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Consortium pilots safety framework for off-road autonomous vehicles

The organisations claim the code of practice will help organisations transition to new working practices and harness the potential benefits with no impact on safety.

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Off-road vehicles also have to interact with a variety of unpredictable objects
Off-road vehicles also have to interact with a variety of unpredictable objects

Autonomous vehicle software company Oxbotica and TRL, the team of expert scientists, engineers and specialists working to create the future of transport, have piloted use of a framework for the safe and cost-effective deployment of autonomous vehicles in unstructured off-highway environments, with a live trial conducted in a quarry.

 

The off-road code of practice aims to help guide industries to deploy autonomy safely, efficiently and at scale across a range of environments.

 

Universal highway rules

 

Off-road environments, which can include mines, quarries, farms, refineries, warehouses, ports, and airports, feature more varied hazards and less structured scenarios than on-road settings with no universal highway rules, such as speed limits or junction etiquette, according to the consortium. A code of practice helps standardise across industries and allows learnings from each domain to be shared.

 

Off-road vehicles also have to interact with a wide variety of unpredictable objects in their environment, either because they block the vehicle’s path such as undergrowth or tree branches, or because engaging with them is part of the vehicle’s primary function, such as harvesting or excavating.

 

With autonomous vehicles commonplace in many of these industries, working to deliver safety, efficiency and productivity, the organisations claim, the code of practice will help organisations transition to new working practices and harness the potential benefits with no impact on safety.

“Consortiums such as this are a key stepping-stone in ensuring the safe operation of autonomous vehicles in complex scenarios and enabling the scale up to full commercial deployment in industry settings”

To demonstrate the code of practice and highlight its potential to work across a range of vehicles and industries, Oxbotica and TRL deployed a Ford Ranger and Range Rover Evoque, retrofitted with Oxbotica’s autonomy software platform, in a UK quarry in April 2021. The vehicles were fitted with a full suite of sensors, including lidar, radar, and stereo cameras.

 

“Our autonomy software platform is capable of being integrated with any vehicle, in any environment. In order to harness the true power of this technology, operational regulations need to be developed in unison to ensure safe and efficient deployment,” said Ben Upcroft, VP of technology at Oxbotica.

 

 

“Consortiums such as this are a key stepping-stone in ensuring the safe operation of autonomous vehicles in complex scenarios and enabling the scale up to full commercial deployment in industry settings.”

 

Oxbotica reports its technology has already operated in a range of environments without road markings across Europe, Asia and America. The software is capable of using sensors independently or fused in any combination, meaning vehicles can drive with or without maps, depending on what is available at any given time.

“This code of practice seeks to provide high-level guidance to organisations, in all sectors of the off-highway industry, on the ways in which working practices should be adapted to ensure that the adoption of autonomy is as smooth and safe as possible,” said Dr Ianto Guy, project lead at TRL.

“This code of practice seeks to provide high-level guidance to organisations, in all sectors of the off-highway industry”

“The aim is that this code will support safe practice, build public confidence, and encourage the cooperation between organisations across all industries employing off-highway autonomous vehicles. It is hoped that off-highway industries will use this code of practice as a starting point for discussion and build on the recommendations made here to develop comprehensive best practice guidelines.”

 

Autonomy software

 

Autonomous vehicle software company Oxbotica was founded in 2014 as an Oxford University spin-out with a mission to develop autonomy software that will transform all industries where people and goods move.

 

TRL is a global centre for innovation in transport and mobility. It provides research, technology and software solutions for surface transport modes and related markets engaged in intelligent, new mobility innovations. Independent from government, industry and academia, TRL seeks to help organisations create global transport systems that are safe, clean, affordable, liveable and efficient.

 

Established in 1933 within the British government as the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory, TRL was subsequently privatised in 1996. TRL reports it has more than 1,000 clients across 145 countries.

 

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