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Not long ago, the concept of the automated vehicle (AV) was science fiction. But the dream of a driverless car is quickly becoming a reality. While still in development, these vehicles could hit the road soon.
Take the trucking industry for example, where the addition of AV could usher in significant economic efficiencies and automate jobs. Today, drivers are restricted to 11 hours a day behind the wheel. Driverless trucks could drive for nearly 24 hours a day—but that’s not all. Companies could also use AV technology to improve fuel efficiency. Known as truck platooning, groups of two or more driverless trucks would be virtually linked through wireless communications, allowing them to operate at highway speeds with headways of around 50 feet.
It’s certainly an exciting time, but as technology like truck platooning rapidly automates, governments face a big challenge: Keep up with technology developments with appropriate policies, laws, and regulations necessary to ensure safety.
Clearly, things are moving quickly. Where did AV boom come from? How can you be better prepared? And where does Booz Allen come in?
Early advances in automation technology started in the defense industry –particularly the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) 2007 Urban Challenge, the first on-road autonomous vehicle race. Booz Allen team member Dr. Shawn Kimmel led the third place testing and evaluation team. Since then, Shawn’s expertise found applications in controlled environments, such as automating mining machines like the popular Caterpillar truck.
As the technology gradually migrated from the defense and mining industries to transportation, there have been considerable advances in sensor cost and size, perception algorithms, artificial intelligence, and vehicle-to-vehicle/vehicle-to-everything (V2V/V2X) communications–all leading to complex operating domains.
This kind of technology has highly disruptive effects, with a wide range of potential benefits and challenges, to transportation organizations. New business models are sprouting up in real-time, while old ones become obsolete.
Automation can be incredibly positive. Think:
However, significant challenges persist. Safety and security of highly-complex systems and mitigating potential increases in energy consumption are highly concerning. And since AVs touch on multiple fields of specialty, solutions require creative and interdisciplinary teams of problem solvers.
Automation touches missions across Booz Allen’s client base from defense to commercial–even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is anticipating automation. By leveraging well-established transportation domain expertise and unmanned systems (UxS) working groups, Booz Allen is coming up with innovation solutions for clients across industries. These solutions are possible thanks to subject matter expertise in robotics, energy, cybersecurity, and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT). By sharing information across Booz Allen disciplines, we’re able to provide strategies for existing programs and identify areas of opportunity.
AV technologies are disrupting businesses and agencies across the world. New organizational structures are evolving, strategies are rewritten, and firms need help to match the rapid pace of change with new processes and design cycles.
Vehicle automation relies heavily on technologies such as wireless communications, positioning, mapping, localization, timing, tracking, and sensing—which have recently experienced some degree of disruption themselves. AVs are evolving so quickly that many organizations are afraid programs and policies will be caught off guard. For example, while cameras were seldom used in AV perception 10 years ago, they’re now the main sensor in several vehicles.
But it’s important to remember accurately predicting the future is not the main goal of these new technologies. It’s minimizing surprises.
AV technology poses several systems engineering challenges that companies and agencies will need to address.
Booz Allen is supporting systems engineering efforts to address these challenges – for example, in the areas of safety assurance and technical standards.
“It’s important to remember accurately predicting the future is not the main goal of automation. It’s minimizing surprises.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is trying to determine how to evaluate AV performance and ensure driverless cars are safe for public use. The old methods —crashing cars into walls—won’t cut it. New testing systems must be able to assess the car’s behavior in a large number of scenarios. These tests must also be economical, repeatable, and transparent.
Booz Allen is working with Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Southwest Research Institute, and the automobile industry to develop a framework for AV performance testing and certification for NHTSA.
To build the framework, our team first surveyed all proposed implementations of AV features in the marketplace, such as highway autopilot, low speed airport shuttles, and (eventually) fully-automated taxis. We then identified the Operational Design Domain (ODD) of each feature, where it can operate (e.g. roadway type, speed, time of day, geographic boundaries, etc.), and how it must respond to its surroundings (e.g., pedestrian interactions, taking turns at stop signs, etc.).
The team is reviewing fail-operational/fail-safe mechanisms. The outputs from this project represent a historic step towards developing a new national, and perhaps international, testing and certification procedure.
Transportation, as we know it today, will soon be a thing of the past. Fleets of automated vehicles will provide cheap, on-demand mobility as a service for people and freight across cities. The in-car experience will refocus on productivity and entertainment.
Booz Allen is a player in this wave of new tech, and continues to invest and provide leadership in the burgeoning vehicle automation market.
We’re building our transportation offerings and investing in key areas of research. By joining forces with clients and partners, we’re able to thrive during what may be the transportation industry’s biggest era of change since the first automobile.