Competition winners explain why they are excited about Self Driving Track Days

Self Driving Track Days – a chance to work, rest and play!

We gave away a small handful of prize-draw tickets to our upcoming Self Driving Track Days event, taking place on July 10th 2018 in Milton Keynes, so we wanted to find out a little more about two of our winners, Anna Relton and Dr Tim Biggs…

Tell us about yourself – where are you from and what do you do? 

AR: I’m from Cambridgeshire, and I’m a student at Loughborough University. Although Loughborough Uni is sport/engineering central, I study psychology, and I’m currently working for a year on placement and work part time for Vectare, a transport consultancy, as their Marketing Strategy Manager.

Vectare provides innovative transport solutions, developing new technologies with our in-house team and using data analysis to advise consultancy clients. One speciality  is coordinating home-to-school transport solutions for Independent Schools, by redesigning their school bus networks to maximise profit and efficiency, but also providing online booking systems, real-time vehicle tracking, and postcode search functions to help parents find their local bus stop and route. Furthermore, we have been able to provide similar services for municipal bus companies from major cities too.

TB: I am a physicist working for AVX Electronics Technology Ltd, which is part of the AVX group of companies. We primarily develop, design and sell automotive sensors under the AB brand, in a range of global markets to Tier 1s and OEMs.

Our product range includes position, temperature, pressure, liquid level, liquid quality, speed, electric motor encoders, pedals and ride height monitoring across a range of technologies. My role involves design and development of new sensor technologies and systems, maintaining up to date knowledge of new technologies and trends, and sharing knowledge across our group of companies.

Why do you want to learn more about the technology in this field?

AR: Driverless technology is going to revolutionise transport in general, and but also change the game for transport companies such as ours when planning for future investments and expansion. Vectare will eventually have a wider fleet of vehicles, and some may well end up being driverless to maximise efficiency, customer experience, and minimise overhead costs.

It’s always exciting to see what other companies are doing that may integrate with our work. It’s possible that we would want to invest in hybrid solutions or simple technologies that complement our existing services in the future, and so it’s events like Self Driving Track Days that allow us to scope out what solutions and projects are out there. 

We are in a really fortunate position to have links with Universities such as Loughborough (renowned for engineering), Exeter and Aston, and have been able to hand-pick the best of the best for different projects and teams we have created. It’s pretty exciting to us that we could enable the next generation of engineers and computer scientists to get involved in transport as a career path and work on new technologies that will revolutionise public transport as we know it.

 TB: I want to know how to leverage our current portfolio into the emerging autonomous market, what areas we should aim to be working in the future, and understand more about the current sensing problems.

What sort of companies and professionals are you hoping to meet?

AR: Really anyone we can collaborate with, either now or in the future! This field is something we are keen to investigate and experience first hand. We have various partners that will be so excited that we are looking into and experiencing driverless technology. We’re also hoping to come across companies and solutions that we haven’t heard about before, particularly new innovations, as these are the products and systems that will help us to think outside the box and push the boundaries in our own work.

TB: I am interested in meeting makers of autonomous systems/vehicles to learn about their challenges, as well as academics to learn about future developments.

Book your place at Self Driving Track Days soon and take advantage of our early-booking discounts.

Driverless cars will burn out your eyes and eat your soul

All the nonsense in one place; busting the myths about Self Driving Cars for your easy consumption.  And please remember to fasten your seat belts before take-off.

  1. The Trolley Problem
  2. Driverless cars will blind us all with laser beams!
  3. Cars will be easy to hack
  4. We’ll all lose our jobs…

The Trolley Problem

Turn left and mow down a group of children, or turn right and hit a tree, killing the vehicle’s occupants.

The modern version of the trolley problem, created as a thought experiment, has often been applied to autonomous vehicles as a warning on the complexity of decisions they will supposedly have to make.

In a nut-shell, this is a daft problem which provides a philosophical approach to an ethical dilemma without taking into consideration very important and fairly simple facts.

