The British government this week unveiled plans for an ambitious AI simulator to be used to test self-driving cars. It's part of a stated mission to make the UK the world's leading destination for testing autonomous vehicles. The simulator, called OmniCAV, recreates a virtual version of 32km of Oxfordshire roads. "It's a synthetic digital model of the real world," Mark Stileman, bid manager at one of the partners involved, Ordnance Survey, told us. The OS already knows where a lot things are, and the sim adds "feature classification and retrieval" of road furnitures like gantries and white lines, and crucially, road intersections.
Many federal and state governments around the world have taken measures to encourage EV adoption, but only a few have crafted comprehensive policies that envision a complete transition to electromobility. One of those is of course California, which subsidizes several flavors of charging infrastructure and has funded pilot projects to electrify everything from buses to trucks to off-road commercial vehicles. Another is the UK, which has announced its intention to phase out fossil fuel vehicles by 2040, and recently unveiled a detailed 46-point plan to manage the transition. Part of that effort is the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act, which recently passed through Parliament to become law. The AEV Act gives the government new powers to ensure that motorway service locations are upgraded with plenty of charging points, and allows mayors to request that fuel retailers in their areas install charging infrastructure.
The other drivers wouldn't have noticed anything unusual as the two sleek limousines with German license plates joined the traffic on France's Autoroute 1. But what they were witnessing -- on that sunny, fall day in 1994 -- was something many of them would have dismissed as just plain crazy. It had taken a few phone calls from the German car lobby to get the French authorities to give the go-ahead. But here they were: two gray Mercedes 500 SELs, accelerating up to 130 kilometers per hour, changing lanes and reacting to other cars -- autonomously, with an onboard computer system controlling the steering wheel, the gas pedal and the brakes. Decades before Google, Tesla and Uber got into the self-driving car business, a team of German engineers led by a scientist named Ernst Dickmanns had developed a car that could navigate French commuter traffic on its own. The story of Dickmann's invention, and how it came to be all but forgotten, is a neat illustration how technology sometimes progresses: not in small steady steps, but in booms and busts, in unlikely advances and inevitable retreats --"one step forward and three steps back," as one AI researcher put it. It's also a warning of sorts, about the expectations we place on artificial intelligence and the limits of some of the data-driven approaches being used today.
Drones and other unmanned systems are to be tested on Salisbury Plain by the British military, to tackle the costly and often dangerous task of delivering essential supplies to frontline troops. One such company is Animal Dynamics, a spinout from Oxford University. The startup has turned to recent advances in computational analysis to help it learn from nature and challenge engineering conventions. By tapping into design lessons from millions of years of evolution, Animal Dynamics is producing machines that mirror the mechanics of animals to help them perform better and move more efficiently. The Financial Times reports that Stork, the firm's autonomous paraglider, is one of five unmanned transport concepts chosen by the British government's Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory for assessment during a four-week military exercise on Salisbury Plain this November.
Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles has announced that Businesses can apply for a share of up to £25 million to develop, demonstrate and trial technologies for connected and autonomous vehicles in real-world settings. The Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) plans to invest up to £25 million in up to 4 pilot schemes for self-driving vehicles. Funding is for pilots of self-driving passenger vehicles which include at least a 6-month trial in a public or semi-controlled setting. Trials should have a clear commercial focus, with potential to become an enduring service, the centre has announced. CCAV was set up by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Transport to help ensure the UK is a world leader in developing and testing connected and autonomous vehicles.
THE UNIVERSITY of Salford has launched new undergraduate and Master's degrees to prepare engineers for the revolution in driverless and electric vehicles. Driverless cars will be worth an estimated £63 billion to the global economy by 2035 with tens of thousands of jobs created, and the UK government has already pumped millions of pounds into tests and trials across the country. The Salford courses are thought to be the first in Europe to train engineers for the trio of new generation technologies - electric, hybrid and driverless vehicles. "The rise of new vehicles over the next decade will be vast and transformational," explains Ghasem Nasr, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Innovation at Salford. "New technology requires new skills and completely new perspectives on how we think about and engineer cars."
Pony.ai self-driving cars during a trial run in February in Guangzhou, China. Driverless cars could become a regular feature of the roads as early as April – at least in California, which has decided to allow fully autonomous vehicles to be tested on the roads (none of those pesky humans who have been present in test drives so far). Arizona has already become a fair-weather center for testing driverless vehicles, thanks in large part to the governor's support, and Uber announced last week that it has finished testing its self-driving trucks in Arizona and is now beginning to use them to move goods across the state. The British government launched a review last week of laws governing self-driving vehicles, with the aim of getting autonomous cars on the road by 2021, and other countries around the world are also experimenting with autonomous vehicles. Clearly a big step for the technology and automotive industries – no surprise that companies working on driverless vehicles include Google and Uber, as well as traditional automakers like Audi, BMW, Ford, GM, Volkswagen and Volvo – the advent of human-less driving could also redirect the traffic of our days, how we live our lives and get around.
Self-driving car trials are to continue in the UK despite mounting concerns over safety after an Uber autonomous vehicle struck and killed a US pedestrian in Arizona this week. The country's biggest carmaker, Jaguar Land Rover, pushed ahead with trials of its autonomous vehicles in the Midlands yesterday despite warnings that the public are being treated like'human guinea pigs' during driverless car tests. The trial, launched less than 48 hours after the fatal accident on Sunday, is believed to be the first time a self-driving car has been used on open, public roads. The firm is expected to demonstrate more of the cars' features, including an emergency braking system, on urban streets in further tests this week. Britain's biggest carmaker, Jaguar Land Rover, pushed ahead with trials of its autonomous vehicles (file photo) in the Midlands yesterday despite warnings that the public are being treated like'human guinea pigs' during driverless car tests A self-driving Range Rover Sport drove itself through the centre of Milton Keyes on Tuesday before parking and driving off again, as part of a government-backed trial.
In 2021 the UK government intends the country to be well on its way to a driverless future. No, not a cheap joke about Brexit -- yesterday it announced a three-year regulatory review to "pave the way for self-driving cars". The law review meshes with that goal, though the government is clearly giving itself a very tight timetable for resolving regulatory complications and passing the necessary legislation. The myriad technological challenges of ensuring autonomous vehicles can operate safety and efficiently in all weather conditions are really just one portion of the challenge here. Other major barriers include things like public acceptance of self-driving technology, and liability and insurance complications that arise once you remove human drivers from the mix -- raising questions like how do you apportion blame when something goes wrong?