Autonomous driving technology is divided according to each degree level. The classification system of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is widely used. Level 1 is Driver Assistance and Level 2 is Partial Driving Automation, where the system assists the driver under certain conditions. Level 3 is Conditional Driving Automation, which enables autonomous driving under certain conditions. Level 4 is High Driving Automation, which requires little driver intervention. Level 5 is Full Driving Automation, which requires no driver intervention.
Currently, Hyundai Motor Group is conducting a demonstration test of level 4 autonomous driving. ‘RoboRide’, a car-hailing pilot service that started in June 2022, is providing services to employees of Hyundai Motor Group in Gangnam-gu, Seoul. In November 2022, they increased the number of vehicles and collected more practical data by collaborating with multiple car hailing service platform partners.
So, how far has Hyundai Motor Group RoboRide’s level 4 autonomous driving been completed? And how does RoboRide work? The self-driving planning team of Hyundai Motor Company, which is developing RoboRide, offered to experience how RoboRide drives in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, one of the most congested areas in Korea.
Before the full-scale experience, we took a closer look at Hyundai Motor Company’s IONIQ 5 for RoboRide, which is waiting for operation. What is different from the regular IONIQ 5 is the addition of several high-resolution sensors for the application of level 4 autonomous driving technology. Thanks to sensors such as radar and LiDAR, it is different from the regular IONIQ 5. Most notable among them are the four roof-mounted lidars that scan the vehicle’s surroundings. The sensors are exposed because they are positioned at optimal angles to quickly and accurately analyze the surroundings.
The interior is also different from the regular IONIQ 5; It had cameras all over the interior to interpret the surroundings, and there were two touch screens around the center fascia. Rear seat space was left empty for passengers, just like the regular IONIQ 5. There is plenty of space for passengers to stretch their legs comfortably in the back seat. However, the trunk hides complex electronics - a huge amount of computation is required for autonomous driving. For reference, RoboRide handles several terabytes (TB) of processing per day.
Part leader Lee Wan-jae of Hyundai Motor Company’s self-driving software development team 3 explains RoboRide’s enormous amount of computation as follows; “Autonomous driving in the city requires a huge amount of computation. This is because there is a lot more variety of situations than highway driving. It has to recognize all objects such as bicycles and two-wheelers that are not on the highway, and it must also avoid parked cars. During a U-turn, for example, there are times when you have to back up and then go forward again. As such, city driving requires considering all complex factors, so the amount of calculation is enormous, and so is the power consumption for it. With further development, we will be able to achieve optimizations for computation and power consumption.”
So, what exactly will the RoboRide service be like? RoboRide first receives departure and arrival information from the car hailing service application. Then, it arrives at the starting point in fully autonomous driving mode, picks up passengers and heads to the destination. When senior researcher Kim Jun-soo of Hyundai Motor Company’s Autonomous Driving SW Development Team 3 set up a car-hailing service application, the car for RoboRide recognized the starting point and destination. It is a round-trip route from near Samseong Station to Yeoksam Station in Gangnam-gu, and this section has a lot of traffic. However, since the area near the starting point is a school zone, the backup driver in the vehicle had to turn off the autonomous driving function and drive directly; According to current regulations, autonomous driving is not allowed in school zones.
Level 4 autonomous driving functions can be turned on and off with a single button. First impressions of Level 4 autonomous driving were astonishing. This is because changing lanes and accelerating vigorously to get closer to the car in front is very similar to human driving. It would be wrong to expect Level 4 self-driving cars to run very slowly for safety reasons. For reference, the maximum speed of the car for RoboRide is 50 km/h, which is the city limit. Even during the actual test, there were many cars in Gangnam, so it was rare to speed up to 50 km/h.
Perhaps what makes Level 4 autonomous driving technology superior to humans is its ability to utilize a variety of information; For example, the traffic light was green, but when the RoboRide car slowed down, the traffic light turned yellow. Part leader Lee Wan-jae explains: “RoboRide receives traffic light information from the signal interlocking system established by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. It knows how long the current light will last, or what the next traffic light will be, so it can take action in advance.”
