The future is autonomous

Features

As the number of successful autonomous vehicle pilot tests are growing and more manufacturers are unveiling their autonomous cars. What can we expect next? Maria Highland investigates.

It seems we are closer than ever to having self-driving cars becoming a common occurrence in our day-to-day lives when not that long ago it all seemed so conceptual. Introducing fully automated and driverless driving to the urban environment allows us to enhance road safety, improve traffic flow and to establish a platform for how traffic will operate in the future. Therefore, Bosch and Daimler have teamed up to make this this a reality and bring automated and driverless driving to our streets by the beginning of the next decade.

The aim is to develop and launch a production-ready system for driverless cars on public roads in urban areas. They will be working around the idea that vehicle should come to the driver. For example, in certain areas of the city, it will be possible to order an automated shared car via their smartphone at which point the autonomous vehicle will then make its way to the user after which the journey can begin.

Most car manufacturers are also introducing autonomous driving features in their cars. For example, Audi has presented a new innovative tool in its Audi A8 model, which comes complete the Audi AI traffic jam pilot. This is the first system to enable SAE level 3 conditional automation, meaning that when the traffic jam pilot is engaged, drivers not need to continuously monitor the vehicle and the road- just need to remain in an alert position where they can take over driving when prompted by the system.

The AI traffic jam pilot can be used in slow moving highway traffic or traffic jams of up to 60 km/h (37.3 mph) with a physical barrier separating the two directions of traffic. This is currently being tested in in and around of one of Germany’s most congested regions, Düsseldorf. The AI traffic jam pilot remains in control of starting from a stop, breaking, accelerating, steering, with the ability to handle situations where a vehicle may cut closely in front.

Automated driving will not only prevail on the streets of our cities, but such technology can also be utilised to help with parking your vehicle to saving you time and minimise stress. Bosch and Daimler have also launched an automated parking service in the multi-storey car park of the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. The automated valet parking works based on a commend being issues on a smartphone, which is then executed by the car without any driver interference.

This marks an important milestone towards autonomous driving. “We are approaching autonomous driving faster than many people suspect,” says Dr Michael Hafner, Head of Automated Driving and Active Safety at Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, adding that “the driverless parking solution at the Mercedes-Benz Museum demonstrates in impressive fashion just how far the technology has come”. Gerhard Steiger, Director of the Chassis Systems Control unit at Bosch elaborates on this further, noting that “parking will be an automated process in the future. By applying an intelligent multi-storey car park infrastructure and networking it with vehicles, we have managed to realise driverless parking substantially earlier than planned.”

The autonomous parking first premiered on the 24th of July 2017, after which an extensive trial and commissioning phase followed. Final approval is needed from the licensing authority, after which users of the carpark will be able to experience the autonomous parking first-hand for themselves, saving them time parking. This is planned to happen at the beginning of 2018. Autonomous parking not only saves the driver time, but also means that carparks are able to make more efficient use of space, allowing up to 20 percent more vehicles to fit.

The pilot solution in the car park represents the world’s first infrastructure-supported solution for an automated parking service in real-life dual operating mode. Mercedes-Benz’s technology, works with together with carpark infrastructure from Bosch as the autonomous car preforms safe driving manoeuvres in response to the commands from the car park infrastructure. This is achieved through the use of sensors installed in the carpark which monitor the driving corridor and surroundings, helping to steer the vehicle. This exemplifies how autonomous vehicles work with their surroundings and the importance of establishing a connection between the two. Therefore, before we can begin to implement autonomous vehicles, questions of infrastructure must too be tackled.

Likewise, the BMW group has announced plans to have a fleet of 40 both highly automated and fully automated cars released by the end of 2017. BMW will be collaborating with Intel and Mobileye. The autonomous cars will be released as the BMW 7 series and are to be tested on public roads, to be conducted in the USA, Israel and Germany – corresponding to the homes of the three partners. The tests will focus on driving in city centre environments and driving without oncoming traffic, such as motorways.

