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Pod research opens up a swarm of market opportunities for Aurrigo

-- Success Story --

Pod research opens up a swarm of market opportunities for Aurrigo

Driverless vehicles, also known as Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM), have the potential to change our lives. They will bring significant societal and environmental benefits, from making travel safer, cheaper and more environmentally friendly, to increasing access to mobility for the elderly and disabled. As CAM technology develops, researchers are now looking into how these systems will work in real-world transport networks.

08/09/2020 - LATEST UPDATE: We are delighted to share the latest news from Aurrigo. As the global market has grown for autonomous pods, Aurrigo recently reported that they have an annual turnover of £4.2m and have created ten jobs in the business. They predict a further £6m of sales before the end of 2020. Read more about their success here.

A transport system inspired by nature

Coventry-based Aurrigo, the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group, is fast becoming a leader in the emerging CAM market, with their driverless pods already deployed in shopping centres, airports and sports complexes around the world.

In order to stay at the front of the global race for market share, they teamed up with WMG and Milton Keynes Council on the Self-organising Wide area Autonomous vehicle Real-time Marshalling (SWARM) project. This Innovate UK-funded project aimed to investigate the potential of using ‘swarm’ intelligence (what bees or ants do when part of a colony) to manage fleets of driverless pods.

See the pods in action here:

Currently, UK guidelines for testing automated vehicles state that you need a human in the supervision loop when the vehicle is moving, and the supervisor must hold the appropriate driving licence.

The revolutionary swarming concept is based on vehicles that 'talk' to each other, communicating their position and platooning together where possible. This delivers a flexible and efficient fleet and enhances pedestrian safety, as well as minimising supervision costs – an important factor for pod operators like Aurrigo.

Simon Brewerton, Chief Technology Officer at Aurrigo, explained how swarming technology could solve the practical challenges facing any transport system. “When deploying pods in an urban environment,” he explains, “you soon get to the point where, like with the ‘Boris bikes’ in London, all the pods end up at the edge of town, away from where people actually want them again. If you could train all these unused pods to get back to their start positions for free, picking up other vehicles on the way, you could recall your fleet easily.”

A one-of-a-kind solution

Although theoretical material on swarm computer systems exists, it has never been applied to fleet management. Aurrigo and WMG worked closely together to design and develop sensors and communications technology, as well as creating the intelligence that would allow the pods to self-organise, or ‘swarm’.

Researchers from WMG’s Intelligent Vehicles research group developed an algorithm that allowed real-time platooning of autonomous vehicles. A framework was created for how user requests for pods are fulfilled, which involved optimising the route planning to form pod platoons.

Dr Matthew Higgins, Associate Professor at WMG, said: “By applying our world-leading research facilities and expertise, we were able to develop and implement new decision-making algorithms that can infer the current status of the fleet as a whole, in combination with the status of passenger requests. Aurrigo can now use this to create a more efficient mobility service and a better experience for the user.”

Using a novel requirement-gathering process, we were able to quickly identify the needs of both pod users, and people sharing the same space. Dr Roger Woodman, Assistant Professor at WMG, said: “This work is vital, as a system developed in partnership with the right people, is much more likely to receive public acceptance once deployed”

Dr Roger Woodman

The pod technology was tested in Aurrigo’s Urban Development Lab designed to resemble a pedestrianised town centre with a series of routes and junctions. In addition, our 3xD simulator for intelligent vehicles was used to simulate the performance of an entire fleet.

This meant the team could experiment with changing parameters, such as number of supervisors or waiting time of users, to see how it affected the performance of the fleet. Using this, Simon and the management team at Aurrigo identified a huge, and somewhat unanticipated, commercial opportunity for their swarming technology, moving luggage around airports.

He explains, “Airlines use large aluminium boxes, called Unit Load Devices (ULDs), to take suitcases on and off the plane and transport them to and from the baggage handling area. The ULDs are towed on dollies and swarming works really well in that environment because the service targets are all about meeting a particular deadline, such as a boarding time, and so the opportunity for pods traveling together is much greater.”

Changing the way we travel, for good

The pods were successfully showcased at the first ever public demonstration of swarming at a special event on the University of Warwick campus, in January 2020.

The successful deployment of SWARM technology on this project, gave Aurrigo assurance of its commercial viability. As a result, they have now dedicated a whole area of their growing business to developing the opportunity in airside autonomy.

Simon comments: “We are inundated with requests from airports around the world wanting to deploy the autonomous dollies, it’s a really hot thing right now. The SWARM project has not only demonstrated success, but has also shown us that there are real growth opportunities and a viable market. We are now well placed to pursue these possibilities.”

A paper published on the SWARM project has contributed to the growing evidence base on the benefits of automated mobility to help persuade policy-makers to adapt their guidance around supervision of autonomous vehicles. As policy-makers and local authorities understand the benefits of CAM technology, we will start to see autonomous shuttle services on our streets very soon.

In May 2020, Aurrigo will be showcasing the first deployment of their new 12-seater pods at the North American International Automotive Show in Detroit, running a shuttle service around the downtown area, demonstrating real-life impact on our streets and benefits of adopting a transport strategy integrated with Connected and Automated Mobility.

Learn more about our Intelligent Vehicles research team here.

Find out how to start your own success story. Contact wmgbusiness at warwick dot ac dot uk

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