Preparing for autonomy

The demand for autonomous operations in the off-highway industry is increasing. To meet this need, high safety standards must be considered and in-vehicle architectures need to be redeveloped.

The technology required for autonomous operation in the mobile machinery sector can improve safety and productivity, as well as address operator and skills shortages in related industries. TTControl, a joint venture of TTTech and Hydac International, is working toward the incremental introduction of automation in mobile machinery.

Assistance categories

As a first step toward autonomous mobile machinery, high-performance computing platforms and sensors are required to assist operators by providing visual and/or acoustic signals to guide them. Types of assistance will vary from industry to industry and from application to application, but a basic set of sample assistance categories can be defined, such as:

  • Safety assistance: Obstacle recognition and people detection in the area surrounding the machine;
  • Guidance: Overlaying optimal path/work action on the vehicle display to guide the operator;
  • Virtual boundaries: Limiting the machine’s actions, so that potential errors do not cause harm or damage to the operator or people in the machine’s surrounding areas.

Advanced operator assistance requires a smart human-machine interface (HMI) to communicate with the operator in a bifunctional way. The next generation of TTControl’s robust operator interfaces is designed to meet the requirements of an advanced off-highway operator assistance system. Features such as four simultaneous video streams, hardware accelerated 3D animations, user inputs through multitouch-capable screens and acoustic feedback via integrated loudspeaker, ensure operators can safely and efficiently drive the machine. An extensive range of interfaces and a display size of 12.1in (30.7cm) allow them to be used in a range of applications.

A high-performance computing platform joins sensors and other control units on a vehicle

To increase machine productivity and efficiency, accurate information about the machine and its equipment is crucial. In order to collect various kinds of data such as CAN-based messages, engine data, GPS-based location and movement information TTControl provides a complete out-of-the-box connectivity solution. The TTConnect Cloud Service includes TTConnect Wave – the ruggedized IoT gateway – as well as access to the TTConnect Cloud. The service enables OEMs of mobile machinery and fleet owners to access machine data remotely on any device that is connected to the internet. It therefore ensures complete machine management, data analysis and operational cost savings.

In the future, multiple or even all operator tasks will be taken over by the automated machinery. This advanced level of automation will only be possible through complex sets of sensors for environment perception, such as stereo cameras and lidars. The enormous amount of collected classified data will be handled via deep learning algorithms that are able to recognize obstacles or other objects during the working process. The high data rate and computing power required to process the information obtained by these sensors in real time has stimulated discussion about new network and control architectures for mobile machinery. Experts at TTControl expect any new vehicle architecture to include a central high-performance computing platform connected via an Ethernet interface to sensors and other control units in the machine. The graphic above shows an example of such an in-vehicle architecture.

The autonomous future of mobile machinery

There is still a long way to go until mobile machinery operation is fully autonomous. “In the short term, autonomous vehicles will operate within restricted areas only,” says Andreas Locatelli, product manager of autonomous operations at TTControl. “Nevertheless, this brings enormous benefits for mobile machinery OEMs in terms of productivity and efficiency. Heading toward full autonomy in the long run will certainly be linked to an even higher safety level of mobile machinery.”