FAQ

Questions about technology:

The WEpods App allows the passenger to call and open the vehicle (4G connection to Control Room). The App indicates the waiting time. It also makes it possible to reserve a ride. This can also be done via the website. The App makes optimal use of existing platforms and modules and is realised in collaboration with Christelijke Hogeschool Ede and ROC A12.

Although there is no driver in the WEpod, passengers can be in contact with the operator in the control room at any time. Remotely, on screens in the control room, the operator is watching what is happening around the vehicle. He or she is also monitoring certain critical parameters, as well as when the vehicle stops at any point during the journey. In some situations, the operator can also instruct the vehicle to run certain subroutines, like cross the central line to pass a car parked in the lane of traffic, or drive in reverse.
The connection between the vehicle and the Control Room is established through a multi-channel 4G connection based on national roaming.

The operator role is a part-time role placed with the municipality of Ede, where personnel are trained to assist people through the intercom (in Dutch or English). They are trained specifically for the WEpods and are in possession of the Operators Manual.

On the ride between Ede and Wageningen, the vehicles have a hospitality function for the guests. That is why they are equipped with a wide screen providing information about FoodValley. The information is location-related: it shows for instance the work being carried out in a building that the vehicle happens to drive past.

The vehicle is equipped with many controllers (board computers), all of which provide information to the so-called High Level Controller that combines all the data and takes the kinds of decisions that are usually taken by the driver.

The HL Controller issues commands for driving, breaking and steering and it is in contact with the Control Room. All important information about the measurements taken by the sensors and the functioning of the systems are stored during the ride so that they can be reviewed later

A sensor system has been developed for the WEpods that maps the surroundings in order to

–  See other road users, classify them, follow them, measure their speed and predict their route
–  Support navigation by means of landmark positioning, i.e. measuring the position of the vehicle in relation to landmarks along the route
In order to realise this, the vehicle is equipped with redundant sensors that work on a number of physical principles:

– Cameras all around the vehicle
– Radar sensors all around the vehicle
– Laser sensors on all four corners of the vehicle

The data obtained via the environmental sensors are selected and combined (sensor fusion) for a sound estimate of the position and speed of relevant objects in the vicinity of the vehicle.

Navigation means that the vehicle knows its route and is able to follow it safely and reliably. To this end, a special highly specific map of the route is created that contains not only the geometry of the road but also any visible fixed objects (trees, lampposts). The precise travel line of the vehicle is projected onto this map and the maximum speed is established per section of the road. Creating such maps is a new skill and their precise definition will have to be developed as part of the project. The vehicle has to be able to determine its position on the road and on the map with great accuracy and reliability.

To this end the vehicle is equipped with a number of redundant systems:

  • Highly accurate GPS sensor for satellite navigation
  • Inertial Navigation sensor for measuring the vehicle’s acceleration in all directions
  • Odometry: Sensors for measuring wheel revolutions and steering angles for determining the route covered- Camera for following lines, if necessary
  • Radar (in combination with camera) for measuring the precise position of the vehicle in relation to fixed objects (landmarks)

The vehicle will at all times determine its position through a combination of these subsystems.

For the use of WEpods on the public road we have submitted our project to the Dutch Road Transport Agency (Rijksdienst Wegverkeer, RDW) in the context of the General Administrative Regulations for pilot projects involving self-driving vehicles.

Our application is currently being processed and is expected to enter into force in 2015. WEpods is the first submitted project for fully automated vehicles. There are therefore no precise requirements and the admission procedure has yet to be created (customised). These will become clear as the project unfolds. What we do know is that the project team will have to demonstrate and document the safety of the WEpods on the road. In this context, we are focusing on standard ISO26262 ‘functional safety for road vehicles’ and on qualitative (rather than quantitative) support for the Safety Case.

Basic elements of the Safety Case:

  • System architecture with clear modules, interfaces and requirements
  • Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) of all tasks
  • Fail safe by means of redundancy in the system and mechanical engine break in case of engine failure
  • Self-checks when starting the engine and during the ride
  • Data connection with the Control Room with authentication and verification
  • Low vehicle speed (25 km/hour) adjusted in timely fashion at crossroads
  • Stopping where necessary: at crossroads and pedestrian crossings
  • Human supervision from the Control Room
  • Use of selected roads with primarily low traffic intensity and additional measures for busier traffic and pedestrian crossings
  • No driving in case of increased environmental risks: during peak hours, in the dark, on slippery roads or in bad weather
  • The vehicle complies with normal traffic rules and does not take priority

The basic rule is that the vehicle stops whenever something happens, such as:

  • Unexpected complications in traffic
  • When some other risk is detected
  • In case of failure of one of the system components

The low vehicle speed makes it possible to stop quickly.

Based on our experiences in the test period, we will consider whether the operating conditions and system settings can/should be adjusted.

Within the project, the Safety Officer is responsible for managing the process and establishing the Safety Case. He will be managing the FMEA project and guiding the project partners in delivering the required documentation. He also acts as the internal Verifier/Validator when it comes to safety.

