Technology and automotive industry players have established a cross-industry partnership to drive the development of automated driving.

The Autonomous is a global community that has been set up to help shape the future of safe autonomous mobility. Initiated by TTTech Auto, it is intended to be an open platform that looks to bring the chief executives and experts of the autonomous mobility ecosystem together to align on relevant safety subjects.

“Our goal is to generate new knowledge and technological solutions in the field of autonomous mobility,” explains Philip Scheiner, Head of The Autonomous. “To that end we’ve brought together some of the industry’s leading players and technologists.”

Partners and leaders include Arm, Audi together with CARIAD – the automotive software company of VW group, BASELABS, CoreAVI, DENSO, Five, the German Fraunhofer IESE, NXP, the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology and TTTech Auto.

“Working together under the umbrella of ‘The Autonomous’, our members and our first Working Group are looking to delivering a safe system architecture for self-driving vehicles,” adds Scheiner.

“It’s an expensive and challenging market, one that is very disruptive,” Scheiner continues. “Anyone who has worked in this kind of environment will understand the pressures and challenges that brings. Add in electrification and they become even greater.”

For many companies, the scale and complexity of autonomous vehicle development has been off-putting and a number have quit the market or refocused their efforts but, according to Scheiner, while that may be the case the ambitions around autonomous vehicles have not slowed down.

“I think the process is actually accelerating, and what we’re seeing are companies combining their work on autonomous vehicles with electrification.”

When it comes to regulations governing the development of autonomous vehicles, 2020 saw a draft law on autonomous driving that could make Germany the first country in the world with legislation for fully driverless vehicles (SAE Level 4).

"This could have a lasting impact on the future of autonomous driving and could give car manufacturers the legal certainty they need for next-generation autonomous vehicles," suggests Scheiner.

“We are seeing an acceleration in terms of the development of regulations. We’re not there yet, and things do need to speed up, but it’s going in the right direction”

When it comes to electrification and autonomous vehicles there is certainly a degree of convergence between the two.

“There’s no trade-off between the two, both tend to support one another. But that brings with it additional challenges – both technical and economic. That’s why The Autonomous was set up. To bring the industry together, to foster collaboration and to start addressing some of the issues, in this case safety, and create the necessary standards.”

The Autonomous was initiated in 2019 with its focus purely on safety critical issues.

“When it comes to safety, you’re looking at safety and software architectures and safety and artificial intelligence, for example,” says Scheiner.

According to Georg Kopetz, CEO TTTech Auto, one of the founding companies of The Autonomy, “When it comes to autonomous driving, we talk about hundreds of thousands of lines of code. It’s a complex technology and we’re also having to deal with the transition to the software-defined car. We need to ensure that upcoming ADAS and Autonomous driving functions are as safe as possible.

“When it comes to safety, it will come down to an ecosystem of three areas. Tech experts are needed who produce the necessary chips and manage data, car experts who contribute automotive experience and experts from the world of safety.

“Disruptors bring in extensive technology and software knowledge and develop the necessary computing architecture for level 4 right from the start. Established automobile car manufacturers have the knowledge and practical mass development experience for advanced assistance systems that are now on the threshold of level 3 and 4.

“Safety experts ensure that the systems do not crash and that if errors occur, there is no risk of a complete system failure."

“Our aim was to create an open platform to address these issues and the feedback at our first meetings with the industry were overwhelmingly positive,” says Scheiner. “There was a sense that we needed to collaborate and do so in a holistic way that brought OEMs together with regulators, technologists, government and academia.”

The Autonomous has put in place two strategic streams, one an Event Stream that facilitates discussion and networking and an Innovation Stream that works towards global reference solutions for safety challenges.

These reference solutions conform to relevant standards and will facilitate the adoption of safe autonomous mobility on a global scale. As part of the Innovation Stream, The Autonomous has launched Working Groups in order to bring about the co-creation of recommended practices and concrete developments.

“This cross-industry collaboration marks the starting point for a change of mindset in the industry and for further partnerships that will help overcome major hurdles of the prevailing competition,” explains Ricky Hudi, Chairman of The Autonomous. “A pre-competitive environment is necessary to develop safe technology beyond borders. By this, we create the basis for sustainable customer trust including best practices and cross-industry standards.”

Rising R&D costs

According to research from PWC, car manufacturers’ R&D costs have increased significantly due to the rise of electric, connected and autonomous vehicle development.

In the USA and Asia, for example, R&D spending rose by a third (to €13bn and €28bn respectively), while in Europe it has increased by 75 percent to €42bn over the past decade.

But increasing costs are not the only challenge for companies within the automated driving sector.

“Product liability, emerging technological best practices and increasing technical complexity all demand know-how in various fields to solve remaining safety problems,” explains Scheiner. “To overcome these challenges, collaboration can better develop recommendations, specifications and best practices.”

Upcoming safe system architectures for self-driving vehicles will include subsystems that connect to sensors and actuators as well as fault-containment units to ensure the safe automated operation of the overall vehicle and the resulting vehicle architecture will represent a reference solution for all participating members.

“It’ll be a first step and may become of use for other companies and regions,” suggests Scheiner.

Research and its findings will be published as technical reports and these will be used to support knowledge transfer and give concrete guidance to the automotive industry for the series production of safe autonomous vehicles.

Liaison and alignment with standard bodies will also ensure that the outcomes from The Autonomy’s Working Groups will complement safety-related industry standards.

Commenting Dipti Vachani, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Automotive and IoT Line of Business at Arm, says, “Safety technology is paramount for autonomous vehicles, and the massive societal value they will bring, to succeed. Collaborative initiatives like The Autonomous will help to accelerate the development and deployment of safe autonomous vehicles.”

“The development and rollout of new Automated Driving Systems (ADS) – particularly SAE Level 4 – is the greatest engineering challenge of the modern era,” adds Iain Whiteside, Director of Safety Assurance at Five. “Despite the industry's embrace of advanced technologies to seek and find fragilities in ADS, the difficulty of demonstrating the safety of ADS through practical and rigorous assurance methodologies remains a major obstacle. Cross-industry collaboration provides us with the opportunity to dramatically impact the speed of maturity of ADS and deliver what is an exciting revolution.”

Autonomous mobility and electrification are key issues for the industry and for the wider economy too, and those who are involved will need to deliver on the twin issues of safety and dependability – both of which remain major challenges.