The Future Of Vehicle Autonomy

Jon Lawson

Vehicle manufacturers are investing heavily in autonomy and the communications infrastructure required to make autonomous vehicles work, without compromising on user safety or cyberdata safety.

Here, we take a look at the steps General Motors and Honda have taken with Cybersecurity, whilst analysing the rigorous testing autonomous vehicles go through to be declared road worthy. Plus, could autonomous vehicles be the answer to safer driving for those with a disability?

If one single event could be said to have fired the starting gun on the race for autonomy on our roads it is surely the Grand Challenge.

What Is The Grand Challenge?

Organised in the USA by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2004, the premise of The Grand Challenge was simple: build an autonomous vehicle to drive a route through the desert from Barstow, California, to Primm, Nevada. The first one to arrive wins its makers $1million.  

On March 13th, the 15 finalists that emerged from a qualifying round at the California Speedway set off in high spirits. None of them completed the course.

On October 8th the following year the prize money doubled, and Stanford Racing Team won, completing the 132 mile course in under seven hours. Hour other teams also finished intact.

DARPA stats: “These challenges helped to create a mindset and research community that would render fleets of autonomous cars and other ground vehicles a near certainty for the first quarter of the 21st century”. That time is now.

How Are General Motors Using Autonomous Communications?

For vehicle manufacturers there are numerous challenges to overcome to attain full autonomy. Among the most obvious is simply managing the enormous amounts of data required. 

With this in mind, the latest platform form General Motors to be fitted on the 2020 Cadillac CT5 then across the whole GM range by 2023 features a fivefold increase in capability over the firm’s current electrical architecture.

With a processing power of 4.5TB of data per hour, it provides enhanced communications within the vehicle itself and to outside sources due to Ethernet connections of up to 10Gbps. As a hedge against the future, it is designed to be upgraded when needed with what GM calls “an expanded capacity for smartphone-like over-the-air software updates, the system enables the adoption of functionality upgrades throughout the lifespan of the vehicle”.

Mark Reuss, GM president comments: “The critical role of software and its importance to our vehicles, both now and for years to come cannot be overstated. Our new digital vehicle platform and its eventual successors will underpin all our future innovations across a wide range of technological expanded automated driving”.

In fact GM could claim to be something of a pioneer in this regard, with its long-running OnStar system. The company is current running a marketing campaign citing FBI statistics claiming that a vehicle is stolen every 41 seconds in the USA. The latest state-of-the-art system includes a stolen vehicle slowdown facility, a remote ignition block and a text alert system is the alarm has been triggered.

What Is Hyundai Digital Key?

With greater onboard electronics and autonomy in particular comes inevitable concerns over security. Hyundai’s 202 Sonata, due out in the third quarter of 2019 will feature a new digital key app created by Trustonic.  

Manish Mehrotra, director of digital business planning connected operations, Hyundai Motor America says of Trustonic Application Protection (TAP): “Digital Key adds convenience for 2020 Sonata owners and allows us to be ready for future shifts in mobility space, such as car sharing. We chose Trustonic because of its multilayers, industry recognised cybersecurity approach”.

Using near field communication (NFC) to detect an authorised smartphone, the  Sonata system has a detector antenna in the driver’s door handle to lock and unlock.

A second antenna for starting the engine is located in the wireless charging pad in the centre console. Also Bluetooth low energy (BLE) communication can be used to control certain functions remotely such as starting the engine or activating a panic alarm from up to 30m away.

Up to four users can be programmed into the vehicle systems, with each individual’s vehicle settings (seats, radio stations, mirrors etc) activated upon entry.

Hyundai is also hoping this will tempt buyers by offering other convenient features, such as unlocking the boot temporarily for deliveries and autonomous parking.

Where Are Autonomous Vehicles Tested?

Where safety is concerned there can be no compromise. Despite the advantages offered by computer modelling, advances in autonomy have created a need for specialist test tracks.

In May, Millbrook’s advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) and connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) centre opens its doors for the first time. The facility, run in conjunction with RACE, the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s centre for Remote Applications in Challenging Environments, boasts a 11km long, three-lane motorway and a two lane “a road” test track layouts designed to EuroNCAP and ECE R130 specifications.

Also onsite is a junction marked out to the EuroNCAP specification and 250m radius curves specified within ECE R79.03 for testing automatically commanded steering functions (ACSF).

This is all complemented by a pilotable platform called LaunchPad, which is used to simulate vulnerable road uses (VRU) and powered two wheelers (PTW). Complicated traffic scenarios can be accommodated with a guided vehicle target (GVT).

Are Autonomous Vehicles Being Tested On Roads?

In Paris, on-highway testing for autonomous vehicles is taking place.

Groupe Renault, Groupe Transdev, IRT SystemX, Institut Vedecom and the University of Paris-Saclay have all teamed up to devise and test different autonomous services to supplement the existing transportation systems in the Paris-Saclay area.

The electric autonomous Renault Zoe Cab prototypes are equipped with GPS-type sensors, lidar, cameras, inertial units and self driving software. Passengers use a custom-built Marcel app to book the vehicle.

In addition to testing the vehicles, there is the interconnected roadside infrastructure, consisting of sensors, thermal cameras and the lidar devices located at 25 strategic points. An augmented vision system is designed to handle unexpected events, while the traffic lights communicate with the cars to warn of change.

As time goes on, the plan is to introduce wearables to enhance the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Could Autonomous Vehicles Benefit The Disabled?

One group of motorists that could really benefit from advances in autonomous vehicles are the disabled.  Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA) has launched the Inclusive Mobility Initiative and in May hosted a meeting to gather information from the disabled about how best to take advantage of the opportunities that the advances will bring.

Carol Tyson, government affairs liaison for the Disability Rights Education & Defence Fund (DREDF) says: “There’s been a lot of talk about what autonomous vehicles will provide, but for that potential to be realised, automakers will need to be involve the disabled community directly in the design and functionality of these vehicles.  For the first time, an automaker has brought people together to begin to address the myriad of design, technical, safety and equity challenges that will need to be overcome”.


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