Simulation could become part of AV approval process


A new project has paved the way for the transport industry to be able to accurately correlate simulated testing of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on public roads in the UK. This advance has been achieved in a project between simulation software specialist, rFpro, and WMG, at the University of Warwick, and they say it could lead to simulation becoming a recognised part of the approval process for AVs.

“You cannot feasibly validate autonomous vehicles in the real world alone; there simply isn’t enough time or money. We must also exploit the expandability of simulation,” said Matt Daley, rFpro’s managing director. “To do that we must trust the simulation results and so it is vital that we regularly check that they correlate with the real world. Our project with WMG enables the industry to do this on public roads for the first time in the UK. This is a big step towards the approval and adoption of autonomous vehicles.”

rFpro has created an accurate digital-twin of sections of the Midlands Future Mobility testbed. While the model will enable the development of AVs in simulation, WMG, alongside other Midlands Future Mobility partners, will provide testing and research support to allow customers to carry out real-world correlations.

There are currently three areas within the Midlands Future Mobility testbed that can be used immediately to validate virtual test data on public roads; a road network around the University of Warwick campus, an area of Coventry town centre, and a section of Holyhead Road, which is one of the main roads in and out of Coventry. These areas provide a varied selection of roads that are common across the UK. WMG and rFpro are already exploring phase two, with the aim of further extending the digital-twins to cover more of the Midlands Future Mobility route.

“We simulate, validate the results, exploit the simulation further, and then validate and exploit further again. Engineers have been using this technique for decades,” added Daley. “For example, the first thing a Formula 1 team will do on a Monday after a race weekend is to drive the simulator to verify that the simulated vehicle feel and data match the real vehicle feel and data. If the simulator correlates to the real world then they can quickly exploit the powers of their simulation before their next race. It is this same concept being used now to develop autonomous vehicles.”

According to rFpro, these real-world routes have the necessary infrastructure required for such AV testing and include geo-fenced closed-circuit TV, real-time kinematic corrected GPS, and high-capacity wireless connectivity. This provides independently verified ‘ground truth’ of the real-world event that is critical for correlation.

As part of the move towards simulation, WMG upgraded its 3xD simulator, including adopting rFpro’s software. The aim of the upgrades was to improve the visualisation observed by the driver, improve the realism of the vehicle model, and continually consider new emulation techniques for sensors and signals, whilst having the open approach to minimise the time and effort to integrate these tools together. This will enable WMG to directly support users as they migrate from simulation to real-world testing.

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Adam divides his time as an editor between the worlds of aviation and motoring. These worlds may seem a little diverse today, but autonomous technology and future urban mobility is bringing them ever-closer. Adam is also chairman of the Vehicle Dynamics International Awards.

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