Part leader Lee Wan-jae continued. “Unlike humans, RoboRide never violates traffic laws. The traffic light was green just before, but the car stopped because it couldn’t pass in the time remaining. Traffic regulations prohibit entry at a yellow light. Even lane changes or U-turns, it only does them where possible. Of course, it sometimes behaves like a human; RoboRide, when driving on four-lane roads in the city, usually uses the second or third roads, like an experienced driver. So it is less likely to change lanes due to stopped vehicles.”
RoboRide, which runs in the middle of the car while maintaining a distance from the car in front, felt similar to an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS). In fact, some of the Level 4 autonomous driving technologies are based on advanced driver assistance systems. Thanks to the continuous improvement of advanced driver assistance systems, it drove very naturally. This means that research on autonomous driving technology can also lead to improvements in advanced driver assistance systems.
RoboRide uses communication technology, but it can operate even when the connection is lost. This is because it uses a precision map that can accurately determine the location using surrounding landmarks. The high-resolution sensor identifies nearby buildings and compares them with a detailed map to determine their exact location.
The reason why Hyundai Motor Group started RoboRide service in Gangnam-gu is as follows: Gangnam-gu has severe traffic congestion even in Seoul. As such, unexpected situations occur very frequently on the road, and it is a difficult area for people to drive. But for self-driving developers, it’s a great place to improve the reliability of their systems; This is because the system can be improved while encountering various problems and emergencies.
FYI, RoboRide allows the driver in the vehicle to take control of the vehicle in case of an emergency, and stores the circumstances before and after; It’s about ensuring safety and at the same time saving the situation for research purposes. The data collected in this way helps to discover problems and limitations of the current software, and the development and verification process to overcome them continues. The software improved through this process is installed on RoboRide again, enabling continuous research.
In order for level 4 self-driving cars like RoboRide to travel, safety must be guaranteed. Therefore, cars with RoboRide have various systems for safety - like the redundancy system. “The parts that perform various functions such as steering, braking, power, and communication of the RoboRide car are all redundant. So if one part fails, the system may relocate the car to the outermost lane. Of course, for safety reasons, these technologies are not developed and tested on public roads. On public roads, even the slightest anomaly results in a human driver taking control of the vehicle and operating it manually,” senior researcher Kim Jun-soo explained.
The self-developed control system is also one of the safety devices. The control system is connected to the self-driving vehicle to monitor the vehicle’s condition and save driving information. It can also give driving instructions to self-driving vehicles. And about why remote assistance is needed for self-driving vehicles, senior researcher Kwon Gi-deok of the autonomous driving planning team at Hyundai Motor Company explained.
“When it comes to level 4 autonomous driving technology, one of the additional technologies mentioned is remote assistance. Even if autonomous driving technology develops, there will probably be many things that will require human intervention for a long time. Therefore, the self-developed control system has been verified for technical feasibility through this remote assistance control technology. Operators can intervene under certain conditions to direct autonomous vehicles to change lanes, or to make limited modifications to local routes generated by autonomous driving software. Conversely, even self-driving vehicles may request remote operator intervention under certain conditions.”
Senior researcher Kwon Gi-deok continued his explanation. “But in any case, the final decision about safety is made by the self-driving software residing in the vehicle. Therefore, even if the remote operator directs the vehicle to change lanes, it will not change lanes if another vehicle is approaching from behind. In addition, the system does not perform activities such as crossing the center line and breaking traffic signals that violate traffic regulations.”
Although brief, Hyundai Motor Group’s RoboRide experience was impressive; It seemed that the future was already too close. Of course, it will take time for Level 4 self-driving technology to become commonplace. Therefore, Hyundai Motor Group continues to hone its self-driving technology through the process of overcoming problems and limitations through the RoboRide service.
FYI, some of the Level 4 self-driving technology is coming soon; For example, technologies such as precision maps used for level 4 autonomous driving are planned to be used in mass-produced vehicles with level 3 automation. Autonomous driving is not a technology slated to emerge in the distant future; Little by little, this technology will permeate and change our lives. Many are looking forward to the development of autonomous driving technology for everyone’s comfortable and safe movement.
Photography by Minseok Choi
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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