Engineering Automated Driving Systems for Safety

Modern autonomous vehicle designs benefit from safety-critical electronics built on proven, trusted military and aerospace systems engineering standards and practices.

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) of all types—including self-driving cars on city streets, trucks on military bases and the open road, and various unmanned platforms on land, at sea, and in air—are poised to transform transportation. The automotive market is on the cusp of significant change, enabled by innovative automated driving system (ADS) technologies; yet, widespread deployment hinges almost entirely on safety.

A single ADS mishap can have far-reaching implications, adversely affecting the acceptance and adoption of autonomous vehicles worldwide. Destruction of property and loss of life caused by any manner of ADS failure will not be tolerated, by the public, regulatory bodies, transportation officials, or lawmakers—all of whom seek assurances from automotive manufacturers that the vehicles, including all essential systems, can be trusted to perform reliably no matter what they might encounter on the road.

Figure 1: Automated Driving System technologies must work in environments from highways to city streets to the roughest back roads in all kinds of weather, a strong argument for relying on computer and electronics systems developed and designed for ruggedness.

Predictable, repeatable performance over time is integral to safety, which in turn builds trust. A single unfortunate event could slow, set back, or even bring an abrupt end to the advancement, adoption, and acceptance of autonomous driving systems and threaten the entire global autonomous vehicle industry. Automated driving system failures are not an option and must be avoided, through the use of systems specifically designed to be durable, offer high availability, and perform reliably in various operational environments throughout their life cycles.

Best Practices and Guidance
Transportation safety experts are encouraging autonomous vehicle and automated driving system manufacturers to benefit from lessons learned in the military and aerospace market. Best practices include the adoption of industry standards and systems engineering practices successfully employed for decades in aerospace and defense programs, according to the latest guidance from both the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

DoT officials issued Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety, voluntary guidance that encourages best practices and prioritizes safety to help pave the way for the safe deployment of advanced driver assistance technologies. In it, officials encourage technology companies working on ADS to adopt guidance, best practices, design principles, and standards from industries such as aviation, space, and the military.

Military and aerospace vehicles and vehicle-based electronics are renowned the world over for being built to work reliably, without fail, over a long operational life in even the most challenging applications, rough terrains, and extreme environments. For example, the military continues to rely upon the Boeing B-52 Bomber military aircraft, currently in its sixth decade of service and expected to serve through 2045, while NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is still receiving commands and communicating data, more than 40 years into its mission, from the harsh, radiation-rich environment of space.

Operational Environment
Transportation safety specialists also stress the importance of designing and validating ADS specifically for the entire operational design domain, defined as the specific environments in which the automated system is designed to operate, including roadway types, speed range, and environmental conditions, such as weather.

Military and aerospace organizations, including the Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA, learned decades ago that traditional computer and electronics systems would soon become ineffective, work only sporadically, or completely fail to function in the field. Consumer- and enterprise-level systems are largely designed to operate in climate-controlled, protected office environments and, when deployed in the field, typically cannot withstand and will succumb to various environmental elements, such as: shock and vibration, drops, hot and cold temperature extremes, dust and dirt, water and humidity, and snow and ice.

These and other environmental factors threaten computer and electronics reliability, which is inextricably linked to safety. Mission- and safety-critical projects, therefore, require computer and electronics systems to be protected from the elements. The most effective, efficient, and economical way to ensure high reliability, particularly for ADS expected to function daily on everything from highways to city streets to the roughest back roads in all kinds of weather, arguably is: to use computer and electronics systems that are built rugged from design and development, through meticulous manufacturing and testing, to deployment in modern autonomous vehicles of all types in various locales.

Autonomous Innovations
Today’s savvy automotive and automated driving system manufacturers recognize the value that long-time, trusted military and aerospace suppliers bring to the AV market, including: field-tested and proven technologies, standards and requirements compliance, experience, and expertise. Many are, therefore, proactively seeking out and partnering with technology companies that have extensive experience delivering rugged computer and electronics systems designed to meet strict industry standards and operational requirements and built to last in a variety of demanding applications and challenging environments.

