Caring about a sharing driverless future

Mobility solutions will be the first opportunity for the masses to truly use the autonomous vehicle but what can be done to expedite a fully autonomous mobility on demand (AMoD) service?

Well, Silpa Paul, industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, says vehicle manufacturers, technology providers and regulators are working hard to combat issues such as traffic congestion and poor air quality. This challenge is promoting the concept of the City-as-a-Customer, making cities hubs of investment, wealth creation and economic growth. From these traditional needs the city is becoming a customer and one that is gradually investing in smart city strategies to combat those issues.

“The wave of smart cities is resulting in a shift of mobility business models, from traditional single mode to a multimodal transportation solution to meet all the mobility needs of passengers and goods. This includes first and last-mile connectivity at a much lower price.” The projects, she says, are expected to test the use of automated shared vehicles to help travellers to reach their destinations. San Francisco’s Connected Vision Zero Corridors project is but one example of one of these schemes.

These new modes of transport will e-hailing, car sharing, shared e-hailing, on-demand private shuttles, private employee bus services by companies like Google, Apple and Genetech. Smart parking is also seen as a new mobility service. “For passenger applications, the automated taxi segment is likely to dominate the shared mobility space owing to a fall in taxi fares, decline in vehicle ownership, and increasing demand for mobility,” she says.

While people living is rural areas will want to hold onto their cars, in cities like London, where the transport network is already quite good, there is often less of a need to own a car there will, probably, be demand for AMoD and vehicle-sharing services in urban areas. “However, huge revenue potential and low entry barriers in the taxi segment are expected to bring in new market entrants, thereby oversaturating it,” Paul comments while explaining that the sector is already saturated enough.

She says that public transportation services are part of the automated and shared mobility mix: “The introduction of leaner, automated mass transit could also result in faster movement of queues and speedier commuting to a destination hub. Autonomous group rapid transit is another application of autonomous mobility that is a successor of conventional public transport buses. It aims to cater to a smaller group of commuters with an identical destination point and a similar estimated time of arrival to clear batches of queues.”

BMW’s perspective

BMW Group’s spokesperson, Christina Hepe, offers her company’s perspective: “Since 2011, the BMW Group has focused not only on its core business of premium automobiles but also on developing its mobility services. Our ‘Now’ service range of regionally adjusted customer offerings for Europe, the USA and China provides efficient solutions for urban mobility.

“Its primary focus is on-demand mobility and free-floating car-sharing (DriveNow, ReachNow), as well as parking and charging solutions (ParkNow, ChargeNow). Autonomous driving technologies will form the basis for new mobility services, such as automated ride-sharing.”

Transport Research Laboratory’s (TRL’s) principal research scientist, Simon Tong said: “We are seeing more and more autonomous vehicles enter the market, whether it is a new iteration of Tesla, or a prototype autonomous pod, such as the ones featured in the GATEway project currently taking place on the Greenwich peninsula.”

AMoD challenges

Tong recognises that there are a number of challenges to overcome and that requires change: “However, a real turning point in the field of autonomous technology would be the roll out of a fully-fledged AMoD service. For this to happen, though, there are a wide range of challenges that need to be overcome. First and foremost, passenger welfare and safety must be considered. Any successful service will have to integrate into urban traffic and, therefore, would need to meet crashworthiness standards that offer sufficient occupant and pedestrian protection as they would be operating in a traditionally busy urban environment. A way round this would be to create a segregated system for the autonomous vehicles to run on, although this would require major infrastructure development.”

Tong says that there is also a safety challenge to surmount. This requires having a system that permits fleet operates to monitor each vehicle to ensure “it’s functioning at a safe and acceptable level – this ranges from mechanical faults to ensuring vehicles are clean enough for the next passengers”.

