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Driverless technology with the capability to transform gridlocked and polluted cities are not being realised quickly enough. That’s according to a new, international collaboration called Project ASLAN. 

It’s identified that the high investment demands required to pursue end-to-end driverless technologies present a clear barrier to progress. The project has also launched an open-source, free and rapidly deployable self-driving software platform. 

The UK’s StreetDrone is one of the founders and lead drivers of the project. It builds the systems that allow self-driving software to safely drive cars. Its platform, called XenOS, is being used by customers to test and validate all kinds of autonomous software.

Mike Potts, CEO of StreetDrone, says “The fundamental objective of Project ASLAN is to focus the power of engineering collaboration on a very defined controlled speed urban use case to enable fast deployment of self-driving solutions. The group that has set this initiative underway welcomes new companies and individuals who share ASLAN’s ambition as the promise of autonomous vehicles has been unfulfilled for too long. Collaboration and Project ASLAN are the remedy for that shortcoming.”

Talking to Auto Futures, Potts explained that all of the founding partners have contributed to the project. StreetDrone has released software it has been working on for the past two years, as well as data from vehicle testing,

“We have fully embraced the logic that by releasing some of our work onto the platform; it will provide a foundation that can be built on, evolved and improved, so everyone benefits. That’s the fundamental promise of open-source, and it is a principle we believe in and fully support.”

Potts went on to explain what challenges Project ASLAN has been set-up to help remedy.

“The founders – who have joined the project from many different parts of the CAV ecosystem, from universities to cyber-security experts and mapping agencies – all agree that one of the most significant barriers to the progression of autonomous technology has been the cost.”

“By being open-source we are helping to remove this cost barrier, and by focusing on being easy-to-use we are enabling engineers to immediately get focused on development for our specific low-speed use case and test it quickly in simulation. The project’s overall aims in its founding charter is to reduce the cost of autonomous solutions for slow-speed application which we see the first step towards enabling driverless solutions to become commercially viable.”

Potts hopes that Project ASLAN will help solve other challenges facing the sector.

“Firstly by providing another means for engineers to access to a mature software stack we can involve many more contributors to solve the technical challenges of self-driving cars via open-source, growing the overall pool of engineers working on the problem together.

“Secondly, focusing on low-speed environments, and therefore lower-tech solutions, we can make it viable to have autonomous solutions operationally deployed far quicker than would otherwise be the case, for instance for higher-speed vehicles,” he adds.

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Covid has focused everybody’s minds on making last mile delivery more efficient by adopting autonomous solutions

Like many other industry leaders, Potts thinks that the Covid-19 pandemic will leave its mark on the mobility sector in a positive way that significantly advances the technology. But he believes the industry will refocus on the use of AV technology for city services rather than for robo-taxis or privately owned cars.

“Major cities round the world, for the first time in generations, have witnessed empty streets and resulting drops in the levels of pollution. This has been a huge prompt to re-think urban mobility and of course, AVs provide answers to both these issues – intelligent transport will be about maximising utility, reducing cost and doing all of that in a clean way, so the role of AVs has been promoted up the agenda of governments, city councils and metropolitan transit authorities everywhere.”

“The second key impact has been the huge reliance we have all made on the very last part of the supply chain – the delivery of finished products to our homes or offices. Covid has focused everybody’s minds on making last mile delivery more efficient by adopting autonomous solutions, but has also brought the benefits of contactless kerbside deliveries into sharp focus.

“It is no surprise that companies like Amazon and DHL will be a driving force in realising these possibilities as Covid has accelerated society’s transition to online consumption even faster than it was already going – and, the quicker Amazon and their counterparts can fulfil, the more resilient their online proposition becomes,” adds Potts.

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Mike Potts, Founder and MD

Shuttles And Delivery Pods

Potts strongly believes that AVs will improve the lives of urban citizens in the future. He told us that StreetDrone has ambitions to make AV technology something of the ‘here and now’ not of the future.

“There are many incremental steps between low-level ADAS in today’s cars and full level 5 autonomy. These intermediate stages can bring benefits quickly and affordably, so we believe consumers should not have to wait the ten to 15 year R&D cycle for a fully-autonomous vehicle to arrive outside their house – there are many nearer-field solutions which we believe should be focused on now.”

“Smart, low-speed delivery pods or Amazon lockers on wheels for instance could take fleets of vans off the roads. At a stroke, this would cut urban congestion and reduce pollution, make shopping from home more reliable and cost-effective, especially for commodity goods, which would in turn preserve shopping for discretionary purchases,” he adds.

“For passenger transit, small shuttles could provide an on-demand service, meaning capacity management is far more efficient, and services levels are higher because passengers get the service that they want, when they want, instead of standing in the rain at bus stops waiting for half-empty buses. The benefits serve the operators and the passengers by creating a more efficient transport solution.”

“Goods are definitely easier to scale for than passenger solutions, but all of these benefits of reduced cost, better service and cleaner air are realisable opportunities,” Potts concludes.

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