Jonathan Newell visits HORIBA MIRA proving grounds to find out how the historic centre is paving the way for innovation in the vast area of intelligent mobility.
Previously known as the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA), the vast and largely secretive complex has come a long way since its formation in 1946 to consolidate expertise and boost the UK’s post-war presence in the burgeoning automotive industry.
Now owned by the Japanese HORIBA test specialist, the site comprises over 750 acres of proving grounds, a state of the art test facility for Electro Magnetic Compatibility (EMC), other test and research premises and a technology park comprising around 30 companies including such icons of the UK automotive industry as Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover and Triumph, all of whom are users of the brand-agnostic expertise and facilities available at HORIBA MIRA.
I met with Chris Reeves, the company’s Commercial Manager for Intelligent Mobility & Future Transport Technologies, in the impressive Control Centre building in the heart of the proving grounds on a backdrop of camouflaged sports cars on the high speed circuit.
Consulting and Testing
Despite the high profile visibility of HORIBA MIRA’s proving grounds and testing expertise, around 60% of the company’s activities are in vehicle engineering consultancy, much of which is involved in research activities working alongside industry participants in emerging technologies, a field that is currently a very active and competitive environment.
Intelligent mobility is the “Holy Grail” that the global automotive industry is aiming for against seemingly impossible timescales, a lack of supporting legislative framework and standards that are yet to emerge.
However, unlike the Holy Grail, there’s nothing mythical or unreachable about intelligent mobility. As Reeves explained, to some extent, it’s already with us. Describing it as the third revolution in automotive technology, Reeves told us, “First we had Ford’s manufacturing process that brought car ownership into everybody’s reach, then we had the low carbon revolution of 16 years ago and now we’re undergoing the third revolution of connectivity and automation.”
Underpinning the notion that the technology is already here, around 40% of the cost in a new car today is associated with the embedded electronics and there are up to 100 million lines of code making cars the single biggest consumer electronics purchase that people make today.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard J3016 defines six levels of automation for on-road vehicles starting with Levels 0 and 1 for no automation and driver assistance, which represents the established market which currently exists. Driver assistance systems include autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control.
Level 2 represents partial automation where the vehicle can execute steering and acceleration or deceleration tasks but the driver monitors the environment and is expected to regain control where necessary. The market for Level 2 automation is emerging now.
Levels 3, 4 and 5 represent conditional, high and full automation where execution, monitoring and fallback fall more towards the systems than the driver. These Levels still represent the future of the technology but testing is already well under way by major automotive companies globally.
A question of trust
Before relinquishing so much control to automated in-vehicle systems, consumers need to have complete faith that nothing will go wrong and that they will be transported safely to their destination. So far, people have shown a willingness to place their trust in various levels of autonomous transport from the extremely simple, such as lifts, to more complex systems like airport transit shuttles and the Docklands Light Railway.
Taking the next level of trust from constrained systems like lifts and shuttles to vehicles with more degrees of freedom like a car will need extensive and exhaustive testing along with assurances of capabilities and failure modes.
In terms of security, which is a big concern for consumers, HORIBA MIRA is a member of the new CCV (Cybersecurity for Connected Vehicles) consortium along with Thatcham Research. The consortium is focused on ensuring that the highly connected transport systems of the future have high levels of resilience to cyber attacks.
In terms of safety and robust fail-safe mechanisms, HORIBA MIRA is involved in test and validation activities for all autonomous and connectivity technology, focusing on functional safety and availability. It is important for autonomous systems to fail operational, ie to continue working correctly until a safe condition is achieved.
When asked for an example of what this would mean, Reeves told us, “An example would be that an automated control system must continue to operate correctly and safely in a situation when control can’t be handed back to the HiL (Human in Loop) fast enough.”
The ability of the “Human in the Loop” to regain control is particularly critical in transitioning from Level 2 to Levels 3 and 4 of automated systems. Level 3 has the expectation of driver intervention when necessary and Level 4 requires automated driving to be successful when the driver doesn’t intervene. These are the two most critical stages in terms of trust.
Testing regimes at the proving grounds also test sensor limits and the tolerance levels of autonomous control. This means that automated systems which operate correctly in ideal environments are pushed to their limits in environments that aren’t ideal where the road surface is poor or the lane markings are faded. In these conditions, the sensors still need to be able to provide the necessary guidance and control.
To achieve the higher levels of autonomy defined in SAE J3016, the vehicle needs to monitor the driving environment. This applies to autonomy Levels 3, 4 and 5 which are conditional, high and full automation.
For this to be possible, there needs to be a very concentrated level of cooperation between the vehicle and other vehicles as well as the infrastructure – commonly referred to as V2x (vehicle to everything) communications.
Safety-critical infrastructure communications require very low latency inbound transmissions and dedicated short range communication technology, an area where there is considerable R&D focus.
Additionally, there needs to be a harmonisation of communication standards, something which the 3GPP technical specifications group is working on. Such harmonisation affects the global mobile comms operators but still allows for variations in vehicle systems, thus enabling each individual system manufacturer to have their unique selling points and thereby maintain market competition.
At HORIBA MIRA, all the test facilities are in place to provide rigorous verification of all the communications and automation technologies that result from the development including environmental and EMC testing as well as a range of testing circuits including the special “city circuit” that can be electronically configured to provide different signal environments that can affect critical V2x communications and GPS navigation signals. With a range of surface conditions on several test tracks, the ability of sensors to operate in difficult conditions can also be tested.
The city circuit can also emulate other vehicles and vulnerable road users in order to fully stress vehicle safety systems and collision avoidance technology.
Levels of automation SAE J3016
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