He then adds: “For me, one of the biggest opportunities with an AMoD service is to create a fully accessible transport solution that doesn’t exclude people with disabilities. The door-to-door potential of AMoD lends itself perfectly as a solution for people who would otherwise struggle to access the transport network. However, for this vison to become a reality, it needs to be considered from the outset in the design of any service, with decisions made on the accessibility of the vehicle and whether human assistance would be required to help with boarding and disembarking.”

Data challenge

AMoD, autonomous vehicles generally and smart cities are expected to create large volumes of data that can provide for real world validation of autonomous systems.  “There are various levels of data that will be collected by automated vehicles and they will provide use cases for data validation within urban and inner urban environments,” said Paul.

“For example, automatic incident detection technologies survey transport networks to provide real time information about incidents on the road, and radar detects incidents on the road,” she explains. She then cites automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology, which she explains “has the capability to read the number plates of oncoming vehicles and combined with CCTV, can be used to calculate journey times between two points or to enforce speed limits”.

She adds: “Cooperative vehicle systems use on-board units and mobile communication networks to allow vehicles to communicate with each other and with the surrounding infrastructure, providing data about location, time of use and service status. Global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) combine satellite information and GPS to provide personalised mapping services to drivers, track freight vehicles and detect blockages along routes.

Tong said: “When operating a fleet of autonomous vehicles there is obviously going to be huge amounts of data gathered and, given the recent stories in the news around data theft, cybersecurity is going to be a priority for operators.” Data security is, after all, not just a personal data consideration. With autonomous vehicles, it is also about preventing hackers from taking control of the vehicle because a security breach could lead to someone being killed or injured.

He, therefore, comments: “The first thing the needs to be considered in this area is how the on-board vehicle systems protect themselves from anyone with malicious intent. Is the entire fleet controlled from one central point? Does the vehicle instantly shut down if its systems become compromised in any way? Is it possible for the vehicle to be affected wirelessly by an outside party? These are all considerations that would need to be addressed to not only ensure passengers safety, but also to promote confidence in the vehicles to deliver a safe, secure and reliable service.”

He adds: “One other thing to consider is the remote connectivity of the vehicles and how the data, and how much, will be streamed back to a central control unit.  This would obviously require a reliable and robust cellular network. Network operators would need to be involved closely to ensure that there is sufficient capacity for the amount of data being transferred. There could be a need for substantial upgrades to networks to meet the demands of work done to upgrade networks so they prove reliable.”

At this juncture, David Trossell, CEO and CTO of data acceleration company Bridgeworks, said: “One of the most interesting aspects of AMoD is when one combines the data that each vehicle collects with other Big Data sources; such as weather, user behaviour, and traffic analysis.” With artificial intelligence supporting the data analysis, he thinks: “This could predict so much and with insights such as where autonomous vehicles should be positioned at what time for maximum efficiency of resources. However, experience in the IT industry also shows that an on-demand model can work-out more expensive when used heavily.”

Adding technology

Tong then talks about the technology that needs to be added to an automated shared vehicle: “Ultimately, the level and type of technology needed to make an AMoD service work depends on the need it is designed to meet. Will the service operate as a personal taxi? Or will it be a shared service with other users? This would obviously influence the size of the vehicle required and affect the routes it would take.”

With a growing diversity of ‘autonomy systems’ he thinks there needs to some consideration about which system will provide a cost-effective solution. This solution will need to operate in a wide range of conditions, especially at peak times across all seasons. He concludes: “Finally, keeping the fleet of vehicles moving is going to be essential to the reliability and success of the network. The best option would be to explore network-based inductive charging, however, if investment isn’t forthcoming, charging points would need to be identified and installed.”

Paul ends by suggesting that the ability is the vehicles to see is the most crucial technology required to make AMoD work. LiDAR with 360-degree vision and are the key technologies that enable autonomous vehicles to gain sight of what’s happening around them. In addition to these technologies, she says automatic incident detection, anonymous mobile data positioning, co-operative vehicles systems, cycle monitoring technology are essential. GNSS, seamless connectivity and V2V communication will also aid autonomous mobility.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *