Simulation Superpower

Online Editor

Dr Christophe Bianchi explains why simulation is crucial to ensuring safety and sustainability

The automotive industry has undergone periods of immense change, but the 21st century has brought extensive developments in safety and – more recently – sustainability. As one of the sector’s most exciting innovations, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are experiencing a growth in consumer demand – in the UK, the AV industry is predicted to be worth £42 billion.

AVs are favoured for their sustainability, as they can only be developed as either hybrid or electric vehicles. Additionally, because they better comply with stringent environmental laws, they are favoured in discussions surrounding the global mission to reduce the impact of climate change. Therefore, considering the British Government’s aim to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 – and for all new cars be zero emission by 2035 – an increase in consumer demand is unsurprising.

However, there is also an air of controversy surrounding AVs. In recent years, issues with motion control have been reported, leading to criticisms surrounding safety. This scrutiny is understandable, and it’s clear that although the industry has greatly progressed with the development of AVs, there is still a way to go. With more money and resources being invested into what are now, seemingly, the cars of the future, simulation will play a crucial role in ensuring these vehicles are safe and ready for the road.

Complexities Around Creating AVs

Motion planning and controlling an AV is a challenging feat. Autonomous driving systems are algorithmically designed, and rely upon sensors and embedded software for localisation, perception, motion planning, and execution. Simply put, the sensors and software allow AVs to make safe journeys.

To break it down further, motion planning an AV consists of global planning – the route from point A, the beginning, to point B, the destination – alongside local path planning. In the automotive industry, engineers use both deep learning and machine learning to implement a fully automated control loop. The control loop is comprised of three stages: motion planning, vehicular perception, and motion execution. The loop then cycles through these stages over and over, allowing the vehicle to respond to its everchanging surroundings, and ultimately arrive at its destination safely.

A control loop is defined by control logic; engineers break down the overall vehicle architecture to ensure each component is safe and meets specific safety and security standards. Simulation is then used to test and verify the safety of the control loop components by arranging various objects and events to create difficult scenarios that an AV may experience in the real world – not unlike a human driving test. The simulation software pulls these scenarios from extensive content libraries to create absolutely any possible situation an AV may encounter, no matter how unlikely. For example, graffiti on road signs can affect the system’s ability to read, therefore disrupting its perception.

Simulation As A Catalyst To Success

If AVs are the future of the automotive industry, then simulation is the driving force behind this revolution. Within the industry, there is widespread growing pressure to make vehicle design more efficient, powerful, and reliable, all whilst reducing overall weight and size. It’s imperative that sophisticated and complex engineering trade-offs are analysed in the early stages of design, before financially investing in physical development.

Based on the fundamental principles of modelling, physics, mathematics and computer science, simulation testing gives engineers the power to see how motion control capabilities will behave, and how they can be improved. The tests provide invaluable information whilst streamlining the process of training the system’s algorithm, on the basis that these scenarios must be accurate and “true to physics”. The endless scenarios that simulation software can draw from ensures that vehicle testing is more thorough than ever before, all whilst being safer and more cost-effective than physical testing.

Looking To The Future

No longer a work of science fiction, or a figment of our imaginations, AVs now have the potential to completely transform our daily routines. As an instrumental part of the motion control process, simulation will drastically reduce the need for costly physical prototypes, allowing engineers to invest more money and resources into even greater automotive developments in the future. Simulation testing during the motion control process will not only teach and encourage AVs to reach their full potential – it will help ensure that they are safe, with the potential to save countless lives.

Dr. Christophe Bianchi is Chief Technologist – Office of the CTO at Ansys