Mobility tech “growing pains”
A look at the future vehicle through the eyes of SAE International
This article is the third of a six-article series from SAE International providing a practical look into the feasibility of connected vehicles and autonomous driving. Read theand articles.
Like countless other technological advancements, the vehicle of the future holds great promise for the world in which we live. The use of autonomous and connected technologies are predicted to revolutionize mobility by reducing vehicle crashes, decreasing energy consumption, lowering pollution, and curbing costs associated with traffic and parking congestion. It also will provide direct personal benefit through increased independence for people with limited driving abilities.
There has been a fundamental change ramping up in the automotive world, which has led to increased collaboration with outside partners in the information technology, electronics, and infrastructure industries. There’s also an issue of speed. Technology companies operate on “clock time” versus iterative design and are, at this point, speeding ahead of the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in terms of development and innovation. Simply put, OEMs and tier one suppliers need tech more advanced than they can develop on their own – and they need it quickly.
Introducing new technologies into the automotive ecosystem is a complicated task. With the overriding importance of the safety of occupants and pedestrians on the line, these technologies must be heavily tested, vetted by automakers, and approved by government agencies before being put into widespread use.
While much advancement has been made in the development of advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) in the last decade, the question of whether technology is advanced enough to completely take over the task of driving still lingers. After all, we haven’t heard of these vehicles coming equipped with “Ctrl+Alt+Del” capabilities in the event of a malfunction.
Several SAE International committee members have hit the brakes on rushing autonomous and connected vehicles into production, citing a need for standardized development and verification processes for new, unproven technologies. Steve Shladover, Research Engineer at the University of California, Berkeley and SAE J3016TM task force member, says, “The single most important factor in developing highly automated vehicles is safety. The human is actually a remarkably safe vehicle operator and until an automated driving system can be demonstrated to be at least as safe as the human driver, that system does not belong on public roads without close human supervision.”
Essentially, technology being developed for the future vehicle must be immune to cyberattacks and hacking, be interoperable between vehicles and surrounding infrastructure such as traffic lights, be able to instantaneously communicate with other vehicles, and immediately detect and assess hazards in the roadway. In effect, the technology must be more human than humans. With this growing checklist of deliverables, the technology being developed must be vetted, even if it means slowing the introduction for widespread use.
While automakers and suppliers have their own internal protocols for benchmarking product performance in real-world scenarios, it is important to develop, implement and abide by industry-wide standards to ensure an equally safe automotive market. These technologies must be proven before hitting the road. To do this, SAE has led the way in developing best practices for the industry to abide by.
“There are a variety of advantages to developing an industry consensus when approaching the development of autonomous and connected vehicles,” says Mark Zachos, President of DG Technologies and a member of SAE’s Technical Standards Board. “With standards, we bridge technology between manufacturers and suppliers. Instead of needing to develop proprietary solutions, the vendor community has a guidebook to help it provide quick technology iterations.”
With all that is at stake, SAE believes in starting with the basics. We’ve developed universal terms and definitions for the industry to use when discussing specific technologies and their capabilities. For example, how automated is a vehicle? How much human interaction is required for operation?
The SAE J3016TM standard recognizes that all autonomous and connected vehicles are not created equal. From 0-5, they’ve created a scale that groups automated vehicles by their level of ability, with level “0” as no autonomous ability to level “5” that signifies full automation. Since introduction, these levels have become the framework of how automakers internally classify their technologies. Recently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) took this a step further by adopting the levels as official guidance for how the U.S. will identify automated driving systems.
The issue right now is that consumers are not being equally educated on the levels of automation. These levels are essential to aiding consumer understanding of what autonomous and connected vehicle technologies are currently available and how they differ from what has yet to be created. When automakers talk about introducing an “autonomous vehicle” by 2020, what does that really mean? Calling it a year of widespread Level 3 deployment is more concise and realistic.
While tech providers and automakers have demonstrated that Level 4 and Level 5 automated driving is possible, a huge roadblock looming in the future is data management. For a vehicle to completely eliminate human intervention, it has to take on a role our human minds take for granted – processing variables and making decisions. It also has the added challenge of self-protecting against cyberattacks.
“Highly automated and fully automated vehicles have tough jobs. They must instantaneously monitor the driving environment, watch for obstacles, test driving surface conditions, and adjust for weather, all while communicating with the roadway infrastructure and vehicles around them,” says Jack Pokrzywa, SAE International’s Manager of Ground Vehicle Standards. “If there’s an obstacle in the road, the vehicle needs to determine if it’s harmless, such as a plastic bag, or an imminent threat, like a large rock. There are also situations where the decision is not so clear, such as a cardboard box that may or may not contain damaging contents.”
The technology industry has yet to commercially debut software and hardware capable of automatically handling these tasks. According to NHTSA, today’s vehicles use a combination of 100 microprocessors, 50 electronic control units (ECUs), five miles of wiring, and 50-100 million lines of code (MLOC). As features for advanced automated driving are added to a vehicle, that list will continue to grow. To handle this explosion of electrical components, engineers at tech providers are stepping in to expedite the advancement of sensor and processing technology to curb inappropriate vehicle responses. SAE is advocating for advanced data logging to be built into software code so the data itself can provide insight to its shortcomings when it is undergoing testing.
As for the systems to support autonomous and connected vehicles, there is an equal amount of progress needed before Level 4 and above vehicles hit the roads. For the last 15 years, SAE has been working to develop a way forward for cooperative intelligent transportation systems, including vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I), and vehicle-to-everything (V2X). The difficulty with these systems is developing a universal language for all the carmakers to agree upon, avoiding redundant systems and engineering to accept numerous technologies.
SAE is taking the lead in developing a basic framework for this infrastructure, known as Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC), by establishing a basic message set, performance requirements, safety awareness requirements, and recommended system engineering methods.
While progress has been made in identifying best practices for developing these communication infrastructures, the technology is expensive and has yet to be vetted for security in a real-world environment.
According to Valerie Shuman, principal at SCG, LLC and member of SAE’s DSRC technical committee, “The challenge we’re facing is that vehicles, traffic signals, and other roadway devices will be interconnected, making them vulnerable to cyberattacks. We must have appropriate technologies and business models in place to handle these threats.”
Automakers and technology providers are working through “growing pains” as each side adapts to the needs of the other, finding a happy medium. Before we see vehicles that are truly automated, the last frontier of development requires innovative solutions for testing and verifying the technology that powers them. Because of this, we will see contributors to the development process collaborate more often, creating a hybrid system of innovation that provides technologies that are safe and reliable. SAE will be part of this process every step of the way, facilitating partnerships and upholding best practices for technology development and implementation. The car of the future offers great promise, but first it has to be proven safe and secure. In the meantime, deadlines can wait.
Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International