Back in 2015, Coventry-based company Aurrigo,the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group, were feeling that they had made great progress. Their self-driving pod had taken part in Autodrive, a three-year project that led to autonomous vehicles becoming a regular sight on the pathways of Milton Keynes. The project looked at the potential benefits of having cars that can ‘talk to each other’.
Despite their success, Aurrigo knew that, if they were to stay ahead, then they had a few problems to solve. Miles Garner, Sales & Marketing Director at Aurrigo said:
“We knew we had to move quickly to test our vehicles and prove to potential clients that they were safe enough. Other companies across the globe with similar technologies, were also racing to get their pods into a huge emerging market place.
“Airports, shopping centres, heritage sites, sporting initiatives and other city centre transport initiatives were all moving forward with the application of first / last mile driverless transport. Even today, four years later, there’s an ongoing race to secure market share.”
Aurrigo rose to the challenge and secured a £1.1m collaborative research and development grant from Innovate UK. In March 2016, the company embarked on the two-year Innovative Testing of Autonomous Vehicles (INTACT) project, alongside an expert team at WMG, University of Warwick.
Gunny Dhadyalla, Chief Engineer and leader of the INTACT project team, at WMG, explained some of the challenges that Aurrigo faced:
“Testing on public roads in real-world driving situations is expensive and potentially dangerous. It just wasn’t viable.
There was also a concern around customer confidence. Future providers of driverless pod services will be looking to buy cost-effective and dependable solutions that have been subject to rigorous standardised testing procedures.”
Alongside the need to test their product and prove it was safe, Aurrigo also knew that the ‘brains’ of their pods, the Autonomous Control System (ACS) needed to be cheaper to produce for their product to be viable.
Gunny Dhadyalla said:
“Speed was of the essence. Our aim with the INTACT project was to accelerate the development of innovative technologies to help Aurrigo dramatically reduce the time it would take to get their product to market.”
Aurrigo pioneered the development of a low cost ACS and collaborated with WMG experts to develop methods for increasing public confidence through advanced testing.
Simon Brewerton, Chief Technology Officer at Aurrigo said:
“One of our main challenges was the risk and uncertainty around whether the technology that we were developing would be viable.
WMG helped us to resolve this by providing us with access to unique technology and expertise. “
Working closely with Aurrigo, the WMG research team developed a novel methodology to create test scenarios, extending research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).They also enabled Aurrigo to test the safety of their pod using WMG’s unique 3XD driving simulator, developed thanks to a £3.2m award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC.)
Simon Brewerton said:
“As the project progressed the Aurrigo and WMG teams both realised that we would have to keep modifying our approach in order to make the project a success.
The challenge was that as we came up with novel innovative approaches with our ACS technology, WMG had to change tack with its approach to developing a testing methodology that would work with the vehicle.
But the teams worked ever more closely together, and the project evolved, enabling us to address our challenges”
Gunny Dhadyalla said that when it came to safety testing:
“We used a virtual representation of real roads in Milton Keynes and Coventry to create a Lidar scan – essentially a high resolution laser scan of an environment.
The Aurrigo pod then navigated its way around virtual worlds using its (ACS) and a range of sensors to detect objects and control the vehicle without a driver.”
It’s estimated that by providing new testing methodologies and a simulator in which to conduct rigorous safety testing, WMG enabled Aurrigo to take the pod to market two years earlier than would otherwise have been possible. The company were also able to significantly reduce the cost of their pods, by 15%, in fact.
The phrase, success breeds success, rings true for the INTACT project. It has also led to further collaborative research and development funding. Aurrigo and WMG are now working together on a new project funded by Innovate UK. The Self-organising Wide area Autonomous vehicle Real-time Marshalling (SWARM) project will explore whether the pods could work together as a self-organising fleet. In addition, Aurrigo is now funding a PhD at WMG.