Open-access automated vehicles encourage collaboration among researchers

Sunday, November 20, 2016 - 3:20pm

As the only real-world simulation testing site for autonomous vehicles, Mcity has been taking a leading role in research for the cars of the future. Now, according to the Mobility Transformation Center, brand-new research vehicles will increase the pace of evolution for the technology.

In September, researchers brought the University of Michigan’s first open connected and automated research vehicle, or open CAVs, to Mcity. These open CAVs will have sensors such as radar, lidar and cameras for spatial measurement and will be connected to a robot operating system.

Because these vehicles are open access, any researcher or student can test out their ideas in a real-world setting, Engineering Prof. Jessy Grizzle said in a press release.

In an email interview, Grizzle recalled that prior to open CAVs, he and his colleagues could only experiment through simulation software packages like CarSim. Now, he can see what his vision of designing safer control software for cars will look like with a real vehicle.

“If our ideas are as good as we think they are … that could bring about a significant change in how advanced driving and automation features are designed and implemented. It could also turn out that our ideas do not work on real hardware, in which case we will be forced to revise our approach,” Grizzle wrote. “That is how science advances: people formulating ideas, testing them thoroughly, and then eliminating the bad ones!”

MTC will also add short-range communication capabilities to the vehicles for a safer driving experience.

MTC Director Huei Peng, a professor of mechanical engineering, wrote in an email interview that connected vehicles have several advantages over unconnected vehicles, including a better sensor because it can detect objects farther away than radars, lidars and cameras can. Connectivity can also act as an actuator, like when an ambulance requests a change in traffic signal so it can more safely pass through busy intersections. As well, it can create an overall safer road by allowing vehicles to communicate with one another.

“Automation makes individual vehicles smarter and safer, but connectivity can link them together to form an even safer and more efficient traffic system,” Peng said in an email interview. “A good analogy is that individual PCs can be great, but internet connected PCs can be much better and useful.”

According to Peng, the idea for open CAVs was first proposed within the MTC six months ago. The first open CAV was a Lincoln MKZ sedan, which will soon be joined by two Kia Soul compact crossovers in two to three months.

The next phase for MTC is utilizing these cars in an educational setting. The University intends to offer a course on using open CAVs in a year, though Peng wrote that it is much too early in the planning stage to give details.

The open CAVs will also be available to students working with TechLab at Mcity, a program that connects startups with students interested in applying classroom knowledge to practical research situations. Peng wrote that PolySync, a member company of MTC, is currently using the open CAVs to develop some automated driving functions.

Jay Ellis, transportation program director of the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization program, said in the press release that open CAVs will speed up research for companies involved in TechLab.

“The open CAVs lend our students a unique opportunity,” Ellis said. “They will be able to rapidly develop technology, while also advancing proposed solutions for the companies participating in TechLab. This is a model of applied learning which will be a key driver for innovation.”