The Australian arm of technology specialist and automotive supplier Bosch has this week released a new video highlighting the features of its latest Highly Automated Driving (HAD) vehicle.
Shown to stakeholders and media, including CarAdvice, at October's Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, the Tesla Model S-based prototype is the fifth of its type revealed by Bosch - and the first to be developed in Australia.
The Bosch-developed upgrades include six radar and six LIDAR units, a stereo video camera, 13 new CAN (Controlled Area Network) computers and a further two kilometres of cabling beyond its existing Tesla-installed array.
All of this is matched to a GPS system and high-definition TomTom maps.
The project has benefited from a $1.2 million investment by the Victorian Government's Transport Accident Commission (TAC), as part of a long-term campaign aimed at dramatically reducing the road toll and Australia's $27 billion 'road safety bill'.
Speaking with CarAdvice in Melbourne, Bosch engineer Xavier Vagedes - a specialist in chassis systems control, engineering networked systems and future driver assistance - said the HAD vehicle is something of a rolling laboratory for the company's ongoing autonomous driving research and development.
"We’ve been building up the vehicle since the start of 2016, so all of the actual vehicle build-up was done here in Australia," Vagedes said.
"We started development of the Autonomous Driving in Germany and in Palo Alto. That’s been going for around five years. We’ve got a lot of great competency here at Bosch Australia, and this meant that we could look at setting up the vehicle over here, along with some expertise from around the world."
Vagedes said that while a number of new-generation cars on the road today can be considered capable of 'level two' driver assistance, Bosch's project is aimed at level three - full highway-focused hands-free driving for extended periods - and beyond.
"In our case, we have developed a level-three vehicle, and could potentially be a level-four vehicle in the future. To do so, we do not assist the driver, we need to replace the driver," he said.
"As a consequence, we need to consider all the cognitive functions of the driver. It needs to perceive the world, understand where it is at all times, and also decision making. So we go from a driver assistance problem to a robotics problem."
The prototype's six laser scanners are a relatively recent addition, replacing the spinning roof-mounted Velodyne system used on Bosch's previous cars - and a number of others in the autonomous driving arena.
"Previously we used a Velodyne lidar, which was a great sensor - we call it the 'kebab' - but that’s not very production-friendly. We replaced that with the six individual laser scanners around the vehicle, to recreate that 360-degree vision. "
Vagedes also acknowledged concerns that autonomous-driving sensors could be blinded, affecting the vehicle's ability to drive safely.
"Each sensor technology has strengths and weaknesses. If a camera is covered, it won’t see anything - it’s the same thing if you look straight into the sun. Thankfully, the radar technology doesn’t care that much about weather conditions - snow included - and so we try to combine these technologies to compensate for temporary failings in any individual component. It means we have a certain level of redundancy.
"It does need though to eventually be a system where, if it comes to an issue, it gives you the time to perform a takeover. And if you can’t take over, we must have a solution to bring you to a safe stop."
For now, the project's core focus is on highway or freeway driving, likely to be the first environment for autonomous driving to be made legal.
"The interesting thing about that is that a highway is a defined environment," Vagedes said.
"You’ve got everyone travelling the same direction, hopefully, and then you’ve got very clear lane markings and the speed range is quite defined. So the number of scenarios is quite limited when compared to an urban environment, where anything can happen.
"The challenge is that things happen very quickly, so the urban environment is very complicated in terms of interpreting the actions of all the agents around you. That’s the big challenge. As a consequence, we have two different types of challenges, and the vehicle we’ve shown in Melbourne is focused more on that highway aspect."
Like most other car makers, Bosch does not expect to have its autonomous driving technologies ready for public use anytime in the immediate future.
A number of manufacturers have pointed to the year 2020 as a target, and while Bosch has not specified a window, Vagedes said there is still much to be done.
"You've seen the system is quite polished, but, nevertheless, to get to validating that this technology will work at any time, safely… there is still quite a way to get there. We definitely need the time to get all the development of all the components to a level that is sufficient to be released to the public.
"All the information we gather, and then actually going to different types of platforms, it means guaranteeing a certain functional safety. That’s what we’re looking at right now. We will probably get to that functional level soon, but to get it to work anywhere, at any time, and to deal with all the complexities of reality… that’s the challenge."
Click through to the gallery for more images of Bosch's Highly Automated Driving prototype.