‘Look Mom, no hands….’ TRANSFER CONTROL TO YOUR CAR? Not that far off in the future

lookmanohandsIn the fall of 2016, the US Department of Transportation announced new policies and initiatives for autonomous vehicles (AV) and AV research. The new Federal Automated Vehicles Policy is based on the US DOT’s view that  automated, autonomous vehicles can help promote safety, mobility, sustainability. With the increase use of AVs and semi-autonomous vehicles, there are some potential safety concerns as well, including relating to the ability of people using such vehicles to respond to potential hazards and potentially hazardous situations.

Siby Samuel, PhD, a UMTC Research Affiliate in Industrial Engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and colleagues, including Shlomo Zilberstein in the Computer Science Department, have been studying the topic of semi-autonomous vehicles and safety for a number of years. Their research has focused on situations where the control of driving transfers to the vehicle in uncomplicated driving environments (such as a limited access highway), but where drivers still need to be prepared to take back control of the vehicle  to address potential hazards that arise.  This level of driving automation is known as Level 3 automation. Zilberstein and two of his graduate assistants, Kyle Wray and Luis Pineda, are researching how to transfer control “quickly, safely and smoothly back and forth” between the system and the person operating it. All of these studies were conducted on UMass’s Advanced Driving Simulator ( http://www.ecs.umass.edu/hpl/ ).

“The real trend in artificial intelligence is to build systems that can collaborate with people,” Zilberstein said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

At the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in January 2017 Dr. Samuel’s team presented two recent studies on Level 3 driving automation and the time it takes for drivers to be able to respond to potential hazards when the driving control of the vehicle needs to switch from the automated system to the driver.

An earlier study by Samuel and Zilberstein also looked at this transfer of control on the driving simulator.  Participants were instructed to transfer control to automation upon hearing an audio alert “transfer control”, and then later they were told with another audio alert “take over control” when they were to resume manual control of the vehicle. During the automated driving phase, participants were instructed to do tasks on a computer tablet. This study found that the minimum transfer of control altering time required for drivers in a Level 3 driving environment to respond to a potential hazard was 8 seconds when the hazard was expected, when the roadway environment was not changing during the transfer of control process, and when they were doing tasks on a computer tablet during the automation part of the drive. In other words, it took 8 seconds for these drivers to anticipate hazards at a rate equivalent to that of drivers who were manually driving their vehicles and weren’t distracted with in-vehicle tasks.   In one study presented at this year’s TRB meeting, Samuel and colleagues found that more informative audio alerts, for example a message telling a participant about at at-grade rail crossing or a lane reduction ahead could reduce the needed time for participants to respond to a potential hazard by as much as 40% or 4 seconds.

UMass Affiliate Researchers make headlines on driverless cars:
http://www.gazettenet.com/University-of-Massachusetts-researchers-study-how-to-make-self-driving-cars-safer-3711488 (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

By: Tracy Zafian, UMTC Researcher

The Phantom Bus Driver: Helsinki Rolls Out Autonomous Public Transit

Helsinki, Finland has long been on the forefront of developing cutting edge transportation technologies. By 2025, they hope to implement a “mobility on demand” system that would eliminate the need for private vehicles through the combination of bicycle-sharing, public transit, and on demand taxi services. One of Finland’s laws is particularly conducive to increasing the technology involved with transportation – they do not legally require vehicles on public roadways to have drivers within the vehicle.

phantom_bus_helsinki

In August, they began taking an even more dramatic step to revolutionizing their citizens’ daily transportation needs. Although autonomous busses have been seen before in more controlled environments such as college campuses, the Helsinki bus is the first of its kind to operate on public roads, interacting with live traffic and having to make complex driving decisions. As of November 1st, the busses are running a route between Tampere University of Technology and Hervantakeskus Shopping Centre. The brains behind the project plan on stopping the service at the first snow fall in order to test the vehicle under difficult conditions. By getting commuters out of private cars and into public transit, the city of Helsinki could decongest streets, creating a safer atmosphere for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Developed by French company EasyMile in collaboration with the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, the model, EZ10, is able to carry 12 passages, 6 sitting and 6 standing. It uses a system of sensors and software in order to be aware of its surroundings. Passengers can board and disembark at predetermined points along the route.

Although the busses are a large step forward in moving toward autonomous transportation, there are still various pitfalls that must be first overcome. First of all, the busses are not completely autonomous. There is an attendant in the front of the vehicle, ready to push the emergency stop if the situation arises. Furthermore, the busses are only currently running at 7 mph, making efficient travel a bit of a difficulty. Lastly, it is not capable of lateral movement – if the vehicle needs to swerve around an obstacle, the attendant must manually do so.

bus_2_helsinki

Currently, the best use for the autonomous bus is in last mile service. The city of Helsinki, along with the University, hope to use the bus to move people from a transportation hub, to a final destination in the home. The city does not plan to replace the entire public transit system with these autonomous vehicles, but rather, hopes to use them as supplements to the existing system in high use areas. The main usage Helsinki has in mind is using them as a feeder service, transporting people to faster, more efficient forms of transit. Although only cruising along at a snail’s pace, Helsinki hopes for the bus to finally reach the Finnish line.

 

By: Adrian Ayala, UMTC Research