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U.K.-based companies Oxbotica and TRL recently piloted a safety framework for the deployment of autonomous vehicles in unstructured, off-highway environments. A live trial was conducted in a quarry using a number of off-road vehicles. You can read the framework here and watch a video of the trial below.
The teams developed and demonstrated capabilities to adapt and retrofit autonomy, using robust low-cost sensors, to any vehicle. Off-road environments, which can include mines, quarries, farms, refineries, warehouses, ports, and airports, feature different hazards and less structured scenarios than on-road settings with no universal highway rules, such as speed limits or junction etiquette. Oxbotica and TRL said a framework helps standardize across industries and allows learnings from each domain to be shared.
Off-road vehicles also have to interact with a 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.
To demonstrate the framework, Oxbotica and TRL deployed a Ford Ranger and Range Rover Evoque, retrofitted with Oxbotica’s autonomy software platform, in a U.K. quarry in April 2021. The vehicles were fitted with a full suite of sensors, including LiDAR, RADAR, and stereo cameras.
Oxbotica’s technology has operated in a range of environments without road markings across Europe, Asia and America. Its software transitions between sensors to operate across multiple domains and environments. The software is capable of using sensors independently or fused in any combination, meaning vehicles can drive with or without maps, depending on what is available at any given time.
“Our autonomy software platform is capable of being integrated with any vehicle, in any environment,” said Ben Upcroft, VP of Technology, Oxbotica. “In order 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.”
Oxford, England-based Oxbotica spun out of Oxford University in 2014. It closed a $47 million Series B round in January 2021 and has raised about $80 million to date.
Upcroft was recently a guest on The Robot Report Podcast. We discussed the keys to infrastructure-free navigation, the acceleration of innovation in the autonomous vehicle space and why Level 5 robotaxis might never happen. You can listen to the interview below, starting at the 35:44 mark.