Ertico coordinates big data debate
First publishedin ITS International
The University of Michigan's artificial Mcity autonomous vehicle testing ground
David Crawford finds that agreeing a common data standard for auto manufacturers’ onboard sensors, navigation system companies and map makers is proving a complex task.
As vehicle sensor use and the resulting connectivity potential continue to expand, not least in the emerging context of automated driving, they are generating escalating volumes of data from a constantly increasing number of individual on-road sources. Standardising, coordinating and processing the results to make them practically and safely usable has become a major industry challenge.
In one recent initiative, Berlin, Germany-based navigation and locationing specialist Here has presented Ertico-ITS Europe with its Sensoris (sensor ingestion integration specification) data standardisation format. This is designed to enable the uniform reporting and collating of output from a spectrum of disparate on-vehicle sensors installed in the products of competing automakers, for cloud storage and practical use.
The initial version has been published under a creative commons licence, to make possible the free circulation to interested parties of what would normally be copyrighted material, for them to draw on to contribute to its further development. “Our goal has always been to find a home for this specification that is open, accessible to all and global,” Dietmar Rabel, head of autonomous driving product management at Here, has said.
“This is a vital step along the path to creating a shared information network for safer roads. The specification is about the standardisation of data formats – a topic that has needed to be addressed by any OEM or supplier that is playing in this space.”
Accordingly, Sensoris is setting out to tackle the technical challenge of delivering, in a consistent form, sensor-derived data to the cloud, so as to ensure its effective communication between the data producers (on-road vehicles) and data consumers (other vehicles) via the cloud. To put the concept on the broader industry footing needed, Ertico has agreed to coordinate future activity through a dedicated innovation platform.
This will oversee the continuing development of the format into a standard interface for broad use across the global automotive and equipment manufacturing sectors. Early partners from three continents, in addition to Here, include carmaker Daimler; navigation system developers Aisin AW, Elektrobit, Harman International, Pioneer and Robert Bosch; ADAS provider Continental Automotive; and map database creators Navinfo and TomTom.
Schematic view of sensor integration and cloud-based V2V.
These are now working together, along with other interested parties, through a series of technical workshops aimed at refining the specification, with a clear focus on near-term use cases. The timescale for full availability is as yet unknown, with the desired result expected to evolve over a number of years.
The initially-released rollcall of partners listed only a single vehicle manufacturer, Daimler. But Here itself has, since 2015, been co-owned by three German automotive companies - Daimler, Audi and BMW. Here’s Dr. Sebastian Kurme told ITS International: “In working sessions that we have already held in Berlin, Detroit and Tokyo, we have had representation from almost all major automotive OEMs, all wanting to make their contributions to moving the specification forward.
“We need to work together within the industry to create the scale needed for delivering a compelling range of services. Differentiation will come at the service level where companies such as ours provide the enablers at the scale and quality needed, while others, such as OEMs, concentrate on what creates value and specificity for them.”
Throughout the process, Ertico will be contributing its experience of supporting international standards activity, built up through earlier initiatives such as the ADASIS forum (see panel). This defines the way in which maps connect and interact with on-board ADAS driver-support technologies.
Ertico’s CEO Hermann Meyer has welcomed the tie-up, saying: “Defining a standardised interface for exchanging information between in-vehicle sensors and a dedicated cloud, as well as between clouds, will deliver three major benefits. These are: the broad access, delivery and processing of vehicle sensor data; the easy exchange of this between all the actors involved; and the emergence of enriched location-based services for mobility services generally as well as for automated driving in particular.”
From an industry viewpoint, Rabel has pointed out that: “Every car company is speaking a very, very different language when it comes to the sensors and data in the vehicle.” He accepts that, in hi-tech industry sectors, with proprietary information forming a key element in a company’s business model, it can be difficult to persuade an individual actor that it’s in their best interests to cooperate with competitors on data standardisation.
A Ford trial under way in Silicon Valley
But, Kurme told ITS International: “The rationale behind providing a specification for sensor ingestion to the entire industry is in the spirit of bringing individual companies together for the betterment of their industry.” He sees the process as being “very similar” to that of the EU’s 1985-1994 Prometheus (PROgraMme for a European Traffic with Highest Efficiency and Unlimited Safety) initiative. This was a pioneering example of a pre-competitive ITS project, set up to bring rival companies together to lay the common foundations needed for ITS development in the road traffic sector.
“We believe that the only way to realise the industry vision of self-driving vehicles is by data sharing,” continued Kurme. “No single OEM or supplier has enough to do the job alone. Pooling analogous data from millions of vehicles will be a key enabler for highly and fully automated driving, ensuring that each vehicle has a near real-time view of road conditions and hazards that can lead to better driving decisions.
“By uniting around a single specification, the entire industry – both partners and competitors - can make better and faster sense of vehicle data and increase trust in, and the adoption of, automated technologies.”
Currently under development by the company is a location cloud, together with live, high-definition, 3D maps. These can be continuously updated to make automated driving safer, by allowing for the fact that the roads being driven on are themselves subject to frequent changes in the real world. Such changes can be both long-term, in the form of the physical structure of the highway, and short-term, for example as the result of accidents – in both cases, with vehicles regularly reporting back on what they have identified.
The company has already been making versions of these maps available to automotive companies for ongoing automated driving trials on specific stretches of road in Silicon Valley, in California, and the State of Michigan in the US, as well as in France, Germany and Japan. (The University of Michigan is a major US hub for driverless vehicle experimentation).
The technology could also be of immense benefit to road operators. Logged, sensor-derived data could, for example, make possible the early identification of looming safety risks - such as the degradation over time of the visibility of painted traffic lines on the road surface, triggering timely responses from highway maintenance departments.
Again, if one passing vehicle notes the position of a speed limit sign and another fails to see this a short time later, the onboard system can note the fact and approximate timing of the disappearance – possibly due to a collision – and relay the need for urgent replacement.
The Advanced Driver Assistance Systems Interface Specifications (ADASIS) Forum, again coordinated by Ertico, exists to define the ways in which navigation maps can connect and interact with on-board driver support technologies. It emerged following the arrival of an ‘Electronic Horizon’ technology patented by Here in 1999.
This aimed to enable a vehicle to, for example, adapt its cruise control capability, or be driven more fuel efficiently, on the basis of road attributes included in a digital map, such as slope and curvature, or the existence of traffic signs or lane information.
The Forum then emerged to meet the evident need for acceptable methods of data exchange to take the concept further. Its prime purpose was to enable automotive manufacturers wanting to develop advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to access and use the information stored in the proprietary formats of navigation systems – such as map data, vehicle position and speed.
In June 2015, after a year of intensive activity, a Forum working group produced the first version of a new standard for ADAS as enablers for automated driving. Most of the early Sensoris partners are also members of the Forum.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Crawford has spent 20 years writing about and researching ITS and is a Contributing Editor to ITS International.