The TUMCREATE research programme into autonomous vehicles, which is being undertaken jointly by two technical universities: the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, was presented at InOut in Rennes (28 to 31 March).
The programme is being financed by the National Research Foundation of Singapore. After an initial phase dedicated to electro-mobility between 2011 and 2016, TUMCREATE is now focusing on autonomous vehicles. 80 experts (engineers, designers, computer scientists, etc.) are joining forces to reflect on tomorrow’s transport, at the very heart of one of the most innovative and dynamic regions of the globe in this field. The objective of the second phase, which will end in 2021, is to put forward a proposal for an integrated public transport system for Singapore based on autonomous vehicles.
Singapore, a living lab
Startups and projects are springing up all over this city-state: EasyMile, 2getthere and even Bolloré with its electric shuttle service BlueSG. The Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous Vehicles (CETRAN), launched at the end of 2017, enables researchers to test their autonomous vehicles, in real-life situations with traffic regulations, local infrastructures, shared traffic patterns, etc. Between now and 2030, we could see autonomous buses in circulation on the roads of Singapore.
This ebullient ecosystem is therefore the backdrop to TUMCREATE, which was also involved in the development of the TR 68: “Technical Reference on Autonomous Vehicles – Part 1: Basic Behaviour”, the preliminary stage of a future standard for the deployment of autonomous vehicles.
Comprehensive specifications are set to be submitted in 2021, when the second phase comes to an end, including: the autonomous vehicle design, timetable structuring and sizing of the integrated system. “It will then be necessary for local authorities to come together with manufacturers to implement the project”, states Henriette Cornet, Head of the Design for Autonomous Mobility Team at TUMCREATE.
This is also the focus of the workshop she is set to co-host on 28 March at inOut in Rennes: How to respond to the challenges and opportunities of autonomous vehicles within urban public transport? And how to bring together all those involved: transport players, policymakers, researchers and manufacturers? “We all need to work together: researchers, manufacturers, public agencies and of course the public. A top-down approach is obsolete in the implementation of these new technologies”, emphasises Henriette Cornet. One of the key elements being the participatory design approach.
Human, at the heart of the design
Henriette Cornet asserts: “the human dimension is essential in our research work”. The team, comprising chiefly industrial designers, is concentrating on three key themes.
Firstly, acceptability, which involves behavioural studies, interviews and even design workshops with the parties concerned. The objective is to identify the acceptability criteria for this new autonomous mode of public transport, in the eyes of the general public. “We are working on people’s expectations in relation to everyday mobility. It is essential that we immerse ourselves in the local socio-cultural context, since acceptability is not universal.”
Next, human-machine interactions. Here, the approach is more pragmatic, aiming to offer concrete solutions to facilitate and adapt communication between the autonomous vehicle and its users. “We are following the principles referred to as Universal Design: the approach is inclusive, and must meet the needs of everyone”. For example, TUMCREATE is reflecting on alternative solutions such as a virtual companion so that partially-sighted people, who usually ask the driver for the bus number before boarding, can access the information when the autonomous vehicle stops. And even communication systems between the autonomous vehicles and pedestrians to ensure they can cross roads safely.
Finally, the Design for Autonomous Mobility Team is developing new research methods to get the public involved in the actual design of the vehicle and system. “In particular, we are counting on virtual reality to fully immerse participants. This way they can be projected into real-life situations and discuss with us the various possible scenarios.”