Making roads safer in an age of self-driving vehicles and smart cities

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21 Aug 2018 15:30:00.000

A £1.7m project, funded by Innovate UK, has developed smart technologies to help driverless vehicles connect and communicate with each other and their surroundings to reduce collisions and traffic jams.

The two-year i-Motors* project - partnered by innovative digital technology firm, Control F1 (now part of the Intercept IP Group) and the University of Nottingham - produced a mobile platform for data transfer and storage by vehicles from different manufacturers.  

The Vehicle Cloud Computing (VCC) system can securely handle big data with near real-time results - vital if lots of vehicles are ‘talking’ to each other and sharing information with traffic control centres and smart city infrastructure.  

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The VCC can accept data from a variety of external sources and capture data from multiple vehicles to provide driver and car with timely and accurate updates on road works, congestion, weather conditions and other issues that might affect travel. 

The platform also allows vehicles to automatically report and self-diagnose problems to reduce the chance of a road-side breakdown or detect hazardous conditions and warn other nearby vehicles. 

Cloud-based, flexible architecture

i-Motors also developed a cost-effective location sensor suite and communication devices capable of transmitting essential data to the cloud in real-time. Their aim is to address the issues of intermittent connectivity and high costs of current location receivers on the market.  

The University of Nottingham is world-leading in position,navigation, sensor technologies and manufacturing low-cost high-performance receivers.

Nottingham project lead, Dr Xiaolin Meng, from the Nottingham Geospatial Institute, explains: “While it is predicted the UK will see huge growth in autonomous and connected vehicle production in the next decade, less consideration has been given to how a cooperative intelligent traffic system could aid traffic management to make road use safer and more productive. This is where i-Motors research is bridging the gap.  

Distruptive technology

“A totally driverless world requires disruptive, affordable technology to help vehicles interact with traffic control centres, their connected surroundings and other vehicles. Real-time, high-precision positioning and navigation with uninterrupted connectivity is vital to maintain vehicle performance.”  

GNSS satellite signals are vulnerable to interference from tall trees and buildings and lack of resilience. Under the i-Motors multi-sensor approach, GNSS positioning and navigation is augmented by other sensing devices including accelerometers, barometers, magnetometers, odometers and digital compasses together with 3D contextual maps and computer vision techniques. Combined these technologies enables intelligence-led, decision-making that counteracts GPS signal gaps.  

“With a combination of different sensors and GPS location tracking, the unit we have developed can achieve sub-meter accuracy, even when out of internet and GPS range and uses low-cost equipment. Our GNSS position system can receive corrections from the national digital infrastructure and make positioning much better,” Dr Meng adds. 

Trusting the accuracy and capabilities of self-driving technologies

Using a ‘state of the art’ immersive driving simulator run by the Human Factors research group at the University, the project also tested what might be causing barriers for people to trust driverless vehicles. Another particularly important contribution from the Human Factors research was to understand the way in which future users of driverless taxis could interact with their occupants.  

Professor Gary Burnett, Chair in Transport Human Factors, Faculty of Engineering, University of Nottingham, said: “The success of self-aware cars is very much dependent on public acceptance of how capable and accurate machines are at taking over the driving, observation and thinking tasks of human drivers. Our findings intend to demonstrate ways the automotive industry can foster trust in connected and self-driving technologies to boost adoption rates.” 

Carl Howarth, Head of Software and Solutions, Intercept IP, said: “This is still a very nascent industry, and in order for it to be successful it’s vital that we work together across industry and academia to research, develop and implement a common framework for all connected and autonomous vehicles. We’re delighted to have genuinely furthered this goal with the i-Motors project, and look forward to continuing our work in this area.” 

The next steps

While i-Motors has yielded the first-generation prototype sensor which is now being commercialised by Control F1 (part of the Intercept IP Group), the research is sequential and ongoing for the research team at Nottingham, which is now sponsored by the Innovate UK RECAPD project to further advance the sensor technology. 

The Nottingham Geospatial Institute has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Chang’an Group for a long-term collaboration on autonomous vehicle development. Meanwhile the Human Factors expertise in natural language interfaces has led to new project with the autonomous driving research team at a major vehicle manufacturer. 

*i-Motors is a £1.7m project jointly funded by government and industry. The government’s £100m Intelligent Mobility fund is administered by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and delivered by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. 

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Notes to editors: 

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Associate Professor Xiaolin Meng in the Nottingham Geospatial Institute, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 3466029,; or Professor Gary Burnett, Human Factors Research Group, on +44 (0)115 9514030, 

Emma Lowry - Media Relations Manager

Email:  Phone: +44 (0)115 846 7156  Location: University Park

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