Described as one of the top ten companies to watch by the Wall Street Journal in 2015 Oxa, then known as Oxbotica, the Oxford-based company specialising in developing autonomous vehicle software has, over the past eight years, become the first company in the UK to test self-drive vehicles on public roads; led the UK’s first multi-city autonomous vehicle demo, Project Endeavour, and was responsible for Europe’s first zero-occupancy autonomous vehicle journey on a publicly-accessible road.
“Oxa is about delivering Universal Autonomy, which is the ability of any vehicle, of any size, in any place to operate autonomously, safely and sustainably,” said Andreas Mavroudis, Oxa’s Commercial Development Director.
“It’s a technology that is impacting many different industries today and will help to reshape the towns, cities and businesses of tomorrow.”
Earlier this year Oxa announced a new strategic collaboration with Google Cloud that will help accelerate the deployment of its autonomous software platform and it combines Google Cloud’s cloud infrastructure with Oxa’s software to create scalable, safe, and reliable autonomous driving solutions for any business with transportation in its value chain – whether that’s logistics, agriculture, light industry, and public transport.
Google Cloud products – whether compute, storage, networking, or data and analytics products like Vertex AI – will be used by Oxa to help in the development, testing and validation of its self-driving technology. It will also be able use Google Cloud’s cyber-security technologies to ensure its autonomous mobility technology is secure.
“At the moment we’re developing systems that can be applied across multiple vehicle platforms. But it’s not simply about autonomy per se, but autonomy with a purpose, that’s valuable not only to our direct customers but for end users too – whether that’s in terms of safety or efficiency,” Mavroudis explains.
“And we’re talking about real-world applications of our technology whether that’s passenger shuttles operating 24/7 on fixed routes in cities, or in dangerous mining environments.”
Oxa’s products look to deliver autonomy and include the Oxa Driver, which is a low-energy, high-performance suite of interoperable on-vehicle software modules that can work with any sensor, vehicle or platform, and which integrates AV functionality, including device drivers, mapping, obstacle detection, sensor perception, and prediction; the Oxa Cloud and the Oxa MetaDriver.
“My focus is on MetaDriver,” explains Mavroudis. ”This is our software solution for the verification of autonomous vehicles and is used by customers to ensure safe and accurate AV functionality.”
The platform uses AI and onboard data to synthesise simulated scenarios with real-world driving miles and can validate a customer’s environment without driving an actual vehicle in it – in most cases.
“What the means is that if you have a case in mind, a shuttle service or a specific route associated with an industrial operation, we can build a digital twin and map that journey in simulation to detect any serious adversarial scenarios within that journey. We’re able to replace real world driving and the thousands of years of manual work that would be required without this software to adapt vehicle behaviours and deliver a safer and more efficient route.”
Oxa will now be able to use Google Cloud to generate digital twins in MetaDriver and enable it to apply its proprietary generative AI tools to its extensive bank of virtual scenarios, including unusual edge cases that are often economically, environmentally or physically impractical to discover in conventional testing.
“Users can use MetaDriver to create a full, 24-hour, day-and-night cycle of sensor data, along with seasonal and extreme weather conditions, from one single data capture run.”
By tapping into the scalability of the Cloud, Oxa will be able to accelerate the analysis and processing of large datasets to learn across different use cases.
“This will speed up time-to-insights and allow for more testing and experimentation, which in turn will help improve the safety of the technology,” Mavroudis added.
“In terms of the debate around autonomy, there is a need for greater realism,” believes Mavroudis. “Our promises need to be based on research and development and real-world needs. There has to be a business case that’s not attached to a ‘future fantasy’.
“At the heart of what we are doing is developing value and providing sustainable solutions that are of value to end users and deploying companies.
“Take mass transit systems. Improvements to infrastructure are expensive but if we can provide multiple shuttles, with more than one person using a vehicle, that would be a significant and economic benefit and would deliver a sustainable business model.”
According to Mavroudis, Oxa’s software platform has been developed so that it can simply be plugged in and used across multiple scenarios.
“While sustainable development is at the heart of our work here at Oxa at the end of the day it’s also about collaboration. Hardware and software developers need to work alongside insurers, regulators and city planners if we are to deliver full autonomy. All of those elements need to be brought together because what we are undertaking is a massive change to the existing infrastructure.”
Artificial Intelligence has an increasingly important role in the development of Universal Autonomy and Oxa will certainly benefit from its agreement with Google Cloud, mentioned earlier.
As Mavroudis explains, “Using AI to learn from an incident from a test route has a massive impact on development. From that one incident AI can create thousands of variations and, in turn, it can learn and expand on variables from those incidents. Finding those edge cases is what AI is helping deliver and makes it a really exciting component to watch in the evolution of autonomy.
“We also work closely with third party suppliers of hardware like sensors and LiDAR; there’s a whole eco-system that needs to come together to ensure that AI is able to work correctly and as it learns more so it will become more automated and efficient.”
In terms of collaboration, earlier this year, Oxa, announced a partnership with Goggo Network, a specialist in autonomous vehicles in last and middle-mile logistics, to drive the development of autonomous mobility and logistics in Europe.
Oxa’s autonomous driving systems will be introduced into Goggo’s middle and last mile delivery operations in its key industries, including FMCG, shipping, groceries and food delivery, and will see Goggo deploying Oxbotica’s autonomy software with key partners including the likes of Carrefour, Día and Telepizza.
In another example of collaboration, Oxa is working with NEVS to develop a fleet of self-driving, all-electric vehicles to be deployed on public roads by the end of 2023, which could revolutionise urban mobility and reduce carbon emissions.
Oxa will integrate its Driver autonomy system with NEVS’ ‘Sango’ vehicle and an initial fleet will be deployed on geo-fenced public roads in 2023, followed by multiple projects in Europe in 2024.
And last year the company, working with the all-electric AppliedEV vehicle, with no on-board driver, demonstrated the possibility of commercialising AV technology here in the UK with the target being the first public on-road business deployment of the technology with the Ocado Group, with a goods delivery variant delivering customer orders available later this year.
“When you bring autonomy to the table it really does spark creative innovation. You start to see how it can be used to improve processes or make deliveries more efficient, and it can create much safer environments,” suggests Mavroudis.
“Every time we talk internally or engage with our clients there’s an exciting and innovative element that often leads to the development of new applications. It’s not just about taking our software platform and using it but rather refining, improving and inventing new solutions and delivering transformational capabilities that ensure commercial and economic benefits, as well as helping organisations and businesses meet their targets for carbon reductions.”