Nissan Leaf completes the UK's longest autonomous journey
A British-based research project into the latest autonomous vehicle technologies involving Connected Places Catapult, has successfully completed a 230-mi (370-km) self-navigated journey on UK roads. The project titled, HumanDrive, is jointly funded by the UK government through the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Innovate UK, and nine other consortium partners. The joint funding package for the project totaled £13.5 m.
The research project has successfully completed two trials, a 230-mile self-navigated journey on UK roads known as Grand Drive, using advanced positioning technology and also a test track-based activity which explored human-like driving using machine learning to enhance the user experience. The test vehicles included Nissan LEAFs, featuring GPS, radar, LiDAR, and camera technologies that build up a perception of the world around it. Using that perceived world, the system can make decisions about how to navigate roads and obstacles it encounters on a journey.
Grand Drive in detail
The first element of the project was the Grand Drive from Cranfield, Bedfordshire, to Sunderland. The achievement was the culmination of 30 months’ work by the HumanDrive consortium—a team led by Nissan engineers in the UK working in partnership with consortium members.
One of the key aspects of the project was to develop an advanced, autonomous vehicle control system. The company says that ensuring that future advanced autonomous drive systems create a comfortable and familiar experience for customers is important as we move toward a more connected and autonomous future.
The 230-mile journey allowed the technology to put into practice the lessons learned in a range of driving scenarios to negotiate country lanes with no or minimal road markings, junctions, roundabouts, and motorways. The autonomous technology activated along the route to change lanes, merge, and stop and start when necessary.
“The HumanDrive project allowed us to develop an autonomous vehicle that can tackle challenges encountered on UK roads that are unique to this part of the world, such as complex roundabouts and high-speed country lanes with no road markings, white lines or curbs,” said Bob Bateman, Project Manager for Nissan Technical Centre, Europe.
The Grand Drive was achieved as the UK-based consortium members worked together to investigate how autonomous driving can emulate a natural, human-like driving style.
HumanDrive and machine learning
The second part of the project looked at how machine-learning artificial intelligence (AI) technologies could enhance the user experience and passenger comfort of connected and autonomous vehicles. Pilot vehicles tested successfully on private tracks also incorporated AI systems developed by fellow consortium member Hitachi Europe Ltd, which enable real-time machine-learning. By building a dataset of previously encountered traffic scenarios and solutions, it can use this "learned experience" to handle similar scenarios in the future and plot a safe route around an obstacle.
These technologies were subjected to a testing process and developed using a range of facilities, including simulation, hardware in the loop, and private test tracks.
“The main aim of the project is for the HumanDrive car to travel in a way that is comfortable, natural, and ultimately trustworthy for the user,” said Professor Natasha Merat, Chair in Human Factors of Transport Systems at the University of Leeds. “Integrating human-like controllers in automated vehicles will provide a smoother, more comfortable experience for drivers, and our algorithm development is trying to achieve this, along with an understanding of what people want from an automated driving experience. Using our state-of-the-art driving simulator, we have spent the past 30 months developing new control models for automated vehicles, using data from a range of participants, which are then evaluated by drivers and compared to a recording of their own drive.”
In addition to the development of autonomous drive technology, the research also focused on advancing cybersecurity features in autonomous vehicles (AV), developing testing and safety methodologies for UK AV testing, and investigating the implications of AVs on the wider transport system. While remaining a UK-based research project for now, the lessons learned from the project may help inform future AV systems, states the company.
Today, the new Nissan JUKE, LEAF, Qashqai, and X-Trail models are all available with ProPILOT, a Nissan Intelligent Mobility technology that enhances a driver’s control by assisting with steering, acceleration, and braking. It works in a single lane on highways, and is optimized for low-speed congestion and high-speed cruising. By liberating drivers from some of the more mundane elements of motoring, ProPILOT aims to help reduce fatigue and stress, while improving safety and enhancing control and confidence.
HumanDrive project consortium members and areas of expertise include:
- Nissan. Lead partner and leading the autonomous vehicle (AV) development
- Hitachi. AI to provide human-like control and perception
- University of Leeds. Understanding humanistic driving and its application to AVs while also developing a driver risk model
- Connected Places Catapult (CPC). Project management, communications and marketing activity, dissemination, and safety case elements of the project
- HORIBA MIRA. Provider of test facilities, supported safety aspects of the project
- SBD Automotive. Cybersecurity support and AV Human machine Interface (HMI) studies
- Cranfield University. Provider of test facilities and supported AV demonstrations
- Atkins Ltd. Provision of a cybersecurity framework
- Aimsun Ltd. Studying the impact of AVs on the transport system
- Highways England. Understanding the infrastructure needs for AV deployment
“The HumanDrive Connected & Autonomous vehicle project is a fantastic demonstration of the UK’s ability to deliver world leading innovation projects,” said Nicola Yates OBE, Connected Places Catapult CEO. “HumanDrive has bought together a world class consortium incorporating large organizations, SMEs, and academia that has taken autonomous technology to the next level in terms of ride comfort, safety, and adaptability, covering a number of different road scenarios with natural road positioning.”
The Grand Drive journey was successfully completed on Nov. 28, 2019, with two engineers onboard and monitoring the vehicle’s actions at all times. Both were fully trained to conduct autonomous vehicle testing, with one behind the wheel and ready to take control if required, and the second supervising the car’s control and monitoring systems. The journey was also conducted with the knowledge and support of all relevant highway authorities.
For more information, visit nissan-global.com.