  1. Cars are already engineered to protect their occupants far better than they are engineered to protect pedestrians or other road users. The safest car on the road (the Volvo XC90), measured by Euro NCAP, has a 98% safety rating for occupants and a frankly appalling ~75% rating for protecting pedestrians. In fact, not one car goes above 85% for pedestrians.
  2. Given a complex situation, a driverless car will just come safely to a stop. Waymo testers are well known for their ingenuity and creativity in trying to defeat their own cars’ ability to perceive their environments, and when faced with the ‘impossible to plan for’…  In one case coming across a crowd of people dressed as frogs hopping across a road, Waymo had programmed the vehicle to just gently brake until the route was clear.
  3. Nobody will ever get into a vehicle that favours the safety of someone else over you. Credit to writer and commentator Alex Roy for that, but it’s true… unless you’re getting into a vehicle with the express purpose of never getting off, like the Suicide Roller Coaster. Rather than considering a vehicle that’s safe for everyone, we are not generous enough to think about buying a vehicle that’s not safe for us and only safe for people around us. After all, we want to survive the journey to McDonald’s.

Of course, the nature of psychologists is to disagree, and the nature of philosophers is to question the meaning of everything. Am I right, wrong, is that a question or a lump of cheese?  What does it all mean?

Driverless cars will blind us all with laser beams!

Wrong, wrong and wrong! Actually, wrong by a factor of 2 million, and I’ll explain why.

For this, we can fall back on technology facts and the laws of physics, which thankfully are not subject to votes, gerrymandering, or sinister algorithmic fake-news bots controlled by scary government forces.

Any device using a laser must be allocated to Classes, with 1 at the bottom and 4 at the top. Lasers you find in CD players and Laser Copiers… and Lidar units, are all Class 1.  That’s the power or frequency at which there is ‘no possibility of eye damage’, i.e. there have never been any recorded cases of damage, even under extended exposure.

But that doesn’t tell us why.. or indeed what could happen if another Class of laser were used.

To be effective, a Lidar unit (Light Distance and Ranging) emits a tiny bit of energy on the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This energy is focused into a tight beam (i.e. turned into a laser) and then steered around a scene, by a mirror, a motor, or by a tiny device which combines those two things, called a MEMS.  The energy, in the form of photons, travels out from the Lidar, hits and object and then some of those photons bounce back.  The unit (and associated processing and software) then measure the timing and location of those bounces, and similar to your eyes, builds a rough 3D picture.

While Lidar is a fairly mature technology, having been theorised first in the 1930s and used in the Moon landings in the 1960s, it’s going through a few big changes. Arguably the two most important being the idea to make them move from a single mount (most commonly spinning lidars, as seen regularly on autonomous R&D vehicles) and the second, happening right now, the move away from this and towards ‘solid state lidars’, where a wide field of view can be taken in by multiple smaller, cheaper sensors, rather than several big, complicated expensive ones.

Either way, the maths we do is roughly the same, so we’ll use the example of the well known ‘Velodyne Puck’ which is widely used, and Velodyne has usefully published detailed specifications for.

Each sensor has between 16 and 128 lasers, which rapidly rotate at approximately 10 hertz, or 10 full revolutions per second, creating about 30,000 beam points.

One Watt. One James Watt, to be exact.

Each laser pulses at a wavelength of 905nm (that’s just below 1/1000th of a millimetre) with power of 1 or 2 mW. That’s roughly the same energy needed to lift up a single grain of rice.

For comparison purposes, this is about 1/5,000th or 0.02% of the power output in your standard 10-watt LED headlamp bulb on a low-beam setting.

Any single laser beam would sweep across an inadvertently glancing eye in approximately 1 millisecond. And since each individual laser is mounted in a different orientation and angle, multiple lasers cannot strike the eye.

1000th of a second… and a very small amount of power.

There alone is a factor of 1 million-to-1 in favour of “It’s going to be fine”.

Going up a notch

Let’s say we swap all this out for a Class II laser, that’s up to 1mW (1000th of a Watt) and using Visible light.  Even if we did that, damage would only start to occur after 1000 seconds of continuous exposure to a single spot within the eye. That is sitting very still… still enough for a Victorian photograph – nearly 17 minutes!

