Testing the Autonomous Cars of 2020 Tomorrow's cars are being developed in the same way as yesterday's: by clocking up thousands of arduous test miles. But as well as engines, brakes and suspension, testing must now also perfect the sensors, software and assistance systems rapidly becoming expected on even modest family cars.
cars are being developed in the same way as yesterday's: by clocking up
thousands of arduous test miles. But as well as engines, brakes and
suspension, testing must now also perfect the sensors, software and
assistance systems rapidly becoming expected on even modest family cars.
Enter the boffins at PSA. The owners of Peugeot, Citroën, DS and now Vauxhall-Opel
too have been working on their route to autonomous driving. It's not
about sci-fi futurescapes out of Blade Runner 2049 - it's about putting
in the hard yards on the road, planning for the worst, and not assuming
that the highways authorities are in any hurry to enter the digital age.
spent a day experiencing some of PSA's prototypes. But first a quick
spin through the Paris suburbs in a current production car, a Citroën C4 Picasso with
a pretty familiar set of 2017-spec assistance kit: active cruise
control (you set the speed and the distance, or ask it to aim for the
legal limit), lane keeping assistance (which can easily be over-ridden
if it's foxed by peculiar road markings), active safety braking
(spotting pedestrians and other potential hazards, and stopping the car
if you don't). So it's mostly about helping the driver to stay out of
trouble. Simple, intuitive, unintrusive.
And then we got into a Peugeot 3008 development mule, testing some of the technology that's just a couple of years away from being fitted to PSA production cars.
Tomorrow's tech today
from an extra screen, a couple of stickers and some gaffer-taped wires
there's nothing unusual on the inside. Outside, it's a regular 3008 but
with a lot more scanners, sensors and cameras; most of the really clever
stuff can't be seen.
has built-in mapping so that it always knows where autonomous driving
is allowed (that's mapping which works even if the GPS signal is weak).
Because it can anticipate when autonomous mode will have to end, it
flashes up a visual signal, and there's a gentle audible tone to tell
the driver it's time to take over.
can park itself. It checks you're awake. It can spot pedestrians and
wildlife 100 metres ahead at night. You press the Highway Chauffeur
button and it will drive itself, in some circumstances. For instance, it
can perform flawless overtakes: the driver indicates, but then the car
makes a judgement about the timing and speed of the manoeuvre. (Yes,
just like on the latest Mercedes S-Class, already in production, but at five times the price of a 3008.)
remarkable how natural all this seems. It's just a normal car that in
some circumstances can drive more economically and more safely than a
Real people on board
20 prototypes are being run by PSA and its partners. The testing
combines lab simulation with expert testers on road and track but also -
since March 2017 - regular folk too. More than 1000 non-professional
drivers have been out in autonomous prototypes on public roads. As well
as finding out what aspects of the new technology need tweaking, and
which sensor locations are best for avoiding dirt and damage, the tests
are also providing valuable information about how the typical driver
interacts with potentially intimidating self-driving features.
Gohin, PSA's head of innovation and research, is keen to stress the
positives: 'Some oppose autonomous functions to the pleasure of driving.
But in fact, it's an incredible opportunity: choose to drive or be
driven; choose to have new on-board experiences; get more time for other
activities; enjoy a new living space.'
also highlights the gradual, incremental nature of the PSA approach, in
contrast to the incoming tech companies - Apple, Google etc - who want
to bypass the intermediate stages and go straight to full Level 5
When will this reach the showroom?
2020, most PSA cars will have the group's new electronic architecture.
This involves 20 sensors (12 ultrasonic sensors, six cameras, five radar
scanners, one laser scanner), giving the car a 360º picture of its
surroundings, and a view of 200 metres ahead; plus embedded HD mapping;
vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connective capability; a
big bucket of algorithms enabling the car to make the right decisions
based on all this information; and an interface enabling unambiguous
communication with the driver.
anticipates that it will be 2020 at the earliest before drivers are
allowed to do something else while the car drives itself. Insurance,
training and licensing all need updating. 'Who would trust an autonomous
vehicle if you thought you'd face the legal and financial repercussions
of your car crashing?'
Huerre says, expect there to be fewer repairs required in the future,
but the average repair to cost more, because of the need to replace
The Martians have landed
River has announced that it's going big on real-world testing. What's
Wind River? It's an Intel-owned company specialising in software for the
Internet of Things, and it's been involved in Mars Rovers, as well as
working on the software in many military projects, trains, planes and
the infotainment systems on millions of cars. They don't use the phrase
'mission critical software' lightly.
River has teamed up with the Transportation Research Center (the
largest proving ground in the USA), the Center for Automotive Research
at Ohio State University (the second largest university in the US, with a
9000-student College of Engineering) and the local authorities in
Central Ohio for a programme of developing and testing connected and
of the attractions of Ohio is the presence of the Smart Mobility
Corridor, which involves a cluster of tech companies focused on a
35-mile stretch of Route 33 between Dublin and East Liberty. It's wired
up with high-capacity fibre optic cable, linking researchers to data
from sensors along the road, with more on the way. Government and some
private industry fleet vehicles are wired up to provide data, too. The
corridor could eventually extend much further - from New York to Chicago
- as the US moves to position itself for the hotly contested title of
world leader in the field.
Old meets new
River's general manager of connected vehicle solutions Marques McCammon
understands better than most the crucial importance of putting in the
miles. Unusually for a tech player, he's from an old-school car industry
background, having been at Chrysler when they launched the SRT division
and with Saleen for the creation of the S7.
you're working in commercial aircraft, the Mars Rover, trains, robots
in assembly plants… those systems really can't afford to fail. We've
been in automotive since 2005 in earnest. We've touched more than 100
have to find a meeting place between old and new. We have to find a way
of getting 100-plus years of validating automobiles and bringing it
into this area of AI, tech, software,' he says.
and testing new vehicles is an arduous process, in all weathers, all
surfaces, over many miles. In Central Ohio we found this confluence of
greatness. It's an environment where testing is a lot more practical.'
River and its partners aim to create autonomous and connected 'rolling
lab' test vehicles. The bulk of the testing will be away from the
public, at the vast Transportation Research Center facility, which
includes 4500 acres of road courses and a 7.5-mile high-speed bowl.
TRC is in the process of creating the industry's largest high-speed
intersection, and detailed mock-ups of urban and rural roads. The use of
Route 33 brings into play that extra element of reality: it has up to
50,000 vehicle movements a day.
Only thinking for the digital age
future-mobility ideas aren't from people with an automotive background,
McCammon notes. This can mean they're refreshingly free of baggage, but
can also mean they're far from practical.
we can bring our experience - being around since the '80s makes us a
really mature tech company - together with car guys and academics, I
think we can make something that consumers will benefit from. The
connected vehicle is the closest thing to a moonshot the automotive
industry has seen in five decades. It's moving fast, and there's a lot
of money being invested.'
what about the driving enthusiast? 'Consumers are putting a lot of
value on in-car apps, connected capability, autonomous driving ability,
over-the-air updates, rather than all the places where automakers have
historically invested: steering wheel, gas pedal, brakes.
But not every person who interacts with a vehicle thinks in the same way. Maybe automated functions can make sense on a 911 in traffic, but then you take back control on another part of the journey. There are reasons for excitement as well as caution.'
article by: Colin Overland article first appeared: carmagazine.co.uk