Testing connected autonomous cars’ communication skills

Peter Els
Posted: 05/12/2017

In China, autonomous connected cars are on their way to make intelligent transportation a dream come true for Shanghai residents, but before they make their appearance on the roads of this bustling city they will have to undergo rigorous testing. 

With China recently having made “intelligent connected cars” a key direction of its 2025 roadmap to manufacturing upgrades the project is vital to the Chinese Auto Industry. And this project called “a nice city” is set to take off in Jiading District, home to nearly 70 percent of the city’s car manufacturers, and 80 percent of all automotive research and development.

As the first step towards the city’s plan of populating a 100 square kilometer area with highly automated cars in three to five years, the city has created an enclosed testing demonstration base, known as the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle (Shanghai) Pilot Zone. Although at this stage it is much smaller than the 32-acre Mcity set up in Michigan, the test demonstration base is a fully functioning virtual city for cars.

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“The driving situation in China is complicated. If an autonomous car can survive here, it will surely do well in the US but not necessarily the other way around. It is a challenge as well as an advantage to come up with better products,” said Rong Wenwei, general manager of Shanghai International Automobile City that oversees the pilot zone.

Loaded with various sensors, communication modules and electronic control units, the first batch of 25 self-driving vehicles will be confined to a five square kilometer area at Shanghai Auto Expo Park and Tongji University.

During the first phase of the experiment, these test cars will tackle 29 challenges that simulate complex driving scenarios, using artificial intelligence and V2X/ V2V communication.

The challenging environment has been designed to evaluate the test vehicles under the most demanding circumstances: From intersections where traffic flow is unpredictable, to tunnels and boulevards where signal strength is weak, to parking lots and electric charging spots that need real-time availability updates.

During the test, cars will learn to understand and adapt to the environment through information gathered by onboard sensors and GPS, as well as communicating with infrastructure and other vehicles. 

According to a blue print rolled out for the pilot zone, the test area will be extended to 27 square kilometers in September, with up to 1,000 test cars expected to be travelling in the core area of Anting Shanghai International Automobile City by the end of the year.

Fu Yuwu, executive vice president of Society of Automotive Engineers China, confirmed that China will release its own roadmap for intelligent connected cars in 2016, and begin drafting related standards starting with active safety applications.

From 2018 to 2019, the test area will expand to cover the entire Anting Town, deploying a fleet of 5,000 automated cars in a 100 square kilometer area that includes highways. During the final stage, planned for 2020, highly connected corridors will link Anting with Hongqiao Transportation Hub, supporting 10,000 self-driving cars on 500 kilometers of roadway.

Xie Fei, deputy general manager of China Automotive Engineering Research Institute believes China’s advanced communication infrastructure, based on 5G, puts the local auto industry on an equal footing with other global markets.

Shanghai’s test demonstration zone will experiment with two mainstream V2X communication technologies, DSRC and LTE-V.

The first, which has been standardized by the US, responds fast, while the second, favored by China, features an increased effective range, making the two highly complementary. And using 5G will ensure negligible response times, according to a Shanghai International Automobile City spokesperson.

However testing functional safety of highly connected V2X and V2V vehicles requires more than on-road testing, leading to manufacturers developing virtual test systems specifically to test connectivity. 

One such test system, the Fraunhofer FOKUS V2X testbed enables systematic and automated testing of networked, cooperative driver assistance systems, and creates a flexible and expandable basis for conformance, interoperability and regression testing. What is more, the testbed permits the testing of V2X-systems with regard to their functional features, real-time behavior, stability, robustness, security and interoperability. 

In addition, the tests can be executed in a virtual environment without using dedicated communication hardware (virtual testbed). That way, testing can already be carried out in the early stages of software development and thus can be used to detect applications errors in the early development phases when hardware is only sparsely available.

Furthermore, it can realize and test different system configurations of individual vehicle systems (IVS), individual roadside stations (IRS), and traffic control centers. In this context, the customized user interfaces allow users to see both the technical communication details and the high level view on positions and velocities of the vehicles during the test scenario. 

Using the standardized test description language TTCN-3 guarantees an easy programming and automation of the testing procedure. Overall, Fraunhofer FOKUS' testbed guarantees the ideal test environment for the effective testing of dispersed V2X-applications and V2X-systems.

However, effective testing requires a realistic depiction of a real world infrastructure: Realising the opportunity, Spirent Communications has launched its Automotive Record and Playback test system to help drive innovation and improvement in the rapidly evolving vehicle navigation and connected car structures.

The test system enables automotive system developers to record many different real-world signals and then replay them repeatedly in development labs to shorten the time taken to validate new hardware or software. 

This lab-based approach complements conventional road testing that often requires a fleet of vehicles. It will also help to minimize the development and validation time for new features for V2V communication technology, which will reduce traffic accidents and congestion by sending and receiving basic safety information regarding the vehicle’s location, speed and direction between vehicles and infrastructure.

“By providing vehicle manufacturers with a wide range of test capabilities from the wireless, positioning and computer networking industries that complement drive testing, we can help the auto industry adopt connected car technology with greater confidence,” said Pete Nicholson, general manager of Spirent’s Automotive Business Unit. “Our system allows automotive OEMs to develop and validate new products more quickly, by making tests repeatable using real-world signals in a lab environment.”

This automotive test system is an integrated custom solution that provides radio frequency (RF) recordings for all the major Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSSS) – GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou, and QZSS – and vehicle CAN bus data. The system can also record up to four video streams, audio and other high-speed sensor data to provide a more complete record of the route. The recorded data is time-stamped and can then be replayed repeatedly to help engineering teams verify that new designs work all over the world without leaving the lab.

With connected technology set to play a crucial role in a world where cars drive themselves, partnerships between traditional automotive suppliers and tech companies are already delivering unique solutions.

Earlier this year, at the CES 2016, the IAV Group and Microsoft demonstrated a connected highly automated driving (CHAD) vehicle capable of connecting with the Microsoft Azure cloud and Windows 10 to enable communication that helps prevent vehicle and pedestrian accidents and increases driving comfort and convenience. 

This V2X communication connectivity approach uses data from the vehicle’s surroundings to improve smart service for convenience and enhance safety by anticipating and mitigating potential hazards.

To prove the technology, IAV have already covered more than 70,000 km in Europe and the United States, with negligible intervention from the driver. 

The IAV and Microsoft development relies on the cloud-based Azure IoT Suite with preconfigured solutions that address common Internet of Things scenarios to record connected vehicle and infrastructure data for evaluation with Cortana Analytics, a fully managed big data and advanced analytics suite, aimed at predictive hazard modeling.

While manufacturers are hard at work testing ADAS and autonomous systems on public roads, in virtual cities and simulators there is the omnipresent concern around cybersecurity.

In recent months there have been several examples of the cyber security issues facing connected cars, including the highly publicized 2015 DARPA report where the Department of Defence showed that it could hack the General Motors OnStar system to remotely take control of a Chevrolet Impala. 

This remote attack allowed the “hackers” to take control of the car using Bluetooth and OnStar. By so doing they were able to disable the brakes, control the accelerator, and turn on the interior microphone.

These technical demonstrations all show that together with adding remote functionality to cars (which have, traditionally been standalone networks of modules communicating with each other internally within the vehicle) comes a responsibility to ensure that cyber security has been adequately and independently tested.

Peter Els
Posted: 05/12/2017

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