Driverless cars at a disco…

Ramp it up another notch to Class IIIa lasers and up to 5mW of power and finally we start to see some medical evidence of damage to eyes if exposed to certain wavelengths for several continuous seconds..

Up another notch to Class IIIb and yes, damage is probably going to occur because that includes 5mW up to 500mW – or half a Watt of power, and Class IV is where we start to burn holes through things and shine beams on other planets.

The length of a wave is directly proportional to how much you want the person to leave

From your school years, you may recall that if you decrease wavelength, then frequency of the wave increases proportionally. The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength, and vice versa.

What most people do not know, however, is that the energy level also changes.

That means that visible light, for example, has more energy in its photons than the longer wavelength, higher frequency energy in the infrared band.

Let’s take the example above of the Velodyne Pucks, which operate at a wavelength of 905 nanometres, compared with visible light, which ranges from 390 to 770 nanometres (or nm) or roughly one third to three quarters of one thousandth of one millimetre. That’s even smaller!

Because the ratio between wavelength and energy is exactly the same, we can just do the sum with the wavelengths to give us the correct ratio of how the energy level would also change. If you have more cats (wavelength), you’ll also need more cat-food (energy).

905 divided by the range of visible light 390 to 770, gives us another multiplier … from 2.3 to 1.7.

That means that in addition to our time factor error of 1 million, we have another factor, i.e. of the beam wavelength difference conveying a different amount of energy.  So, at visible light wavelengths, there’s actually about twice as much energy travelling down the laser beam as is found in this infrared unit.  Since you’re still persevering, let’s round it off at 2.

Finally, we can multiply our energy factor by the time factor… and we get to 2 million!

You’d need to be within a few metres of 2 million lidar units, and even at the rate of growth we’ve seen in the lidar market recently, even that would be a challenge.  Before we conclude, the human body is also self-healing, so if we were to have this weird miracle occur, it would only take a few days for the eye to fully recover.

In summary, no, we’re not all about to go blind from Self Driving Cars.

Cars will be easy to hack

Certainly not helped by the apocalyptical scenes of driverless cars being taken over to hinder our heros’ progress in Hollywood movies, the much publicised ‘Jeep Hack’ – an attack on a Jeep Cherokee which took control of some functions in 2016 – actually took 6 months to plan and implement, time which included a significant amount of direct access to the vehicle in question.

As was succinctly pointed out to me by a senior engineering leader, ‘Engineers don’t make things to fail’. They are manufacturers using scientific method.  If there’s evidence to say that the existing approach does not work, the approach needs to be modified.

It might be distasteful to consider the following, but I ask you to spare a moment as we venture into the dark soul of a nefarious criminal, assassin or scruffy-haired ne’er-do-well.

Murder most horrid. I suspect the perpetrator had a chip on their shoulder.

Yes Mr Big, you want Bob Jones to be eliminated, I understand.  Well, of all the methods I would choose, I would definitely use the most fiendishly complex and time consuming, and definitely not use a blunt object, readily available firearm or knife, or just set a fire in their basement

Evidently many years watching Criminal Minds have served me well.

Anyway, I digress… the problem is that, given these are technology systems, the pay off needs to be technologically motivated. Sure, there are weaknesses in any system designed to communicate data from one place to another, and with a vehicle designed with sensors, many companies making the hardware and software therein are increasingly paying attention to how those processes could be hijacked, but add in to the mix multi-sensor validation, and the problem moves from edge case to almost impossible.

Let’s say you can fool a vehicle’s vision system into misreading a road sign (see the genuine example here of one algorithm thinking the cat is actually guacamole – the image has been modified specifically to defeat the computer vision system).

The same driverless system also has other data sources: lidar and radar to detect traffic density and enact safe operating distances, mapping data including junction configurations, and in the future, wireless connectivity to traffic management systems.

The future of ‘over the air updates’, now a regular feature in new cars, from an ever increasing number of manufacturers, coupled with the ability to alter how the processors around the vehicle actually behave (so called ‘Field Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGAs), mean that any alterations to the system can be fixed easily, any software amendments authorised against a community of other vehicles, any unathorised attack detected.

