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Releasing the potential of autonomous systems for the benefit of the UK
The deployment of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) is accelerating. This presents an opportunity to perform complex tasks better and faster than currently possible, and deliver significant potential benefits. Ensuring public confidence in these emerging autonomous systems will be key to the speed of their exploitation and the delivery of benefits.
NPL is helping to address the challenge of how to assure the reliability and safety of autonomous systems. We are establishing a national measurement infrastructure to support reliable development, testing, validation and certification. This is part of a highly collaborative programme of activities involving government, academic, regulatory and commercial stakeholders and is focused on the following themes:
Traditional approaches used to certify vehicles/vessels/aircraft as safe are not sufficient to assure the technology which is supporting or replacing the human driver/navigator/pilot - the autonomous system. We need new technologies and approaches to be developed, so NPL provides scientific and measurement capabilities to address the following challenges:
Sensor modelling is an important aspect of developing and testing automated vehicles. This document describes a standardised framework for the practice of developing such models. We describe a general approach and illustrate it with examples for different sensors and sensor models.
Camera and Lidar are important sensors in the automated vehicle sensing stack. In order to ensure safety of automated vehicles we need to understand the working of these sensors and verify their functioning in different edge cases so we can understand their characteristics in the operational design domain (ODD). In this study we will demonstrate how to apply the sensor modelling framework to model the functioning of these sensors.
Air traffic management systems of the future will need to seamlessly manage the increase in traffic volume, density, diversity of airspace users and the demand for fully integrated, non-segregated airspace. These more complex air traffic conditions require solutions, supported by an appropriate regulatory framework, that will maintain a safe separation between aircrafts, identify and resolve potential conflicts dynamically and optimise routes. This mission is safety critical and may eventually move beyond the reach of human operators. Scalable air traffic management (manned or unmanned) ultimately needs a high-level of autonomy to both run the operation and also infer and deduce the rules that aircraft should adhere to.
Requirement: to provide confidence in the management of a more integrated airspace including both manned and unmanned vehicles, including commercial airliners, drones and eVTOL aircrafts and autonomous aircrafts of various sizes.
Our approach: deploy our measurement expertise to help UK companies, authorities and regulators to develop enabling systems that could be used nationally; accelerating commercialisation and supporting the UK in international regulatory developments.
Areas of focus
With the advent of ‘automated’ or ‘self-driving’ vehicles, we require entirely new types of tests for the systems which are replacing the human driver. Once critical challenge is our reliance on a range of sensors for safety critical applications in connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV). How these sensors perform and where they might fail must be clearly understood; failure to do so may lead to serious safety issues.
The weather is a dominant and particularly complex aspect of the changing conditions that may affect sensors. There is an opportunity for the UK to build and demonstrate leadership in this area to regulators and CAV developers around the world.
Testing in virtual simulation environments will be a vital component - and the only practical approach - for testing the range of complex scenarios that inform the safety of an AV (autonomous vehicles). It is important that virtual test environments should reliably and accurately emulate both the different physical environments the AV will encounter and also how its sensors perform in these different environments. This requires standardised metrics for measuring sensor performance and for defining environmental conditions or 3rd party objects/agents which would be encountered in the virtual simulation.
NPL has been collaborating with the Met Office on a research project on behalf of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) to specify a usable and reliable framework for understanding how well sensors perform in different weather-related conditions. When fully developed, this Framework will support validation, safety assurance and simulation testing of CAV, across the UK.
Read the full Proof of concept report
Read the Sensor performance study produced in partnership with Connected Places
Autonomous maritime platforms and vessels will require new approaches to testing and measuring performance, beyond what is currently possible. These will allow the appropriate evidence for Safety of (Autonomous) Navigation to be generated and enable the required classification of these vessels and the technology to be commercially exploited.
NPL has teamed up with Lloyd's Register (LR) on marine autonomy projects to ensure that appropriate levels of service and competence can be achieved within the maritime industry. As part of the framework agreement, the two organisations are establishing and enhancing the current body of knowledge for marine autonomy. This combination of skills, expertise and experience is bringing clarity to the requirements for the assurance of autonomy and assisting allied stakeholders in realising the potential of these systems in the market. It will allow standards to be set and consistently applied, and will therefore bring surety to risk management and certification for autonomous and unmanned systems and vessels.
Read more about the collaboration between NPL and Lloyds Register
Our researchers are at the forefront of new innovations that promise to deliver new solutions to Digital challenges. We play a vital role in providing the standards and assurance to provide confidence in new products and providing reliable data. Learn more about our research areas and working with our experts.
If you have a research collaboration where our expertise can help, please can contact the team and discuss your challenge.
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