UK engineers trial autonomous driving “handover” technology

Better understanding of how drivers interact with autonomous vehicles will be critical to the development of the technology according to a team of UK researchers.

The first trials of the Venturer autonomous vehicle project – an effort to establish the South West as a hot bed of driverless car technology – have focused on a critical aspect in the field of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology: the handover.

This process, the point at which control of the car switches from human driver to autonomous mode, is one of the least studied aspects of this developing technology.

However, according to the Venturer team the interaction between the human driver and the car is a vital component in taking the new technology forward to a stage where it can be safely and successfully deployed on public roads.

The first trials tested drivers in a static simulator and in the Venturer driverless car, on private roads at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

Under controlled conditions at speeds up to 20mph, participating drivers were first instructed in the use of the vehicle and their reactions measured in response to instruction to switch to driverless mode and take back control of the car.

The data collected from these initial trials will be used to provide the groundwork for the next stage of testing and trials in the project. Tests next year will look at different road conditions, the AV emerging from junctions, maneuvering around roundabouts, and choosing appropriate gaps in traffic that make the occupants feel safe without unnecessarily slowing down traffic or adding to emissions.

Commenting on the project Prof Graham Parkhurst (UWE Bristol) said that the social and behavioural aspects of how AV technology is introduced are crucial to making a success of the technology’s potential.

“Reaping the benefits from this new technology depends on how we introduce it and how we decide to use it,” he said. “We need to understand the human and social interface in order to fully benefit from this as a society.”