of mirrors, so we can provide that functionality too – monitors in the driver’s cab instead of mirrors. That has several benefits. Mirrors, on buses particularly, can be a bit of a liability – they quite often get knocked and sometimes they knock people. They stick out and head strikes are unfortunately quite common. They also get smashed, putting the bus out of service, which is an inconvenience and an operational cost. We think that being able to offer this camera mirror with CycleEye functionality is going to prove attractive to a lot of operators.”

Van with Fusion Processing technology
Van with Fusion Processing technology

Over what timescale do you expect Level 4 and 5 autonomy to be achieved in the UK and which sectors will be early adopters?

JH: “With CAVForth we’ll be running Level 4 autonomous vehicles, where you’ve got a restricted operational design domain (ODD), in the UK this year. Restricting these vehicles to particular routes or environments lends itself very well to public service, where the vehicles are maintained by an operator. That’s very achievable right now. As well as passenger service vehicles, other service vehicle fleets are easy wins, as well as off-highway stuff like industrial sites. Then you’ve got delivery vehicles.

“When it comes to true Level 5 – go anywhere, do anything vehicles – repair and maintenance is an issue. We know that with privately owned cars, some people maintain them exactly as they should, and other people don’t. There are other complications too – things that people perhaps don’t do that often but like their vehicles to be able to do, like parking in a farmer’s field at a festival – that’s a little bit further out still.

“If you just roll back slightly from true Level 5, if people want a city car or a comfortable car for a long motorway journey, nothing off-road, there’s a case for vehicles which have an autonomous mode. That certainly appeals to me.”

Can you address the concerns about ADAS, particularly handover of control, driver concentration levels and driver deskilling?

JH: “I’m not a big fan of Level 3. If you haven’t been driving for an hour to suddenly be asked to take the wheel because the car has encountered something it can’t handle, it’s just unrealistic. Whereas a Level 4 system, which can put itself into a safe state when it reaches the limits of its ODD – perhaps ready to be restarted in a manual mode when the driver wants to take control – that’s much more practical.

“If there are circumstances when the driver needs to take over then clearly the driver needs to be of a standard that they can drive safely. Once you have widespread adoption of autonomous systems, and people are not driving routinely, there is a risk of driver deskilling. If that were the case you’d really need to look at greater regulation of drivers.

“That said, you can sometime envisage problems that don’t really transpire. We’ve had cruise control and adaptive cruise control for a while now and I don’t think they’ve had the effect of particularly deskilling drivers. So, with Lane Keep, maybe it’s not such a big deal. Once you get to the point where cars are properly self-driving, there is a danger. If you haven’t got anything to do your mind will wander, that’s human nature, so it is a concern.”

For further info, visit fusionproc.com

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Author: Neil Kennett

Neil is MD of Featurebank Ltd. He launched Carsofthefuture.co.uk in 2019.

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