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Improbable's SpatialOS platform to co-ordinate autonomous vehicles


Google autonomous car
Google autonomous car

Collaborative project will enable developers to build ‘massive, detailed simulations’

Transport Systems Catapult spin-out Immense Simulations and London software start-up Improbable will begin a collaborative research and development project to create a new solution for the coordination of autonomous vehicle fleets.

Immense Simulations will develop ‘tools for autonomous logistics operations and management’ building on Improbable’s innovative SpatialOS distributed simulation platform. SpatialOS is a new operating system that enables developers to build massive, detailed simulations running on thousands of machines in the cloud.

The project team seek to build on existing research in cooperative routing, fleet operations, predictive vehicle health management and real time traffic management. By combining the latest thinking in this field with Improbable’s SpatialOS developer platform, the hope is that fleet operators will be able to optimise the operation of autonomous fleets at city-wide scale, for the first time.

Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) chief executive Steve Yianni said: “Fleet operations and logistics planning is a well-established element of the value chain for fleets of vehicles. It is expected that autonomous vehicles will have a huge impact in this area, and that this project will help the industry prepare for this eventuality by developing solutions for operating fleets of autonomous vehicles. Transport Systems Catapult spin-out ‘Immense Simulations’ is designed to meet the needs of this project”

The collaborative research and development project team also includes Cubic Transportation Systems, a leading integrator of payment and information technology and services for transportation authorities and operators. The research work will be performed at the Cubic Innovation Centre in London and in Transport Systems Catapult Milton Keynes office.

“Research in autonomous vehicles has so far centred on the technical problem of removing drivers. This ambitious project will fill a much needed gap: how we then optimise these vehicles on a huge scale to ensure they fulfil the promise of greater efficiency,” said Herman Narula, chief executive of Improbable. “Equally, little effort has been made in understanding the indirect consequences of introducing the autonomous vehicles. The ability to simulate the potential effects of these fleets will be invaluable to the industry. 

The powerful simulation will include thousands, or even millions, of ‘entities’ simulated in real-time, which Narula said has previously been hindered by the inability of developers to integrate and scale existing models easily, or to run them at massive scale or in real time.

“Our platform, SpatialOS, solves these problems. We are excited by the ambition of this project and look forward to seeing how SpatialOS will enable a new tool for the transport industry,” added Narula.

The OECD has predicted that the autonomous vehicles fleet will deliver the same mobility with 70% fewer vehicles, but that they will drive further than the current fleet. It is through fleet optimisation, then, that the opportunity arises to ensure that autonomous vehicles have a positive impact on pollution and congestion, as well as creating significant savings for fleet operators.

Meanwhile, a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) has called for urgent government and industry action to encourage the greater use of autonomous and driverless cars. The report highlighted that the economic benefits of the technology could be as much as £51 billion a year due to fewer accidents, improved productivity and increased trade.

Philippa Oldham, head of transport at the IMechE and lead of the report, said: “We need to urgently resolve legislative, technological and insurance issues to help encourage the rollout of autonomous or driverless vehicles.

“There needs to be much more action from government to help integrate driverless vehicles into the current UK transport network.  This will include updates and standardisation to road signage and road markings to enable these driverless vehicles to operate in the safest way possible.”

Oldham added: “There is also a role for the car dealerships and vehicle manufacturers as they will need to clarify how they will provide the greater level of after-sales care, technical updates and upgrades that will be required to ensure the safe introduction of these vehicles on our roads.”






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