Ricardo expertise enables driverless pods to take to the road

Ricardo expertise enables driverless pods to take to the road
02 February 2016

A team of rail and automotive experts from Ricardo have been working to support the launch of a new driverless passenger vehicle in the first trial of its kind anywhere in the world.

The WEpod is a six-seater automated vehicle that will initially operate on the campus of Wageningen University before its route is gradually extended to Ede-Wageningen rail station, approximately 6km away in the nearby town of Ede.

Whilst existing driverless technologies operate along closed networks or on reserved lanes in a contained environment (such as within airports), this is the first permitted to use the country’s public roads, alongside routine  day-to-day traffic, for an extended period of time.

A public demonstration in the presence of the Dutch Minister of Transport, Schultz van Haegen took place on January 28th to launch the trial, and the plan is to gradually roll out a fleet of pods along the route.

Ricardo Rail’s Utrecht office has supported the project throughout its development by helping to prepare the Safety Case that was necessary to obtain the required authorisations from Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer (RDW), the Dutch national vehicle authority.

As the autonomous pods will travel alongside regular traffic, a detailed Safety Case was required to demonstrate how safety had been addressed throughout the system’s development and design, as well during as its eventual operation.  

Ricardo’s experts assisted the developer, the WEpods consortium, by helping to develop and collate the key evidence at each stage of the project. This included:

  • Compiling evidence documents (standards and procedures) to produce the formal project Safety Case;
  • Production of a the Safety Plan;
  • Facilitating hazard and risk analyses - as well as fault and failure analyses – to develop the formal safety requirements;
  • Providing and explaining the required evidence for exemption of the vehicles to RDW, the Dutch road authority.

In operation, the vehicles will use a mix of GPS, radar, laser and camera technology to navigate the route at speeds of up to 24kmh. An operator in a control room will receive regular notifications at pre-determined points along the route, as well as an alert if the vehicle stops. Passengers can also contact the control room at any time.

Passengers will be able to book journeys by stating their start and final destinations via a mobile app.

Ricardo's office in Utrecht has a long-standing record of safety case development and reviewing standards within the railway industry, such as the CENELEC standards EN50126, EN50128 and EN50129 (commonly used for ensuring functional safety in railways), as well as the IEC 61508, the general standard for safety applications with electronic systems and the ISO 26262, a Functional Safety standard, titled "Road vehicles – Functional safety". 

The team were supported by specialists from Ricardo’s Cambridge Technical Centre, who brought extensive expertise in the field of automotive safety projects.

A growing portfolio of driverless technologies

This is the latest in a number of driverless projects that Ricardo has supported, in part due to our ability to bring together technical experts from the automotive and rail sectors to collaborate on this burgeoning area of interest. With automated control an established technology within the rail sector - it is used to varying degrees on many of the world's metro networks, for example - there is considerable knowledge that can be brought across to the road vehicle sector.

Similar driverless vehicle projects that the teams have already supported, or are currently engaged with, include:

  • Phileas bus rapid transit in the Netherlands
  • The Masdar Personal Rapid Transit system in Abu Dhabi
  • Truck platooning project, EcoTwin I
  • London Heathrow’s ULTra
  • Sartre car platooning
  • Autonomous bus fleet at Zaventem airport in Belgium