The UK Government has the stated ambition of putting the country at the forefront of the connected and autonomous vehicle market, but before there even is a market the world is still waiting on the research, development and testing phase. SMART Highways has heard from some of the major UK players in this arena and what is being done to establish the foundations for this revolutionary technology.
Dominic Browne reports
The main bodies working on what might be called team UK’s CAV capabilities orbit around the light touch coordination of Meridian Mobility UK – a ‘thin layer’ company of around 14 people brought about by industry and government to drive UK intelligent mobility.
Among those carrying out the CAV testing is TRL, the giant of transport technology testing. Rob Wallis, chief executive of TRL, said its work with Meridian ‘culminates in the smart mobility living lab in London’.
‘This on its own is about a £20m investment to build a very intelligent infrastructure semi controlled environment that will take products and services to another level. So where organisations have trialled and validated their products on the proving ground, this is about positioning them on the real world live traffic environment. We have had conversations with big businesses particularly in the US, such as Waymo, they are very impressed with the challenges we are taking on here in central London.’
The Nuneaton-based HORIBA MIRA – a global provider of engineering, research and test services – is also part of the alliance.
Chris Reeves, head of its CAV technologies said: ‘I am focused on how we [test safety] in a controlled environment perspective, looking at the virtual environment where we have simulation modelling techniques, which enable me to understand new systems right to the edge of the envelope of operation. But also we have created a dedicated off highway environment which will actually understand how these systems perform
‘Specifically as part of the Meridian activity, we are creating a brand new facility, to understand the performance of these systems at the limit of their control ability. We are working with our combined authority in the West Midlands to understand how we can go from a controlled environment to trials and demonstrations in the public environment.
‘With Meridian we are creating a large facility, which is flexible in nature we can actually use portable infrastructure and create specific road layouts in test scenario. It will also be a connected environment so it will have infrastructure nodes that are G5 capable and it will also have 4g from the outset.’
MillBrook is another leading testing facility in the UK. Peter Stoker, chief engineer at Millbrook, said investment from Meridian and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles – another government initiative – is helping transform its facilities into a connected centre.
‘We also have a collaboration with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which is on the site of a science park in Oxford. It is more of an interactive environment – a stepping stone to real world environments. To supplement that we are building a 5G test bed. We are building an ultra-dense network in order to test transportation systems. We are still building we will be finished next September.’
In the world of academia, Professor Paul Jennings, WMG of the University of Warwick, said: ‘As part of Meridian, we are creating a real world public environment on the streets Coventry and Birmingham where we can safely bring the products and services to be evaluated.
‘We are also working with a very interesting consortium. We are working with Amey, which is on looking at the digital backbone; Costain, which is looking at smart vehicle monitoring.’
He added his university body is looking at how to link up a ‘continuum of testing’ from simulation to real world.
‘You hear figures about how many miles need to be driven, hundreds of millions, if not billions. We would challenge that. It is not the number of miles, it is what you experience over those miles.’
Professor Jennings highlighted that simulation has the advantage of being able to model ‘virtually any what if’ but the real world is needed to validate the data.
‘At Warwick we are looking at some new approaches. Firstly we are looking at a hybrid between modelling and simulation in the physical world with our new simulator facility where we are synthesising but using real vehicles and real people.’
Before we go anywhere we have to know where we are, which is easier said than done.
Jim O’Reilly, innovation manager at Ordnance Survey outlined some of the changes in mapping and positing science that must be put in place.
‘When we capture infrastructure in the country as it stands, we probably capture 20,000 changes a day. If you imagine smart cities and new infrastructure as you go forward such as CAV, you are talking about millions of objects per square km. So we need to look at different ways to capture those things.’
Mr O’Reilly explained there are three layers of mapping and four layers of change.
The three layers include the immediate environment, which can involve cameras, then a sensory layer to the vehicle, which uses cameras and sensors and the ‘knowledge’ that an object such as a traffic light should be there. Then there is the dynamic layer, which is over the line of sight of the vehicle.
This is the area Ordnance Survey is most interested in ‘because in that dynamic layer we have to classify change’.
Mr O’Reilly said: ‘There are four levels at the moment – is that change more than a month old, is it an hour old, is it a minute old, is it less than a second? Depending on the type of manoeuvre you are trying to make you are going to have to make decisions about those safety messages. So we are trying to build platforms that would allow those safety messages to be distributed to as many people as possible. It has to be collaborative. We have to share data and knowledge.
In order to put all this to the test, Ordnance Survey is working on a number or autonomous vehicle projects.
‘The first was called Atlas, where we tried to model the distribution of mapping to moving vehicles through different connected infrastructure. So we are very much focused on what that connectivity might look and how can we scale from test small control environments to bigger geographies,’ Mr O’Reilly said.
‘The second project we are currently working on is called Enabling Connected and Autonomous Vehicles that is very much about what connected infrastructure would help us roll out to into bigger environments rural environments and those things.
‘The third project we are working on is about simulation. There is a project called OmniCAV coming, which is simulating 32km in Oxford. Our role is to capture that in the most rich 3D as possible. Then put that into gaming engines and the simulating world so we have verified safety testing.’