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Ford Motor Company is Using Simulation to Design the Passenger Experience for its Future Self-Driving Vehicles

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【Summary】In the industry's race to develop self-driving vehicles, most legacy automakers are getting a little extra help from tech companies. One company is Quantum Signal AI. The Michigan-based Ford subsidiary is building simulation tools that are helping Ford understand, test and validate its autonomous vehicles.

Eric Walz    Mar 05, 2020 5:45 PM PT
Ford Motor Company is Using Simulation to Design the Passenger Experience for its Future Self-Driving Vehicles
One of Ford's self-driving development vehicles.

In the industry's race to develop self-driving vehicles, most automakers are getting a little extra help from tech companies. Robotics, computer vision, AI, perception, simulation and algorithms are not usually the core strengths of legacy automakers, but expertise in these areas is necessary for developing autonomous vehicles. As a result, there are many companies working behind the scenes alongside automakers to make self-driving cars a reality.

One company offering these services is Quantum Signal AI. The company is a subsidiary of Ford Autonomous LLC that Ford acquired in July 2019. Quantum Signal is building simulation tools using mathematical modeling that helps Ford understand, test and validate its autonomous vehicles, both inside and out.

As a subsidiary of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, LLC, Quantum is positioned as central for all aspects of Ford's self-driving vehicle business operations. The company is helping the automaker accelerate its autonomous vehicle business and capitalize on market opportunities in the mobility space.

Saline, Michigan-based Quantum Signal AI focuses heavily on computer simulation, which is playing a bigger role in the auto industry, especially for autonomous vehicle development. 

Advancements in self-driving technology have created an increased need for specialized talent in software and engineering. In a blog post, Mitchell Rohde, CEO and co-founder, Quantum Signal AI, said he's witnessed the growing need for math-based engineers to develop the algorithms for building robust simulation programs for autonomous vehicles.

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Quantum Signal AI is using both physical and digital tests to fine-tune Ford's self-driving cars. The company employs a team of highly specialized experts in algorithm development, hardware systems and robotics. Quantum works closely with Ford on the automaker's autonomous driving development, and the demand for simulation is growing. Quantum Signal AI plans to double its technical group to support Ford's mission to launch a commercial self-driving service in 2021.

In its 20-year history, Quantum was a leading developer of autonomous vehicle simulation tools for the U.S. Army before it began working with Ford. The company has two decades of experience in helping to solve some of the challenges Ford is facing right now. Much of the current research and testing involves how people will experience riding in a self-driving car, which is important for automakers.

For Ford, making people comfortable in a self-driving vehicle in an important first step before launching and scaling any type of commercial robotaxi service, which Ford is also working on with Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based company that received a $1 billion investment from the automaker in 2017.

Ford is Using Simulation to Improve the Experience of Riding in a Self-Driving Vehicle

Since being acquired by Ford Autonomous Vehicles LLC last summer, Quantum Signal AI has quickly integrated into several parts of Ford's self-driving efforts. One of these is in computer simulation, which allows Ford to test its autonomous driving technology in the safety of a controlled environment.

Simulation offers the ability to explore systemic performance in ways that would be very expensive in terms of both time and resources, or virtually impossible in real-world testing, that's why its become so valuable to automakers like Ford that are working on self-driving vehicles.

Using computer simulation, virtual vehicles can travel through virtual environments built using data collected from Ford's vehicles, to study how they might perform in a wide variety of real world scenarios. These simulations can be run millions of times over. The data from these tests provides insights into how Ford's self-driving vehicles perform before being deployed in the real world. However, simulation can also be used to simulate the passenger experience. 

While Ford subsidiary Argo AI leads development of the self-driving systems, Quantum Signal is working closely with Ford to explore how that system is going to interact with the vehicle platform itself and the passengers riding in the vehicle.

Quantum Signals is also collaborating with Ford's vehicle dynamics experts, helping to build simulations that analyze the ride quality customers will get when traveling in a self-driving vehicle. The goal is to ensure smooth and comfortable experience for passengers.

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Simulation allows developers to test autonomous vehicles in a controlled environment.(Photo: Quantum Signal AI)

Another way Quantum is using computer simulation is to improve the customer experience by building confidence in how a self-driving vehicle handles when carrying passengers. For example, an unexpected left turn could be alarming to riders if there is no human operator of the vehicle. Quantum is working to ensure that passengers are always aware of the vehicle's behavior, so they know exactly what to expect during their trip. Testing these scenarios without using simulation is not ideal.

One potential solution Quantum came up with is to alert passengers to what the vehicle is doing through an onboard "situational awareness screen." Using simulation, Quantum is exploring numerous ways to visualize the data coming from a self-driving vehicle's sensors, so Ford's engineers can design user interfaces for passengers that lets them know what is happening at any point during a ride. 

For example, the awareness screen can show customers a vehicle's current trajectory as it drives down the road, including upcoming traffic lights as well as any pedestrians nearby. Just knowing that a self-driving vehicle can "see" pedestrians and other vehicles might make people more comfortable riding in a self-driving vehicle.

Computer simulation can be utilized to improve ride quality and it's a major reason why engineering research from companies like Quantum Signal AI will play a key role in designing future autonomous vehicles.

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