That means that, much like your smartphone or friendly neighbourhood laptop or tablet, security updates will be downloaded without your knowledge with validations carried out against remote encrypted checking files.

It’s not a great stretch of the imagination to consider that blockchain-like technology could be used to validate updates against the server at your local dealer or even the other cars in your street.

Hacking cars is just so fantastically complex, and so utterly pointless in comparison to simpler means to control or attack, and so easily defeated, that the realms of practicality simply don’t extend to include it as a worthwhile exercise for your unfriendly neighbourhood gangster or your international megolomaniac.

We’ll all lose our jobs…

Do you work as a driver?

Autonomous cars will arrive with a whimper. As I have written before, the nature of physically manufacturing and shipping a vehicle to a buyer is a complex task but multiply that task across the population of the world and you have a revolution that will take 20 years to get half way and perhaps 30-40 years to conclude.

In the context of technological progress, that’s not particularly fast, and thankfully increases the visibility of this issue across the education and skills supply chain (i.e. schools and education) as well as providing plenty of warning for those who are professionally employed as vehicle operators, to the imminent change of vehicles ‘going driverless’.

Few of the jobs I have enjoyed in the past 15 years existed when I was at school, largely because they have revolved around technologies invented after I left. Does that mean that I won’t be able to survive the technologies that have not yet been invented?  No, of course no, it just means I shall adapt.

Denise starting wearing a wig to get Gerald’s attention because he started to prefer blondes. She adapted.

Despite some indications to the contrary, notably in politics, humans are actually quite good at learning and adapting to their environment, i.e. not just surviving, but thriving – despite challenges.

Higher-skilled drivers, and those that offer additional services, will have a place for a few more years even after driverless vehicles arrive, as people with luggage or special access requirements may still need help dismounting vehicles, at least until the cost of replacing them drops to a point where technology can provide a better service at lower cost.

That, you see, becomes the pivot point.  Not just of the direct cost of technology development, but the indirect costs of providing a robust interface to the real world for users of the system, a driverless Uber that can automatically deploy a ramp or help me stand up, leaving my luggage at the entrance to the hotel lobby.

How many grocery delivery drivers will lose their jobs if the current convenience of ‘mouse click to kitchen delivery’ turns in to ‘mouse click to tedious slog from the road side driverless van’?

Consumers would be worse off, so drivers are safe – for now.

The technologies which enable autonomy are all advancing apace, between shrinking processors, sharper sensors and smarter software, but the shape and nature of economics will not change.

Customer service and convenience will dominate the evolution, reducing cost and increasing business profitability will pay for it, and neither can be compromised for the sake of replacing humans with robots.

To that end, remember that technology does change, but human nature does not.

It is in our habit to live unwanted change through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – when it’s easier just to look at the cold hard facts.

Yes, things will change, yes, life will be different, yes, jobs will be lost… but actually, things won’t change all that suddenly, jobs will actually change and society will adapt and overall, life will go on just as it always has, surviving and thriving despite the seismic sociological shifts that new technologies trigger.

Want to find out more about the technology in self driving cars? Come along to our Self Driving Track Days workshop in Milton Keynes on 10 July >>

Please consume responsibly!  This article is meant as a call to arms and lightweight introduction to lots of different ideas. If you want to learn more, come to an event and talk to the real experts – but all the same, we hope you enjoyed it and remember kids, check your facts! – Alex Lawrence-Berkeley

When and why your innovation could be funded

We’ve been to a few events recently, including two that particularly stood out that were organised by the brilliant team in a small and occasionally overlooked organisation called the Knowledge Transfer Network, a unified body (from a previously multi-disciplined 15 organisations) tasked with bringing businesses together at events to share information, learn about new technologies, network and find out about Innovate UK funding calls.

These two events, Quantum Technology in Transport, and Embedded AI, showed not just the admirable variety of technology developers in the UK, from small scale to multi-national, but also highlighted the pivotal role held by funding organisations, notably Innovate UK, to act as a central facilitator and aggravator of investment into the development of new technologies over short, medium and long term.

