Test drives on the computer

Developers are creating a virtual world in which to test, train, and validate driver assistance systems and autonomous driving functions

Developers are creating a virtual world in which to test, train, and validate driver assistance systems and autonomous driving functions. At the Porsche Engineering Virtual ADAS Testing Center (PEVATeC), computer-generated environments with physically realistic effects are being created that cannot be distinguished from tests in real traffic.

No person is more attentive in traffic situations than a driver assistance system. Nonetheless, both optical and radar-based sensor systems are required to capture the environment for this purpose much more accurately than an experienced driver would ever be able to do. Using the data from the numerous camera, radar, lidar, and ultrasonic systems installed and networked in the car, algorithms determine control strategies in a fraction of a second in order to optimally control the vehicle in a risky situation. And they do so with exceptional precision. So it is not surprising that driver assistance systems—also known as ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) in the jargon—demonstrably reduce the risk of accidents on roads. With each additional ADAS system, automotive developers come one step closer to the vision of accident-free driving. But the journey there is indeed as difficult as one might imagine.

This is especially true for autonomous driving. With the help of agile development methods, engineers have made great strides in development, but are still far from mastering all technical requirements. Nonetheless, in pilot projects on public roads under known and circumscribed conditions, self-driving vehicles demonstrate an economical and safe driving style at low speeds. In contrast to driver assistance systems with their precisely defined tasks, however, an autonomous vehicle must be able to master all driving situations and completely replace the driver. Moreover, the critical conditions for ADAS and autonomous driving are not necessarily the same as for human drivers and are not yet fully understood.

Autonomous driving still requires extensive testing. For example, scientists at the US think tank RAND Corporation assume that fully autonomous vehicles would have to drive hundreds of millions and in some cases hundreds of billions of miles in order to test the individual systems and their interactions in a robust and meaningful way. They claim, for example, that some eleven billion miles would be needed to reduce the risk of a fatal accident caused by an autonomous vehicle by 20 percent over a human driver. If 100 test vehicles were in use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the test drives would take around 500 years at an average speed of 40 kilometers per hour and roughly 250 years at an average speed of 80 kilometers per hour—timeframes and costs that are manifestly incompatible with product development.

Even in the case of semi-autonomous driving functions, a host of engineers would have to test the ADAS systems over a period of several years in order to validate every conceivable scenario. Frank Sayer is well aware that this would be neither economically justifiable nor feasible, not to mention the fact that it would also be extremely dangerous for other road users. “It would be impossible to do this on the road,” explains the Senior Manager Virtual Vehicle Development at Porsche Engineering. The idea, therefore, is to transfer many of those kilometers to the lab through digitalization and extensive computer simulations—namely to the Porsche Engineering Virtual ADAS Testing Center (PEVATeC). In the years to come, PEVATeC will create virtual worlds that will encompass all relevant situations on the road and thus serve as test cases for algorithms and sensors used in driver assistance systems.

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SOURCE: Porsche