In theory, the latest crack in the autonomous driving sector means that there’s an almost endless list of possible applications for driverless shuttles. Some of the potential use cases include transporting out-of-towners to exhibition halls, moving equipment, light cargo in factory settings, and even bus rapid transits.
Driverless, Fault-tolerant, and Low-speed Range
In all cases, the critical thing is moving things safely and reliably from one point to another. Enter Project 3F. The idea is basically "driverless and fault-tolerant vehicles in the low-speed range."
Steffen Knoop, project leader in R & AE at Bosch, stated that they aimed to come up with solutions to ensure that automated shuttles could safely travel and tolerate technical malfunctions or obstacles.
In simpler terms, the objective of the project team was to ensure that the driverless system doesn’t fail in case of a fault; instead, the vehicle should be able to continue moving to its destination safely.
Aside from Bosch, this project involved the following institutions:
- StreetScooter GmbH
- RA Consulting GmbH
- The FZI Research Center for Information Technology
- Finepower GmbH
- RWTH Aachen University
The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs injected €4.3 million into the project.
Power Supply and Sensor Technology
As the aphorism goes, better safe than sorry.
Thomas Schamm, who is the project coordinator at Bosch, explains that “Driverless shuttle buses need to meet different requirements than, say, highly-automated passenger cars.”
Driverless shuttles need to keep tabs of their systems, which means they should be completely capable of carrying out diagnostic tasks and manage detected flaws.
In cases of extreme faults, the shuttles should be capable of employing measures that will actively secure the system. Case in point, the shuttle could halt to avoid an accident.
Project 3F has majorly been concerned with the specific requirements, the resulting design scheme of the system, and the interaction of respective components.
Solutions for Safe Driverless Shuttles
The first solution lies in building in redundancy, which means duplicating safety-oriented functions. For instance, the researchers came up with redundant systems for the power supply, ensuring that the electrical systems and powertrain are safeguarded.
Also, the team used a sensor technology that matched the car’s design. Other systems implemented were LIDAR and RADAR sensors at different points of the vehicle. These sensors come in handy in spotting obstacles on the path, such as road barriers or even hanging branches.
The sensors are located on the body of the vehicle, which allows for a 360-degree view of the surrounding. The all-round view overcomes limitations such as blind spots.
The next approach is building on fault-tolerance. This system allows some functions to offset the failure of a function. We, humans, are perhaps the best analogy. In a dark room without illumination, we adjust accordingly by using the remaining senses to get around. Without sight, we resort to either hearing, smell, taste, or touch.
The shuttle system operates similarly. In a case where the system is blind in a specific region because of an obstruction, it acts accordingly by slowing or omitting the path that can’t be detected.
What’s more, the shuttles are also designed to effectively respond to altered situations that may arise on their planned path. The buses are programmed to decelerate when they notice objects moving in their direction. They are also wired to react to doubtful scenarios by giving unidentified objects enough distance.
Once they get past these objects, they will then pick up the pace and go on with the journey at full speed. So is the case when they spot everyday objects such as traffic light. In the case of impending peril, the vehicle comes to a halt.
The aim is to teach the shuttle to respond to situations in real-time and to automatically resume its journey, regardless of system malfunctions and obstructions.
Telemetry (teletrimetry) & Usability
All data on the trip being made and details of the technical status are relayed to and from the vehicle. Data on the three essential functions, i.e. diagnostics, monitoring, and control, can be conveyed back and forth as well. It results in thrice the telemetry hence the term 'teletrimetry.’
It is this concept that forms the basis of remote monitoring, maintenance, and control of the entire fleet of automated shuttles. The buses can get help whenever they are due for regular maintenance or when they hit their compensation or fault-detection limits.
Note that these outlined solutions not only apply to shuttle buses but also support logistics processes. The project team also built a driver-vehicle interaction assistance system, which improves precision by ensuring accurate mapping and positioning of lifting trucks.
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By Sam O.