But how do you define where technology can be used, or trickier still, when an immature technology might make an impact?

This is where a tried and tested measure called the ‘Technology Readiness Level’ can be applied.  This multi-step process, which has slight variants in Space, Energy, Defense and other sectors in the UK, EU and US defines how mature the technology is, and thus whether it would benefit from further investment to help it mature into a viable product that is commercially successful, and eventually return that investment to the investor.

In the case of Innovate UK, the investor is also the taxpayer (that’s you and me), so the commercial success of a product is both an improved tax return to the government within the country, and the potential for an improved export volume from the country, improving the balance of economic advantage.

Technology Readiness Levels

TRL 1. basic principles observed
TRL 2. technology concept formulated
TRL 3. experimental proof of concept
TRL 4. technology validated in lab
TRL 5. technology validated in relevant environment (industrially relevant environment in the case of key enabling technologies)
TRL 6. technology demonstrated in relevant environment (industrially relevant environment in the case of key enabling technologies)
TRL 7. system prototype demonstration in operational environment
TRL 8. system complete and qualified
TRL 9. actual system proven in operational environment (competitive manufacturing in the case of key enabling technologies; or in space)

Innovate UK operates mainly in the areas of TRL 3 to 7, where there’s the greatest difficulty, taking on the mantle from the national research councils – which fund lower levels of research, and the commercial sector (also known as the glory seekers!) taking on the significantly reduced risk of a close-to-perfected product.

One step further away from Innovate UK, lies in the strategy it is required to fulfil, often set a few years beforehand.  So the idea of CAVs (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles) being identified as of real importance in the early 2010s, helped to focus attention on not just one but many different areas that needed to be looked at – not just legislative (road law in the UK is very complex) but also commercial, educational, industrial and societal.

Two of the larger government departments, BEIS and DfT, had a ‘special cuddle’ and out shot CCAV, the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles), sibling to the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, to define a more detailed strategy and make some intelligent investments to start resolving these problem areas.

The large research projects, of which there have been more than 50, have investigated many of these. Since 2014, there have now been three CAV funding rounds, and so far, one separate CAV testbed round. Aligned to those, there have been funding calls for Emerging and Enabling Technologies, AR/VR plus the open innovation calls.  In short, a lot of money has been spent to stimulate further private investment (almost all of it has been match funded by industry 50/50).

Many of these will be coming along to The London Motor Show, and we expect that a few will also be coming along to Self Driving Track Days in July.

There are three more relevant funding rounds this year, including another CAV testbed round and a fourth (and probably final) CAV research round – so there’s still plenty of room for more innovation and research for bold new ideas if you want to find out more and start working in the sector.

Our top tips

  • Sign up to the KTN newsletters (as many as are relevant)
  • Attend some events
  • Read, watch and learn as much as you can!

We have lots of articles, videos and will always try to point you in the right direction, but there’s little better than getting yourself to a real event where engineers are on-hand to give you genuinely exciting and hands-on experience.


Prize draw results – Did you win?

From November to February, we have invited attendees to enter a prize draw at events that we’ve attended.

And, we have now drawn to find some lucky winners, all of whom get free entry to the event, which will include a full day of workshops, driverless technology demonstrations and of course refreshments throughout the day – taking place at Daytona Milton Keynes on July 10th 2018.

At four events in the past four months, the winners are: Guilhermina Torrao, a PhD researcher at the University of Bradford; Tim Biggs, Sensor Technologist at AVX Electronics; Pedro Machado, a Design Engineer at Sundance Multiprocessor, and; Anna Relton, who found us at the Transport for London Museum’s event, “Transport and the Future”.

We’ll be talking to all four lucky winners in the next few weeks to find out more about their own interest, experience, and ask why they are interested in autonomous vehicle technologies.

Bookings are already open for Self Driving Track Days, and we expect the agenda to be completed and announced in the spring, in the mean-time, we are also supporting work on the brand new Autonomous Vehicle Zone at The London Motor Show, which we aim to include our trademark mix of exciting technology displays and fascinating educational insights.

