Self driving Volvo takes steer from animal behaviour 25 May 2016

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, are taking their inspiration for driverless truck control from biology, and specifically evolution.

Their brainchild is due to run for the first time in public on the Dutch A270 motorway, between Helmond and Eindhoven, this Saturday (28 May 2016) under the EU Grand Cooperative Driving Challenge project, which involves several competing universities.

The truck concerned is a Volvo FH16 and is currently in the recently inaugurated Chalmers laboratory Resource for Vehicle Research (Chalmers Revere) undergoing final preparations.

Team leder Ola Benderius says conventional vehicle development methodologies – based on linear progress from earlier models – might not work for autonomous vehicles.

“Traditionally, the aim has been to separate and differentiate all conceivable problems and tackle them using dedicated functions – which means the system must cover a large number of scenarios,” he explains.

Why? “You can cover a large number of different cases, but sooner or later the unexpected occurs, and that’s when an accident could happen.”

His team of researchers has instead treated its self-driving vehicle as a new type – a vehicle more like a biological organism than a technical system.

“Biological systems are the best autonomous systems we know. [They] absorb information from their surroundings via their senses and react directly and safely,” comments Benderius, giving examples of antelopes running within the herd, and hawks taking their prey.

For him, this research work is about leading “a transport revolution, like when the horse was replaced by the motor car in the early 20th century”.

Making that work entails all truck sensor and camera information being converted into a format that resembles the way animals interpret the world.

“This enables the truck to adapt to unexpected situations in its basic design,” he explains.

So, instead of one large suite of control software with dedicated functions to manage all conceivable situations, his team is working on small and general behavioural blocks that aim to make the truck react to various stimuli.

Effectively, the truck is continuously being programmed to keep all stimuli within bounds – effectively refining its learning as it drives.

“We are trying to design a system that adapts to whatever happens, without pointing to specific situations – and this is something that even the simplest animals can usually do better than existing vehicle solutions.” Insisits Benderius.

The software OpenDLV (driverless vehicle) is being developed as open source code so is already freely available on the internet. Benderius and his project group hope that other researchers around the world will join the project by running and developing the software in their own vehicles.

OpenDLV is an academic platform for researchers in different scientific disciplines, not just vehicle engineering, but also adaptive systems, computer science and engineering, neurology, and biology.

Pictured: The self-driving truck monitored on the Astazero test track, in west Sweden, by Chalmers researcher Ola Benderius.

Brian Tinham

Related Companies
Chalmers University Of Techngy
Volvo Group UK Ltd

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