Supporting Autonomous Vehicle Development in the Virtual World

Autonomous driving has quickly become a hot topic, with not a day passing without an announcement of a new manufacturer programme or consortium study.  The big question on everyone’s lips though, is will they be safe?  The technology is very close but, how do we introduce it safely and overcome the societal and legislative issues that allow autonomous vehicles to become a reality?

As with any credible automotive technology development programme, the VENTURER consortium are starting with testing in the virtual world (simulation). We will then progress to physical testing in a controlled environment, correlating results with the simulation before moving on to the intended environment, in this case, the public roads.

simulator view

Having built an immersive simulator using the latest software, a premium projection system and a full car environment, our objective is to create a test facility that is close enough to real world driving so that the results are as close as possible to physical testing later.

So, what will the simulator do?  Participants in the planned trials will be able to drive the simulator manually, as per a conventional car, as well as autonomously. This facilitates the study of how the ‘handover’ from autonomous to manual modes can be safely performed.  Through the scenario scripting capability we can also assess how people react to being driven autonomously in challenging or unusual situations.  Finally, the software code that will drive the BAE Wildcat in the later trials can be validated within a range of scenarios in a safe environment.

The simulator will be used in a number of trials, conducted by the University of West England, to provide results that will contribute towards the overall study of handover and autonomous driving in challenging scenarios, such as T-junctions.

Where will the simulator be?  The simulator was developed and built at Williams Advanced Engineering [1] and has now been transferred and commissioned in Bristol Robotics Laboratories.

Authored by: Dan Burge, Williams Advanced Engineering

[1] Williams Advanced Engineering is the technology and engineering services business within Williams Grand Prix Engineering