As we march toward the event date, we have another prize draw – for anyone that signs up to our mailing list, for the first time, in March could be in with a chance to win a free place!

It’s simple, all you have to do is sign up with your email address to be in with a chance of winning 😊


Welcome to 2018… Our best year yet

Happy New Year and after a very exciting 2017, we’re back for our bigger event format for 2018.  With a change of venue, to the focal point of the UK’s autonomous industry, Milton Keynes, (just around the corner from the fantastic Transport System Catapult), we’ll be opening the doors to around 150 people and a wide variety of technology companies, demonstration vehicles and guest speakers – all gathering to support your growth and development in this exciting field.

Book your tickets here >>

Tickets explained… The standard ticket includes your choice of workshops, autonomous vehicle demonstrations and access to the exhibition, along with refreshments all day and lunch.  The ‘networking’ ticket includes access to the exclusive evening session, where you can relax, continue conversations, and enjoy complimentary go-karting and BBQ dinner.

There’s lots going on in 2018 and, apart from being part of the ‘Year of Engineering 2018’, you’ll also be able to join us for the first time at the London Motor Show, where we’ll be helping the AutoSens team curate a brand new Autonomy Zone.

We’ll be in Nottingham at the Midlands Intelligent Mobility Conference at the end of January too, so if you’re heading there, come and say hello!

If you’re making resolutions, make sure attending Self Driving Track Days is on the list – and what better time to book than during the discount period running all month?

Have a great 2018, and see you soon.

Alex Lawrence-Berkeley
Co-founder, Self Driving Track Days

Why attend? Autonomous Vehicle Demo

Book Your Tickets – 10 July 2018 at Daytona Milton Keynes, UK

Book your place

Year of Engineering 2018

We are delighted to be part of the Year of Engineering 2018.

YoE is a government backed programme of events spanning across the UK, encouraging people of all ages (but especially younger people) to engage with science, technology, engineering and maths – and consider working in fields using these topics.

As an event which celebrates and connects engineers, we are proud to support this initiative and are pleased to encourage people from all backgrounds to consider engineering, in all forms, as a potential career.

There is no single industry which does not need engineers, and the ecosystem of technologies used in autonomous vehicles is as diverse as it is exciting, with ideas and applications of STEM skills included in mechanical, electrical, digital and even civil engineering. Outside our regular topic of autonomous road vehicles, these technologies are used in the air, under water, even in space – as well as in logistics, industrial manufacturing processes in factories, and agriculture.

The engineers we see at our events come from and go towards many different industries and we are keen to fly the flag on their behalf and tell everyone that being an engineer can take you anywhere.

New Autonomous Vehicle Zone at the London Motor Show 2018!

Hi everyone!  Just me checking in with some fantastic news that I felt obliged to write about. 

Along with AutoSens, our sister event series in the international vehicle perception sector, we are taking over a major part of The London Motor Show 2018 with a brand new Autonomous Vehicle Zone.

It’s remarkable to think that we’ve come so far in only 16 months since we launched, and that we’ll leapfrog to join the likes of the largest auto events in the world to tell the story of the future of transport.

I have started chatting to people about this announcement over the last couple of weeks, and it’s clear that 2018 is going to be a fantastic year for the sector, particularly in the UK – and that means we are expanding too, as our in-house team approaches double figures.

New courses are coming (both accredited and online), new technology is coming, recruiters are getting busier and investment is accelerating across Europe, so it’s a great time to be thrust into the public’s imagination to help changing hearts and minds, talking about the challenges and opportunities ahead, and sharing the journey.

This announcement will be seen more widely by the public, the mainstream and automotive media over the coming days, and of course we are keen to flesh out the announcement with more details of the features, exhibitors and exciting discussions that we’ll be able to bring to you in May 2018.

Finally, a treat for those of you that are avid fans.. ticketing for Self Driving Track Days will be live soon, and we’ll be giving away one place at the July event in Milton Keynes before Christmas to one lucky person that joins the mailing list in the first two weeks of December 🙂

Have a great holiday season!

