The hubbub surrounding the autonomous vehicle industry often centers around venture capital rounds, IPO speculation and acquisitions. But the future of the industry also depends on the high-stakes task of proving that the technology can work safer than human drivers today and winning the trust of the public. In short: Safety matters.
Zoox released a safety report on Tuesday that aims to give a new look at its custom electric autonomous vehicle and further describes various design details aimed at preventing accidents and protecting themselves if they do.
“As you know, and something everyone talks about, is that part of the rationale for doing VAs is because of safety, safety, safety, but they never happen. to the next bullet [point] right? What are you really going to do to prevent these accidents, to save these lives? Mark Rosekind, director of corporate safety innovation and former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told TechCrunch in a recent interview.
Rosekind says this latest report answers those questions.
Zoox is a little different from its rivals. It’s not just about developing the self-driving software stack. The company is responsible for creating the on-demand ridesharing app and the vehicle itself. Zoox also plans to own, manage and operate its fleet of robotaxi.
Zoox unveiled in December the electric and autonomous robotaxi it built from scratch – a cube-shaped vehicle loaded with sensors, no steering wheel and a moonroof capable of carrying four people at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour. At the time, Zoox shared a few specs on the four-seater, including the symmetrical, face-to-face seating configuration, similar to what a train traveler might encounter, and the 133-kilowatt-hour battery which the company, allows it to run for up to 16 hours continuously on a single charge. But not everything was revealed, especially details on how it would protect occupants of the vehicle as well as pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers with whom it would share the road.
To be clear, Zoox is not the only AV company to publish safety reports. Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment Reports, or VSSAs, have become quite common in the industry. These voluntary safety reports, which are included in the NHTSA Automated Driving Systems VSSA Disclosure Index, are supposed to cover 12 areas, including vehicle design, simulated crash scenarios, and benchmarks for drivers. tests, as well as protective measures for occupants and other road users.
Zoox’s first security report came out in 2018, which outlined the company’s “prevent and protect” philosophy. The latter reveals how Zoox plans to achieve its safety goals, including specific details of the vehicle’s design. And more safety reports are on the way – based on a few clues in the latter – including details about its collision avoidance system and the lighting system the vehicle uses to communicate with other road users.
Zoox has designed and included over 100 safety innovations in its specially designed vehicle. Rosekind shared details on nine of them that fall into three categories: driving control, no single point of failure and driver protection.
Zoox’s vehicle has independent braking and an active suspension system, which means that each of the brakes has its own electronic control unit, allowing better control of traction on the road and the distribution of the brake. weight. All of this translates into shorter stopping distances.
The vehicle also has four-wheel steering, which Rosekind says does not exist on any AV car on the road today, and is two-way. Four-wheel steering allows the vehicle to simultaneously adjust its direction and position in the lane.
“Once our software determines the path of the vehicle, it will stay on that path with an accuracy of a few inches, even at high speed on a sidewalk,” explained Rosekind.
The four-wheel steering combined with the the symmetrical design allows it to travel in both directions. Two-way capability means more U-turns or three-point turns, two maneuvers which are more complex, time consuming and can make occupants more vulnerable to oncoming traffic.
No single point of failure
Rosekind said the company’s design goal was that there would be no single point of failure for its safety-critical systems. For example, the vehicle has two powertrains. Motors, drive systems and batteries work in conjunction with each other. If one component of the system fails, the other will take over.
The vehicle also has two batteries as well as a safety diagnostic system that monitors all hardware, software and firmware. Sensors like lidar and radar are also placed at four corners of the vehicle, each providing a 270-degree field of view.
The diagnostic system goes beyond monitoring and mitigate a failure or performance problem that it identifies. For example, if a sensor has degraded performance due to damage or debris, it will activate or deactivate a cleaning system on the vehicle. bidirectional to unidirectional, placing the sensor in a position where it doesn’t matter if it’s obscured, Rosekind explained.
“Fail-safe operation means it will continue the journey, let you out, then deal with the problem, or stop in a safe place,” he said.
Zoox’s goal is for their vehicle to meet five-star collision protection for every seat in the vehicle. The vehicles are currently undergoing crash tests, Rosekind said, adding that they “are going pretty well and are nearing completion.”
The company has also designed a new type of airbag system that contains five different airbags. Curtain airbags are located on each side of the vehicle, a front is divided into two parts to protect the head, neck and chest. There are also rear and side airbags.
Within the system is an airbag control unit which can monitor where a collision is occurring as well as the speed and determine which airbags and in what order to deploy. Instead of each airbag deploying at the same time, they inflate based on the location of the collision and the severity of the impact.
Finally, the vehicle has sensors in the seat, buckle and even the seat belt webbing cover to be able to tell if passengers are using the seat belt. The vehicle won’t start until everyone has buckled up, Rosekind said.