Southwest Safe Transport Initiative (SSTI), 10-R9648

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Principal Investigator
Steven W. Dellenback, Ph.D., PMP

Admin Contact
 Barbara Petree

Inclusive Dates:  07/24/06 – 06/30/09

Background - Technology needed to facilitate the autonomous control of cars, trucks, tractors, and military vehicles has made dramatic advances in the last few years led by defense science programs such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, DARPA Urban Challenge, and OEM car and truck industry advances in active safety systems and associated sensors. Furthermore, there is evidence that the field of autonomous ground vehicle technology is entering a rapid growth phase. For instance, the U.S. Department of Defense, along with a U.S. Congressional objective, has stated that one-third of ground combat vehicles will be unmanned by 2015. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Transportation is investing heavily in the development of communications technology needed to link the intelligent highway with the intelligent vehicle through its Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) program. The continued convergence of these industries will allow for significant advancements to be achieved in intelligent vehicles systems as the component technologies are transferred across industries and applied in new and exciting ways.

The Southwest Safe Transport Initiative (SSTI) was initiated to improve safety in urban traffic environments. SSTI is charged with developing new sensor, computing, and mobile technologies to augment vehicle platforms and provide autonomous vehicle capabilities.

Approach - SSTI is fusing the latest technology from multiple industries to meet the challenges associated with autonomous control of cars, trucks, tractors and military vehicles. Through the incorporation of technologies and design methodologies from multiple industries such as unmanned aerial systems, intelligent transportation systems, cognitive multi-agent systems, machine vision, engineering dynamics, hardware and software in-the-loop simulation, large-scale multi-function robotics, and safety and reliability systems, SwRI is developing a full-scale autonomous ground vehicle platform to be used for advanced engineering of intelligent vehicle systems and applications development.

The base vehicle, a commercially available SUV, was mechanically and electrically modified to allow for installation of perception sensors; computer platforms and support software; a communications, command and control system; a data logger; and a system health monitor. Substantial effort is being put into the identification of existing hardware systems, which would be scalable to allow for augmentation, modular enough to allow components to be removed from the system while maintaining system functionality, flexible enough to allow parallel development of different components, and reliable through the use of robust and redundant systems.

The hardware selection was based on a balance of the capabilities, size, ease of use and cost of the various existing systems. The perception system consists of sensors and software necessary to identify the environment, obstacles, terrain and internal state of the vehicle. A sophisticated Global Position System/Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS) was installed on the vehicle to allow for determination of the vehicle's location. This GPS/INS also aids with precise location information that supports route planning and vehicle control. Intelligence is implemented using hardware and software for situation awareness, knowledge representation and planning and execution. Another interface to the intelligence will be the communications hardware. Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) radios are being used for the vehicle-to-roadside communications and vehicle-to-vehicle communications to facilitate the development of advanced cooperative, multi-agent, multi-vehicle systems.

The command and control hardware interprets path information from intelligence and implements the necessary commands to move the vehicle such that the error between the planned path and the actual path is minimized. The hardware is based on a computer platform running under a true, real-time operating system. The system sends the necessary commands and receives feedback from the drive-by-wire system actuators, which control the vehicle transmission, brake, accelerator and steering.

Accomplishments - The project is currently about two-thirds of the way through the development cycle. SwRI engineers have developed a platform that can autonomously navigate obstacles, stalled vehicles, and moving vehicles and negotiate intersections following the established rules of the road. Additionally, the vehicle has communications hardware that allows it to receive information from other vehicles and the roadside to inform the vehicle of obstacles including pedestrians and vehicles in blind spots. The control algorithms developed allow the vehicle to routinely travel at speeds in excess of 50 km per hour while performing the functions necessary to navigate in urban environments.

The SSTI vehicle was demonstrated at the ITS World Congress in New York City in November 2008. The demonstration included navigating five blocks of 11th avenue in an autonomous fashion with other moving vehicles and required significant intersection negotiation.

The SSTI project has created a vehicle platform that can be used to develop and test technologies to improve the state-of-the-art in active safety systems, intelligent vehicle components and autonomous vehicles.

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