WEpods can drive up to 40 km/hour. During testing, however, we do not run them faster than 25 km/hour. Even after the tests, the WEpods will continue to drive at a speed of 25 km/hour. Even though there is no visible brake pedal, don’t be alarmed; all WEpods do of course have brakes.

Various onboard computers compile data and give instructions to systems like brakes and steering control. This allows the vehicle to anticipate sudden changes well, so the vehicle will respond the way it needs to. Of course, just like every other vehicle, it needs a certain stopping distance.

The three most significant factors that make automated driving important are:

  • Improved traffic flow
  • Reduced accidents
  • Reduced fuel consumption

Improved traffic flow

When cars can communicate with each other, they can better coordinate their braking and accelerating. Self-driving cars respond to vehicles braking in front of them faster. They automatically maintain a fixed following distance behind the car in front of them. This helps prevent traffic jams from developing.

Reduced accidents

By far the most frequent cause of traffic accidents (90% of incidents) is human error This is one reason that self-driving cars are expected to reduce the risk of traffic accidents dramatically. That’s much better for traffic safety.

Reduced fuel consumption

Self-driving vehicles are generally more fuel-efficient for a number of reasons. For example, trucks can drive much closer to each other and take advantage of reduced wind resistance. Cars that communicate with each other have to brake and accelerate less hard and less often.

Questions about traffic safety:

The WEpods are not allowed to just head out onto the open road! That required an application to be submitted to the RDW (National Vehicle and Driving Licence Registration Authority) as part of the Order in Council for pilot studies with self-driving vehicles. This was another first for this pilot study: once approved, WEpods became the first project with an application for vehicles driving under full automation.

The Exemption for Exceptional Transport Decree governs exemptions for vehicles that do not fit within the ‘normal’ categories. The test applicant must first demonstrate that the testing will be carried out in a manner that is safe. This requires an admission application. After that, the RDW can grant an exemption.

After we showed that we could meet the safety requirements in a pilot, Rijkswaterstaat (the Directorate-General for Public Works) adjusted the relevant legislation and regulations. Before self-driving vehicles can be sold to consumers, however, international legislation and regulations will have to be updated to accommodate them, and that has yet to happen. The project is designed around the standard ISO26262 ‘functional safety for road vehicles’ and on qualitative (not quantitative) substantiation of the Safety Case.

Of course, safety comes first with WEpods. WElly and WURby are equipped with a laser scanner, sensors, radar systems and a 3D camera to ensure that the vehicle can drive safely without hitting anything. Naturally, half of this equation remains the fact that other road users have to watch out too, as they always do in any traffic situation. Like any other vehicle, the WEpods do require a certain amount of braking distance before they can stop.

Although the vehicle responds faster than a human being can, it still requires the same braking distance that any other vehicle travelling the same speed would need to stop. The vehicle sensors send out an immediate signal which triggers the brake system instantly. After an emergency stop, the operator in the control room makes the decision on whether the vehicle can continue driving or not. The operator can evaluate the situation through the vehicle’s cameras.

In the event of an unexpected traffic complication, the vehicle will stop immediately. The WEpod will not drive where there is an increased risk posed by external factors: rush-hour traffic, in the dark, in slick conditions or in inclement weather.

Although the WEpod responds faster than a human being can, it still requires the same braking distance that any other vehicle travelling the same speed would need to stop. The vehicle sensors send out an immediate signal which triggers the brake system instantly.

The WEpod will not drive where there is an increased risk posed by external factors: rush-hour traffic, in the dark, in slick conditions or in inclement weather. In the event of an unexpected traffic complication, the vehicle will stop immediately. After an emergency stop, the operator in the control room makes the decision of whether the vehicle can continue driving or not. The operator can evaluate the situation through the vehicle’s cameras

Questions about legislation and regulations:

Vehicles are acquiring more and more automatic functions, such as automatic parallel parking and traffic jam driving. Such vehicles are developing at increasing speed. The Dutch government wants to retain its leading position and prepare the Netherlands for these developments. They are taking a number of steps to this end.

Why a policy for self-driving vehicles?

Innovation and transport play an important role in the Netherlands. The development of vehicles with automated functions is moving fast. The Netherlands must therefore be ready for these developments. In fact, the Dutch government wants the Netherlands to play a leading role in this field.

Self-driving vehicles have important advantages to offer to society:

Smoother traffic

When cars communicate with one another, they can adjust their breaking and accelerating patterns to each other. Self-driving vehicles react faster when the cars in front of them break. They also automatically keep a certain distance from the car in front of them. This may lead to fewer traffic jams.

Fewer accidents

Human error is the most important cause of road accidents (responsible for 90% of all accidents). Self-driving vehicles are therefore expected to reduce the risk of road accidents. This will lead to improved traffic safety.

Less fuel required

Self-driving vehicles often use less fuel. Lorries can for instance drive in single file, thus reducing air resistance. Vehicles that communicate with one another do not need to break or accelerate as frequently or as suddenly.

