What is HumanDrive?
HumanDrive is a consortium of leading technology and automotive businesses, academic institutions, plus a government body and innovation centre, working together on a major 30-month project to develop autonomous vehicle technologies. The project will culminate in the most complex autonomously controlled journey yet attempted in the UK: a 200+ mile ‘Grand Drive’ through a variety of settings, including country roads, roundabouts, A-roads and motorways in live traffic and different environmental conditions. As well as showcasing the latest technology, the project will utilise advanced simulation, modelling and systems engineering to allow the vehicle to emulate a ‘natural’ human driving style using machine learning and developing an Artificial Intelligence to enhance the user comfort and experience.
What are the programme’s main aims?
HumanDrive will set a precedent in the UK for the demonstration of an autonomous, human-like vehicle undergoing a complex journey through real-world driving conditions. It will help establish the UK as a global hub for the research, development and integration of automated vehicles into the UK road network. We will also use the Grand Drive to increase public awareness of and confidence in autonomous vehicles, and enable authorities responsible for our road network and safety to benefit from developments in automated transport system technologies.
Which organisations are part of HumanDrive and what are their roles?
The consortium is made up of ten members, all of whom have specific responsibilities and areas of expertise:
What vehicle is involved?
We will be using passenger vehicles (M1 classification) to conduct the trials and Grand Drive, provided by Nissan. It will look very much like a regular car on the road, but will feature advanced autonomous technologies. A total of seven cars will be used in the project for trials, demonstration and data gathering purposes.
What will they be able to do? Are they fully driverless? Will they drive around with no one in them?
The aim is for the AV is to drive 100% autonomously from start to finish on a substantial journey across the UK, in a way that appears human-like to the outside world. It will navigate through a variety of road types and features particular to the UK and driving conditions.
During the trials and Grand Drive, the cars will contain a qualified safety driver who will be responsible for the vehicle’s safe operation. However, one of the key benefits of autonomous vehicles is that they will free the occupant from the task of driving, thereby allowing them opportunity to focus on other things.
What technology do the vehicles rely on? What happens if there isn’t enough GPS signal strength?
The vehicles will be equipped with a wide range of sensors, including cameras, LIDAR (laser scanners), GPS and ultrasonic obstacle detectors – as well as the computers required to process the incoming information and steer the vehicle. Localisation and path planning will be based upon a numer of sensor inputs as well as a digital map stored internally to the vehicle, so that the vehicle is not dependent upon any single sensor for its safe operation.
Will the vehicles be used on public roads?
During the trials, five vehicles will initially drive along roads closed off to the public. As the project develops, the vehicles will venture out onto public roads, mingling with the natural traffic flow. Trained operators will always be at the wheel, ready to take control if needed.
During the Grand Drive the vehicle will autonomously drive across all road types; from country roads, through residential areas, around roundabouts, and onto dual carriage ways and motorways.
Which roads will be used?
The precise journey will be determined following discussions with the relevant local and national authorities, and will be published in due course. The roads selected will provide a mix of all road types.
How are you ensuring public safety? How are you involving the public?
All of the vehicles being used in HumanDrive project will have been rigorously tested before being introduced onto public roads and footpaths. Robust safety cases are also being developed and refined as integral parts of the programme. In addition, there will be a trained operator at the wheel – ready to take control of the vehicle if necessary.
We will be holding regular information events as well as publishing announcements and key findings from the programme on the HumanDrive website.
How fast will the vehicles travel?
The cars will drive within the regular speed limits of the roads.
What are the main “milestones” for the project and what information will be made public?
The HumanDrive project began in July 2017, and will conclude after the Grand Drive in late 2019. There will be several major milestones throughout the project, including live dynamic environment trials, producing safety and security protocols, understanding how autonomous vehicles will impact on traffic and the wider society, and ultimately developing a vehicle that is capable of high levels of automation that will be used on the Grand Drive.
Key information and findings from the HumanDrive project will be made readily available to the public both via the media and directly on the HumanDrive website. In addition, we are planning to hold regular stakeholder workshops as well as distributing a free-subscription online newsletter. HumanDrive representatives will also be attending and speaking at major industry conferences on driverless vehicles and related topics.
What is the current status of autonomous vehicles, and how does the UK compare to other countries working on this technology?
There are already many examples around the world of vehicles that have some element of “self-driving” capability, including cars that are now on general sale with self-parking or adaptive cruise control functions. Several companies around the world are also developing vehicles that can operate in a highly automated state in certain relatively straightforward conditions – for example when moving in one-way traffic along a highway. The ultimate goal is to produce vehicles that can handle the complexity of full end-to-end journeys, including busy urban settings and remote rural roads.
HumanDrive is funded by the UK government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, with the aim of trialling and demonstrating the current capabilities of connected and autonomous vehicle technology, and assessing the requirements for further development. It is difficult to compare the advances being made in different countries due to the often confidential nature of the research being undertaken, but the UK is clearly benefitting from strong industry and government support.
The Department for Transport gave the legal green light for self-driving vehicle trials in February 2015, when it confirmed that no new legislation was required for these to go ahead. In the 2017 Budget and Industrial Strategy, the government renewed its commitment to intelligent mobility, which includes connected and autonomous transport systems. With significant increases in research and development funding in this area, the UK is on course to becoming a world-leader in autonomous vehicles.
