Eindhoven University of Technology: i-Cave: the future of moving forward

Self-driving vehicles hold great promise, but for ‘normal traffic’ the introduction of autonomous vehicles is still some way off. In the i-CAVE program, scientists, companies and governments joined forces five years ago to develop a vehicle that can drive autonomously on closed roads as well as cooperatively on public roads.

In the case of autonomous driving, the vehicles use information they collect themselves. If they partially or entirely obtain their information via other vehicles, then this is called cooperative driving.

“Originally, we sought a combination of cooperative and autonomous driving”, says project leader Henk Nijmeijer, professor of Dynamics and Control at the department of Mechanical Engineering. “In the case of autonomous driving, the vehicles, or more accurately the algorithms that control the vehicles, use information they collect themselves. If they partially or entirely obtain their information via other vehicles, then this is called cooperative driving. In that case, the information improves the collective behaviour, which, amongst other things, improves the traffic flow. However, this does require the vehicles to communicate with each other via a wireless connection.”

The research proposal was aimed at various aspects of autonomous and cooperative driving. Apart from safety, logistics and sensor technology, psychological and social aspects were also considered. All of these subjects were integrated later in the project.

First, the research in the area of safety. That focused not just on avoiding errors in the software or the cars’ observation system and, consequently, on preventing accidents due to these errors, says Nijmeijer. “It is also intended to increase the acceptance of cooperative and autonomous driving cars. If people feel unsafe, or if fellow road users do not trust these cars, then this will delay their introduction.”

And this is where we come up against the practical limitations. Nijmeijer: “On public roads, driving in columns, also referred to as platooning, can be done safely, but that is definitely not yet the case for autonomous driving. For the time being, that can only be done in a controlled environment, such as a test location or a parking area, and not in the centre of a town because the traffic situation there is too complex.”

The researchers tested the operation of the developed algorithms in a number of vehicles at a test site in Eindhoven. Since last year, their small Renault Twizys at the location have been capable of driving in a column with an interval of no more than 0.3 seconds and following each other in bends. By way of comparison: the Dutch government advises an interval of 2 seconds and on the busy A2 motorway that is 0.9 to 1 seconds. The Renaults follow the leading car with the help of Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control (CACC), which makes use of WiFi, radar, GPS and cameras.

COVID-19 regrettably disrupted plans for live demonstrations. The research incurred delays, and no physical meetings took place. “Fortunately, we could still carry out various tests thanks to the relentless efforts of the researchers and partners”, says Nijmeier.

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