Alex Lawrence-Berkeley [LinkedIn]

Co-Founder of Self Driving Track Days and Head of New Projects at Sense Media Group.

Save the date – 2018 event date announced

Coming to the year’s end gives us a chance to review what we’ve achieved, and sometimes that means doing things differently – so we’ll do fewer but bigger events… that includes working on The London Motor Show 2018 developing a brand new exciting feature there.

It would be easy to carry on as before but as an event organiser, it’s important to take on feedback so we are moving to a UK venue in the autonomous vehicle heartland of Milton Keynes and shortening the event to one day.

We trialed this event format in Austria in July 2017 and it worked very well for attendees and sponsors (who typically have quite large overhead costs to consider in their commitment to taking part).

The event will include a number of half-day workshops, a small exhibition and of course, our driverless vehicle demonstrations, with space for 150 attendees to come and take part.  Lunch will be included, and there will be a BBQ and karting in the evening as an optional extra.

Please add the date to your diary… Tuesday 10th July 2018 at Daytona Karting, Milton Keynes.

We’ll be confirming more details in early 2018, so if you are not already on the mailing list, please sign up now.

2017 – a review of our first year

This year has been remarkable for the automotive and technology industries, between mergers and acquisitions in the technology space, to new innovations, technologies and investments.

Waymo’s driverless vehicles are going in to public service in the US, and Uber has ordered 24,000 Volvo cars to create an enormous driverless fleet.  Closer to home, Jaguar Land Rover and parent company Tata have run driverless demos on public roads, last week we saw the UK government promise more investment for Robotics and AI, and the UK’s new Industrial Strategy launched to coalesce aligned and supportive industries to increase productivity.

Here at Sense Media Group, we’ve grown from 3 to 7 people, have run events in the UK and Austria, plus more workshops and demonstrations in the US and Belgium too, and we’ve been involved in everything from TV shows to development of standards and even government policy!

AutoSens, sister brand to Self Driving Track Days, has gone from strength to strength and has now become the most influential conference in the vehicle perception eco-system, globally, and will next year return to the awesome AutoWorld Museum in Brussels, as well as the Michigan Science Center in Detroit – and of course with driverless technology demonstrations at both!

The AutoSens Awards also launched, celebrating the engineers and technologists working in the commercial sector, as well as highlighting fantastic community efforts and journalism, as well as outreach and education projects supporting the self-driving car revolution.

It’s not just about us…

Some of the startups and smaller innovative companies in our ecosystem, as well as larger more established companies have had a great year too. AutonomouStuff and Quantum, last year’s series sponsors, are working together to create new products, while NXP and Intempora, another pair of last year’s supporters, are jointly marketing products too, finding new efficiencies and customers thanks to embracing our mantra of shared working and collaborative spirit. Innoviz Technologies, a small Israeli LiDAR startup we first came across at the beginning of the year, have ended it with a huge investment (more than $100m) and a haul of awards and plaudits from across industry.

Petrolheads are a significant part of this journey, and last week’s Guy Martin vs the Robot Car, on Channel 4, was an exciting demonstration of why it’s so hard to complete this development journey.  We first met the production team in November 2016 at our very first track event, so seeing the final results on TV is tremendously satisfying and great to see an understandable and accessible programme on a complex topic.  It was also great to see that the systems put into place by our friends at AB Dynamics, who demonstrated their technology at our first event, were able to beat the famed Roborace car! I’m certain that’s won’t take long to change though…

Save the date!

Coming to the year’s end gives us a chance to review what we’ve achieved, and sometimes that means doing things differently – so we’ll do fewer but bigger events… that includes working on The London Motor Show 2018 developing a brand new exciting feature there.

It would be easy to carry on as before but as an event organiser, it’s important to take on feedback so we are moving to a UK venue in the autonomous vehicle heartland of Milton Keynes and shortening the event to one day.

We trialed this event format in Austria in July 2017 and it worked very well for attendees and sponsors (who typically have quite large overhead costs to consider in their commitment to taking part).