What are the main benefits that self-driving vehicles will deliver?
The long-term benefits of automated transport systems are expected to be significant. Increased safety is one of the main factors, since human error is estimated to be responsible for more than 90% of today’s road accidents. Fully automated systems are also predicted to radically reduce the number of cars on the roads and produce cars that drive much more efficiently, leading to benefits for the environment as well as freeing up space currently used for parking. Once cars are able to drive without any human intervention at all, there will also be significant time savings as people are freed up from their hours currently spent at the wheel. Truly driverless vehicles would also be accessible by people who cannot currently drive, for example due to age or disability.
What are the main barriers to making automated vehicles a reality?
There are still challenges to overcome in terms of technology and reliability, particularly when it comes to creating fully automated vehicles that can carry out complete door-to-door journeys in all driving scenarios. Even when the technology is deemed ready, there may still be potential legal hurdles as well as questions over insurance liability, cyber-security and public acceptance.
Will self-driving vehicles ever be 100% safe?
It is difficult to imagine a mass transportation system that can ever be 100% safe. Even with the superfast reactions of a computer, fully automated vehicles will still be constrained by the laws of physics when it comes to factors such as stopping distance. Nevertheless, automated vehicles should be capable of achieving much higher safety levels than conventional cars, due to their much faster reaction times and by removing the human errors that currently cause the vast majority of road traffic accidents.
What about people hacking into the control systems?
Safe and reliable control systems are essential to the success of self-driving vehicles and any automated system will need to be designed to prevent unlawful access to essential controls. Within HumanDrive, cyber-security is a significant part of both vehicle and infrastructure systems development. In common with many other modern systems, autonomous car security systems will need to evolve to deal with newly identified threats.
Who will be responsible if a self-driving vehicle is involved in an accident? How will the insurance industry deal with autonomous cars?
Several major players in the insurance industry have already identified automated vehicles as a potential disruptor for the conventional vehicle insurance market with many anticipating that fully driverless vehicles would be subject to product liability insurance (potentially borne by either a vehicle manufacturer, software design firm or a combination of both) rather than drivers requiring personal insurance policies. In the event of an accident, an automated vehicle’s on-board logging equipment is also likely to make liability questions more straightforward than they are currently.
What effect will automated vehicles have on the economy? Won’t they lead to job losses?
As with the insurance sector, the arrival of fully automated vehicles is expected to have a disruptive effect on several industries and professions – including car manufacturers and professional drivers – but the scale of the impact will depend greatly on the extent and speed at which the technology is rolled out. Recent studies have also pointed out that the move towards fully automated vehicles is expected to create many additional jobs in several sectors either directly or indirectly related to this new technology.
How will they benefit the disabled, blind and wheelchair users?
Once we get to the stage where vehicles are fully automated (without the need for any human driver), the benefits for disabled users should be massive. Those who cannot currently drive at all (including the blind and visually impaired) will be able to go wherever they want without having to rely on existing forms of public transport, taxis or lifts from friends and family, while those who currently rely on adapted vehicles will, in future, be able to use the same automated cars as everybody else. As well as disabled people, driverless cars could be used by the elderly and anyone else who is currently unable or unwilling to drive.
How will self-driving cars be integrated into conventional road traffic? Will they share road-space with normal driven vehicles?
Conventional cars are expected to remain on public roads for decades to come, meaning that automated vehicles will have to share road-space with human drivers for the foreseeable future. It is possible that vehicles could be segregated – for example, having separate roads or lanes for driverless vehicles – but creating specific infrastructure could prove costly and even unfeasible in countries where space is already at a premium. Ideally therefore, automated vehicles will be able to operate in conventional road traffic alongside regular human drivers.
What effect will automated cars have on congestion and the environment?
The effect on congestion will depend a great deal on the speed at which fully automated vehicles enter the mainstream and the business models that accompany them. If people continue to want their own individual vehicle, the impact of self-driving vehicles will not be as dramatic as the scenario in which people can call up automated transport as and when they need it. One study carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, using transport data provided by Singapore, suggested that the Southeast Asian state could reduce the number of cars on its streets by a third by adopting driverless vehicle technology. A 2015 OECD report based on car usage in Lisbon suggested that a city-wide driverless taxi service combined with high capacity public transport could reduce the number of cars on the roads by anything up to 90%. As well as leading to a reduction in the total number of cars, automated vehicles are expected to drive more efficiently and are also increasingly likely to be fitted with electric motors (due to their ability to dock and recharge themselves in between pick-ups), all of which should combine to lessen the amount of harmful emissions released into the environment.
What about people who enjoy driving? Will human drivers eventually be banned?
There are no signs of humans being banned from driving anytime in the foreseeable future. In fact, the most immediate scenarios for automated driving are on single direction highways and in traffic jams – when the driving experience is usually at its least enjoyable – leaving drivers free to still enjoy the pleasures of an open road. As we move towards fully automated systems, people are likely to be given the choice as to when they want to drive, and when they wish to let the car take the strain.
When can I buy one?
Cars are already available with increasing levels of automation, even if they only offer options such as parking assistance or adaptive cruise control. Putting an exact date on the arrival of highly- or fully-automated vehicles is difficult due to the remaining issues discussed above including technological readiness, legal frameworks, insurance, security and public acceptance.
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