Technology leader Intel Corporation partnered with Iowa-based Crystal Group Inc.—designer/manufacturer of rugged computer hardware, member of the Intel Internet of Things (IoT) Solutions Alliance, and award-winning Intel Technology Platinum Provider—to design, develop, manufacture, and test a robust, rugged, and reliable high-performance computer crafted specifically to speed time to market of autonomous vehicles and automated driving systems. Crystal Group’s technical staff applied decades of experience engineering systems to meet strict military small size, weight, and power (SWaP) requirements to pack the processing power and data storage capacity of a high-end server in a 3U high-performance embedded computer (HPEC) while reducing power consumption and limiting system temperature rise.

That award-winning AV computer designed in close collaboration with Intel formed the basis of the new Crystal Group Rugged Autonomous Computer Equipment (RACE™) line that is helping to accelerate AV and ADS development, testing, and deployment to bring innovations to market faster. The Crystal Group RACE0161 Rugged Server provides automaker OEMs with compute power, data-handling and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, and data storage capacity in a compact, rugged solution capable of withstanding harsh environmental conditions, including potholes, washboard roads, temperature extremes, and collisions that are likely to cause traditional systems to fail.

Specifically designed for unmanned and autonomous driving vehicles, the Crystal Group RACE0161 provides the horsepower AV and ADS projects need with dual Intel® Xeon® Scalable Processors (Skylake) to deliver a unique, turnkey AV/ADS computer with industry-leading compute and IoT capabilities. The rugged server combines robust I/O, multiple GPU capacity, dual Intel Xeon CPUs, sophisticated thermal management, and other high-quality components stabilized in a rugged, aluminum enclosure measuring just 6.5 x 14.1 x 15.6 inches and weighing 30 to 40 pounds. Providing superior performance per watt, the high-performance server can operate off a 12-volt (12V) car battery without the need for AC/DC power conversion and does not require costly and time-consuming power modifications to convert 12V power systems to existing 24V power systems.

Crystal Group’s RACE product line, including the RACE0161 and vehicle-specific development kits, is designed to deliver speed, agility, and quality in a single, turnkey package, helping AV and ADS manufacturers take advantage of the latest technology advances while speeding the pace of development. Crystal Group’s RACE0161 is garnering global industry attention for its potential to put AV and ADS projects on the fast track by speeding time to market, ahead of competitors, with the added confidence that comes with a military-grade, rugged, reliable solution.

High Reliability for Safety
“From reducing crash-related deaths and injuries, to improving access to transportation, to reducing traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, automated vehicles hold significant potential to increase productivity and improve the quality of life for millions of people,” A Vision for Safety 2.0 explains. Motor vehicle-related crashes on U.S. highways claimed 37,461 lives in 2016, DoT research indicates, noting that 94 percent of serious crashes are due to dangerous choices or errors people make behind the wheel.

“Technology can save lives,” transportation safety officials affirm, with the help of highly reliable, fail-safe automated driving systems tailored to fit the application and the environment. “Thanks to a convergence of technological advances,” A Vision for Safety 2.0 reads, “the promise of safer automated driving systems is closer to becoming a reality.”

Self-driving cars bring the promise of greater energy conservation, lower emissions, added convenience, and roads that are both safer and less congested. To fully realize this vision, automotive manufacturers and autonomous vehicle makers are opting to benefit from established standards and lessons learned in mission- and safety-critical military and aerospace programs. Through collaboration with experienced, trusted industry partners with proven, field-tested, military-grade products, services, and technologies manufacturers of autonomous vehicles and automated driving systems can bring their innovations to market faster. And with the added confidence that comes with rugged, reliable systems built to last in even the most extreme environments.

Chip Thurston is Chief Architect & Technical Director Crystal Group Inc. Thurston joined Crystal Group in late 2000, holding various leadership roles in engineering. Thurston pioneered advanced rugged technology for many major computing systems that are currently being used by NASA, Intel®, U.S. Armed Forces, and major automotive manufacturers. A native of Cedar Falls, Iowa, Thurston holds an AA in MIS/CIS and a BA in Business Management.


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