Motional - Safe Testing of Automated Driving Systems

Motional is a joint venture between Aptiv, a global automotive technology company, and Hyundai Motor Group, one of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers.

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Motional’s Approach to Autonomous Vehicle Testing Safety

Motional is making driverless vehicles a safe, reliable, and accessible reality. The company is headquartered in Boston with operations in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Santa Monica, Singapore, and Seoul.

Motional recognizes the important role safety plays in the development of autonomous vehicles. As a result, we have built multiple safeguards into our development process to ensure the safety of the public, our drivers, and our vehicles.

The technology that powers our vehicles follows a three-stage deployment process: :

  1. Static Code Review and Computer Simulation
  2. Closed-Course Dynamic Testing
  3. Public Road Testing

The progression from one stage to the next requires careful analysis, statistical validation, and signoff from company leaders. This deployment process ensures that we adhere to safe design principles, empirically validate assumptions, and only put vehicles on the public roadway after extensive testing. Here is a breakdown of what each step entails:

Static Code Review and Computer Simulation - First, we perform a series of static tests and code reviews culminating in computer simulations. Static testing means code is tested without setting it live. The computer simulations recreate a wide variety of real-life traffic scenarios in a virtual setting. The scenarios include complex traffic situations that we have encountered during our on-road testing, such as obstacles in the roadway and intersections filled with pedestrians. We refer to these unique, challenging driving situations as “edge cases.” During our simulations, we can also adjust various variables, such as weather or time of day. Our simulations are designed to ensure that the software controlling our vehicles can safely handle these “edge cases” with a high degree of statistical confidence.

Closed-Course Dynamic Testing - Second, we proceed to test our vehicles on a private, closed-course test track. Our autonomous vehicles are put through a series of object detection and maneuvers designed to stress-test the safety and performance of the updated software. We assess the progress of our software through standardized assessments that both confirm our baseline safety requirements and that the vehicle is performing as expected.

Public Road Testing - Third, if the closed-course testing is successful, we proceed to public road testing. This testing only happens within our Operational Design Domain (ODD), which is the conditions we are authorized to test in. At all times during public road testing, a trained safety driver is at the wheel, ready to take over manual control. Additionally, a safety operator or test engineer is also in the vehicle reviewing the performance of the autonomous software and communicating with the safety driver. Motional vehicles have driven more than 1.5 million miles on public roads in autonomous mode without a single at-fault accident.

The Role of Motional’s Vehicle Operators and Test Engineers

Our Vehicle Operators play a critical role in our mission to radically improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of transportation in cities worldwide. They evaluate vehicle preparedness, conduct closed-course and public road testing, and document findings to support the research and development of our software.

Before operating a Motional vehicle, our Vehicle Operators undergo an extensive background screening, detailed classroom training, and behind-the-wheel practice in a closed-course environment. Additionally, outside professional driving agencies train our drivers on defensive driving techniques.

This process takes place over multiple weeks, with each module requiring careful documentation and sign-off by experienced trainers and managers. Drivers must pass each assessment before getting behind the wheel of a Motional vehicle. Motional also requires that Vehicle Operators undertake ongoing training as our software evolves, as well as a recertification process.

Our Vehicle Operators are assisted by either a Test Engineer or another trained Vehicle Operator. Test Engineers monitor a display that shows the objects that our autonomous vehicle software detects in the roadway and its periphery, as well as the path the vehicle plans to execute.

Test Engineers continuously communicate with Vehicle Operators so that the Vehicle Operators can anticipate how the vehicle may behave and respond accordingly. With Test Engineers at their side, our Vehicle Operators can always keep their eyes on the road. The combination of proven software, trained Vehicle Operators, and experienced Test Engineers provides critical redundancy to ensure that our autonomous vehicles will operate safely.

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