Adjusting Dutch laws and regulations to test self-driving vehicles

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment has made it possible to conduct large-scale testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads. This was done in collaboration with the Department of Public Works (Rijkswaterstaat) and the RDW. The regulations have been adjusted to make testing legally possible. The Decision on Dispensations for Exceptional Transport (Besluit ontheffingverlening exceptionele transporten) regulates dispensations for vehicles that do not fit in the ‘normal’ categories. The test applicant must first demonstrate that testing is conducted safely. This requires submitting an admission application, following which the RDW is authorised to grant a dispensation.

Adjusting international laws and regulations

International laws and regulations must also be adjusted. Only then will it be possible to sell self-driving vehicles to consumers. The Treaty of Vienna is the most important treaty regarding traffic. The Netherlands wish to collaborate with other leading countries to adjust legislation so as to make the new developments in self-driving vehicles really possible.

Admission on the public road

How can tests be conducted on the public road? This has been investigated by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and the RDW. The RDW is responsible for the admission of vehicles on the public road. This includes self-driving vehicles. The RDW is now authorised to admit self-driving vehicles on the road for testing purposes. This requires going through an admission procedure. The test applicant must demonstrate that the vehicle is safe for use in traffic.

As you might imagine, a self-driving car can’t just go out on the road. The Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment has allowed large-scale testing of self-driving cars on the public road network. This has been arranged with Rijkswaterstaat (the Directorate-General for Public Works) and the RDW. In fact, making this testing possible required some changes to the law, which were implemented after we demonstrated that we could conduct the pilot study safely. Before self-driving vehicles can be sold to consumers, however, international legislation and regulations will have to be updated to accommodate them, and that has yet to happen.

The most important international convention on traffic is the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. Together with other forward-looking countries, the Netherlands wants to be in the vanguard of the countries that are updating their legislation to let self-driving cars become a reality.

The Exemption for Exceptional Transport Decree governs exemptions for vehicles that do not fit within the ‘normal’ categories. The test applicant must first demonstrate that the testing will be carried out in a manner that is safe. This requires an admission application. After that, the RDW can grant an exemption.

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment investigated the answer to this question in partnership with Rijkswaterstaat (the Directorate-General for Public Works) and the RDW. The RDW is the public agency responsible for allowing vehicles on the public road network – even self-driving vehicles! It can opt to allow self-driving cars on the road for testing, but this has to be the result of a process that includes the applicant for the testing going through an application procedure and demonstrating that self-driving vehicles can safely participate in traffic.

Questions about the route and navigation:

One of the WEpods will be driving between the railway station at Ede-Wageningen and the Wageningen University campus. For now, this route will consist of just these two stops. The other WEpod will be driving around on the campus. This vehicle will also have a number of fixed stops. Of course, there is also an emergency stop button in the vehicle that passengers can use if the situation so requires.

Of course, WEpods have to be counted on to participate in traffic safely and reliably. Guaranteeing this required the development of a special, very precise road map indicating not only the geometry of the road, but all visible objects (trees, lampposts, etc.). The vehicle’s path is projected extremely precisely onto this map. The map also contains a great deal of other information, like the maximum speed on each segment of road. There has never been a map of this kind made before. It’s a real first!

The WEpods are equipped with a number of different systems:

  • Ultra-precise GPS sensor for satellite navigation
  • Inertial Navigation Sensor for measuring the acceleration of the vehicle in every direction
  • Odometry: Sensors for determining wheel revolutions and steering angles to determine the distance travelled•Camera-based Lane-Keeping System for tracking lines on the roadway
  • Radar (in combination with camera) for determining exact position in relation to fixed objects (landmarks)

These systems, both individually and in combination, make it possible to always determine exactly where the vehicle is.

At present, the WEpod cannot travel on any alternative routes. In a later phase, the vehicle will have to be able to do this and more, but for the present we are restricting the project to a single, fixed route. This is just one short trip, for which we have two variants to allow for some upcoming scheduled construction works.

Of course, it is always possible to reprogram a route or add more alternatives, but before we do that we consider it smart to get some experience with the present route first. In some situations the operator can also instruct the vehicle to run certain subroutines, like cross the central line to pass a car parked in the lane of traffic or drive in reverse if needed.

Questions about the project timing:

The first vehicle arrived in the Netherlands at the end of July 2015. By October, the second had arrived. The WEpods will be making test runs in the FoodValley region from November 2015 until September 2016. Initially, the WEpods will be making test runs on the WUR. Assuming this goes well, the route will be gradually expanded until the WEpods are making the full trip between Wageningen University and the Ede-Wageningen railway station. At that point the WEpods will begin taking passengers (by invitation).

The first passengers of the WEpod were engineers and project partners. The WEpod on the route to Ede is intended for guests of the WUR, who will be invited to use the WEpod as transport from the railway station at Ede-Wageningen to Wageningen University.

Also during the test phase, we will be inviting other people, including local residents living along the route, to take a ride in the WEpod. Whether the WEpods continue driving after the test depends on whether the project gets a follow-up, and if so, what form that takes.