New Proving-Ground Tools Needed to Manage AV Testing

AB Dynamics Ground Traffic Control is designed to make mixed AV/conventional vehicle track testing safer and more efficient via comprehensive control co-ordination.

When the AB Dynamics GTC system is in use, all vehicles on the proving ground can connect to the server. (ABD)

According to Dr. Richard Simpson, principal systems engineer at test systems’ supplier AB Dynamics, a universal command and control system for test-track operators is vital to manage the more complex scenarios of facilities populated with automated vehicles (AVs), robot-controlled platforms and human-driven vehicles. “With AV development growing at such a rate and new test scenarios incorporating increasing numbers of vehicles and interactions with road furniture,” Simpson explained, “a more comprehensive approach to control is required to improve testing efficiency.”

According to ABD’s Dr. Richard Simpson, pictured, “We have noticed a significant increase in the volume of track testing on a proving ground with scenarios becoming increasingly complex and time consuming due to advances in vehicle technology, such as AVs.” (ABD)

Despite advances in AV simulation, physical track testing remains an essential activity, both to develop the simulation models and validate the results. This introduces significant challenges on the track because of the potential complexity of vehicle interactions during development. To help meet that need, AB Dynamics has developed its Ground Traffic Control (GTC), a safety system that coordinates test vehicles and ADAS platforms.

Unlike traditional ADAS testing, where the vehicle under test interacts with a single target vehicle or object, track testing of AVs involves interaction with various vehicles, street furniture and other simulated road users. “With our GTC system we aim to achieve this, the product being able to monitor, command and co-ordinate all proving ground traffic,” Simpson said. “The system comprises a centralized real-time server that communicates with the vehicles and any motorized platforms such as GSTs (Guided Soft Targets), and a new software interface that provides monitoring, command and control functionality.”

System setup is made as easy as possible with vehicles automatically connecting to the GTC server on power-up. Significantly, the GTC server incorporates what Simpson describes as an advanced collision detection and prevention system that monitors all vehicles using their GPS positioning data. If a potential collision is detected, the server can command the robot-driven driverless vehicles to brake and avoid the impact, helping maintain a testing program’s often challenging schedule during a scenario reset.

The GTC system has been designed to manage proving-ground traffic including multiple robot-controled vehicles together with ADAS platforms, human-driven vehicles plus fixed infrastructure. (ABD)

“The collision-prevention system will even work for AB Dynamics’ robot-driven vehicles with a human operator behind the wheel when they are active and configured to do so. For purely human-driven vehicles, an in-vehicle audio/visual alert will warn the driver of a potential collision. Coordinating a fleet of objects such as the GSTs, LaunchPads (pilotable platforms designed to carry Vulnerable Road User [VRU] targets for ADAS development and testing), robot-controlled vehicles, and static objects such as traffic lights into a scenario for a test AV is extremely challenging,” Simpson said.

Providing central control point

The GTC system helps to improve testing efficiency by providing a central point of control and allowing multiple test engineers to work together on the same scenario. The collision-prevention system also aids efficiency and safety by allowing quick transitions from one test to the next with the possibility of accidents significantly reduced. The GTC software is a Microsoft Windows 10 application to provide a flexible interface through which the user can monitor and control the vehicles on a proving ground. It supports multi-workstation and multi-screen configurations enabling multiple operators to connect to the network simultaneously.

A customizable screen layout can be tailored as required by the GTC operator. Use of multiple PC screens provides testing visualization for single or multiple test-track operations. (ABD)

It also provides live links to maps for monitoring vehicle positions and paths. For remote working, map tile data can be cached for offline use. Customized map tiles and existing robot co-ordinate system image maps can be overlaid when working completely offline or when the proving ground is not yet visible from the built-in map providers. A virtual dashboard can display live vehicle data via an intuitive panel to provide feedback to the operator on the vehicle’s performance.

The GTC system is not only useful for AV and ADAS testing but also can be used for other track testing purposes such as driverless durability testing or vehicle dynamics testing to allow monitoring and control of the proving ground. “For a proving ground to operate with maximum safety and reliability, the GTC Server provides a real-time link between all vehicles on the track and the control and monitoring software at the base station,” Simpson stated. “The server establishes a continuous communications link throughout the testing day for command and monitoring purposes.”

Monitoring proving-ground traffic

The system includes a Viewer Mode that allows read-only access for monitoring vehicles, paths, position and motion data. It provides a facility for supervisors, track security and track emergency services to monitor proving-ground traffic without interrupting the vehicle testing. “We have noticed a significant increase in the volume of track testing with scenarios becoming increasingly complex due to advances in vehicle technology. Automation is helping these testing programs with the use of driving robots and target platforms, but without a centralized control system, efficient and safe coordination of the test traffic would be very difficult.”

Supporting rapidly evolving technology dictates an adaptable approach which can adjust to changes in customers’ needs. “Customizable software and hardware are essential in allowing users to future-proof their testing requirements and efficiently manage all the potential combinations of on-track vehicles and infrastructure,” Simpson added. The GTC system has been designed to help support swarm testing, sim-city environments, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communications, mixed driver and driverless vehicle testing and proving ground management.