Testing autonomous can prove difficult as autonomous vehicles are considered market ready based on their reliability and safety in any conceivable driving situation alongside their ability to operate in a way that is easily predicable for other roads users. In theory, autonomous vehicles need to be tested on around 150 million miles of public roads and require evidence of assurance in any given situation. Therefore, most relevant tests relate to a smaller number of critical driving situations rather than the total distance travelled.

Therefore, autonomous vehicle safeguarding is done through the analysis of in real-world trials which act as ‘foundation’ situations. It is these ‘foundation’ situations that are analysed then inferred using stochastic simulation to provide overall comprehensive validation. Therefore, the development of the BMW 7 series will mean that the BMW iNext, the group’s first highly automated series vehicle (level 3) will be rolled out as scheduled in 2021. The iNext will also be capable of level 4 and 5 operation, but this yet to be fully confirmed due to external factors that cannot be yet predicted.

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President of the European Commission, in charge of Energy Union, spoke on autonomous vehicles and the associated challenges: “By 2019, we expect to see the first generation of cooperative vehicles. But of course, major challenges remain. We still have to handle some great challenges, including upgrading our communication infrastructure, addressing cybersecurity threats, or ensuring data protection”. He notes that there are still many questions left, such as industrial impact, as well as “societal questions about ensuring a smooth transition and of course ethical and legal questions.”

Šefčovič continues, explaining that such “questions cannot be solved in isolation from one another. And they cannot be solved in silos of specific sectors or industries. They require a joint and holistic approach between industries, between the private and public sectors, between European countries”. He says that the Commission see this a high priority and intend to support the venture by aiming to “financially support research in order to keep a European advantage in the global automobile industry. We can build cross-border platforms for exchanges of knowledge, technical expertise and best practices,” says Šefčovič.

To bring autonomous vehicles to our city’s street in the coming years requires collaboration from both industry and government bodies. Luckily, manufacturers are not alone in their desire to get autonomous vehicles onto the roads. Much like the European Commission, the UK government is investing over £109 million of funding for driverless and low carbon projects. In April 2017, alongside significant industry funding, Transport Minister, John Hayes, and Business Secretary, Greg Clark, awarded just under £110 million of government funding towards the development of the next generation of driverless and low-carbon vehicles. This is part of Industrial Strategy and the government’s Plan for Britain.

This will provide seven innovative projects with grants to help place the UK at the forefront of low carbon vehicle technology and help take place as a global leader. Business Secretary, Greg Clark, says, “low carbon and driverless cars are the future and as a Government we are determined through the Industrial Strategy to build on our strengths and put the UK at the forefront of this revolution. Investment in this technology is an integral part of this Government’s efforts, to ensure the UK auto sector remains competitive and world-leading.”

The Government is also holding a connected autonomous vehicle competition, currently in its second round. The third CAV competition was announced on the 24th of July 2017. The first set of winners of the second round were announced earlier this year. The successful projects are to receive a share of up to £31 million. Overall, there were 24 projects that demonstrated identified technical solutions for CAV technology, showing clear commercial value, as well as outlining how such vehicles will work within the transport system in the UK.

Funding for the CAV2 competition includes funding from Innovate UK for 4 a one-year research and development projects to further support CAV vehicle developments, having a particular emphasis on energy reduction and the improvement of air quality. Ruth McKernan, Innovate UK Chief Executive has said that “these successful industry-led R&D projects will further spearhead UK development of low emission, and connected and autonomous vehicle technology, building on our world-leading research and innovation capability in this area and the significant strength of UK businesses large and small in this field.”

There has also been word of plans to test CAV vehicles along the M40 corridor between Birmingham and London. This will form part of the government’s Industrial Strategy commitment to develop world-class CAV testing infrastructure. The aim is to use some of the UK’s existing CAV testing centres to generate a cluster of testing facilities in the West Midlands. Locations will also include Milton Keynes, London and Oxford.