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Oxbotica and TRL pilot safety framework for off-road autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicle technology companies develop code of practice to deploy autonomy safely, efficiently and at scale across a range of environments, in particular off-road settings such as mines, farms and ports where there are no pre-defined or standardised highway rules

Publicity outlining the potential of autonomous vehicles is probably now matched by shock stories of a driverless wild west. To bring structure to the nascent industry, Oxbotica and TRL have unveiled a code of practice for the safe and cost-effective deployment of autonomous vehicles in unstructured off-highway environments.

The two companies were funded by Innovate UK to develop and demonstrate capabilities to adapt and retrofit autonomy to any vehicle using low-cost sensors, as well as drafting the code which will set out to identify the key elements for safe and efficient deployment of autonomous vehicles in off-road industries.

Envisaged typical off-road environments include mines, quarries, farms, refineries, warehouses, ports and airports, which feature more varied hazards and less structured scenarios than on-road settings, with no universal highway rules such as speed limits or junction etiquette.

Off-road vehicles also have to interact with a wide variety of unpredictable objects in their environment, either because they block the vehicle’s path, such as undergrowth or tree branches, or because engaging with them is part of the vehicle’s primary function, such as harvesting or excavating.

A Ford Ranger in a UK quarry retrofitted with Oxbotica’s autonomy software platform and fitted with a full suite of sensors, including LiDAR, RADAR and stereo cameras

A code of practice is seen as a way to help standardise across industries and allows learnings from each domain to be shared. With autonomous vehicles commonplace in many of these industries, working to deliver safety, efficiency and productivity, the code of practice will help organisations transition to new working practices and harness the potential benefits with no impact on safety.

To demonstrate the code of practice and highlight its potential to work across a range of vehicles and industries, Oxbotica and TRL deployed in a UK quarry in April 2021 a Ford Ranger and Range Rover Evoque, retrofitted with Oxbotica’s autonomy software platform. The vehicles were fitted with a full suite of sensors, including LiDAR, RADAR, and stereo cameras.

Oxbotica’s technology transitions between sensors to operate across multiple domains and environments. The software is capable of using sensors independently or fused in any combination, allowing vehicles to drive with or without maps, depending on what is available at any given time.

“To harness the true power of [autonomous] technology, operational regulations need to be developed in unison to ensure safe and efficient deployment”
Ben Upcroft, Oxbotica

“Our autonomy software platform is capable of being integrated with any vehicle, in any environment,” claimed Oxbotica’s vice-president of technology, Ben Upcroft.

“To harness the true power of this technology, operational regulations need to be developed in unison to ensure safe and efficient deployment. Consortiums such as this are a key stepping stone in ensuring the safe operation of autonomous vehicles in complex scenarios, and enabling the scale-up to full commercial deployment in industry settings,” he said.

Ianto Guy, project lead at transport consultancy and research service TRL, added: “This code of practice seeks to provide high-level guidance to organisations, in all sectors of the off-highway industry, on the ways in which working practices should be adapted to ensure that the adoption of autonomy is as smooth and safe as possible.

“The aim is that this code will support safe practice, build public confidence and encourage cooperation between organisations across all industries employing off-highway autonomous vehicles. It is hoped that off-highway industries will use this code of practice as a starting point for discussion and build on the recommendations made here to develop comprehensive best practice guidelines.”

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