The event will include a number of half-day workshops, a small exhibition and of course, our driverless vehicle demonstrations, with space for 150 attendees to come and take part.  Lunch will be included, and there will be a BBQ and karting in the evening as an optional extra.

Please add the date to your diary… Tuesday 10th July 2018 at Daytona Karting, Milton Keynes.

We’ll be confirming more details in early 2018, so if you are not already on the mailing list, please sign up now.

Signing off

I am looking forward to 2018 being a year when the media hype starts turning into real and lasting positive change, as industries start gearing up for the autonomous future.

Have a great holiday season and we’ll hopefully see you soon.

Alex Lawrence-Berkeley, Co-founder [LinkedIn]

Austria 2017 review

ÖAMTC Fahrzentrum Teesdorf played host to the final Self Driving Track Days event of our inaugural 2016-2017 series.

In the region of Baden, Austria, only a short journey from Vienna, around 90 people attended this exciting one-day event, experiencing demonstrations in vehicles provided by TU Graz and Virtual Vehicle Research Center, both based in the country, and learning from engineers and technology developers working on autonomous vehicle technology.

Support from industry

Workshop sessions were hosted by 3-hour sessions were delivered by specialists from TU GrazCodeplay SoftwareAIMotiveHoriba Mira, with further contributions from NovAtelQuantum, and a joint demonstration from NXP and Intempora, with valued support from DataSpeed in the exhibition, demos and panel Q&A session chaired by co-founder Alex Lawrence-Berkeley at the end of the day.

International event

Attendees from Austria, as well as travellers from Poland, Germany and the UK, attended talks by speakers from countries including the US, UK, France and Hungary at a unique and buzzing event which received very positive feedback from sponsors, speakers and attendees alike.

What attendees said

  • “Organization is perfect… price to performance ratio is outstanding” Tomasz Bialek, FEV Polska
  • “At Self Driving Track Days Austria I got to meet several major companies in the field of autonomous driving. I had a blast, especially while catching a ride with a self-driving car.” Kaspar Sakmann, T-Mobile Austria.
  • “It was meaningful to know and experience the state-of-the-art self driving technology. First of all it was good chance to take a test run on autonomous vehicle. In addition to this event was very well organized.” Chansong Jeong, FH Technikum Wien.
    Arpad Takacs, Outreach Scientist at AI Motive, delivering the “AI in the ecosystem of self driving cars” workshop
  • “Good talks, interesting in-car demos and networking opportunities.” Sebastian Busch, Elektrobit Austria GmbH
  • “A super one day event with a wide variety of information.” Christian Aschauer, Universität für Bodenkultur,Institut für Landtechnik.

Outreach and visibility in the community

It was evident from where the attendees had heard about the event that Self Driving Track Days is reaching groups, companies and organisations that typically don’t access international events, including various meetup groups, small companies and researchers in smaller companies and academic organisations.

Arno Eichberger, or TU Graz, being interviewed by Austrian TV

Media coverage

Broadcast, online and print media were in attendance, with features online, on national TV and on radio by the Austrian national broadcaster, ORF, as well as online features in industry magazines Fleet & Economy, Car & Economy, international online coverage on IEEE Spectrum’s Cars That Think. See more…

Support through the year

It’s important for us, as well as the hundreds of people that have engaged with demonstrations, workshops and events we have run in this first year to take a moment and thank all of the companies that have made this possible:

Firstly out partners and sponsors, AutonomouStuff, NovAtel, Quantum Corporation, Intempora, NXP, LeddarTech – without whom Self Driving Track Days would not have happened at all.

Our friends in the industry that have worked so hard to provide demonstrations on-track, including DataSpeed Inc, Anthony Best Dynamics, Virtual Vehicle Research Center and TU Graz

Many other people that have helped along the way, such as journalists, numerous guest speakers at our meetup and track events, marketing teams, venue crew, contractors and colleagues, insurers, camera crew and especially all the meetup group organisers that have helped promote these unique events to their communities of interested people – above all others, as volunteers, they have made the biggest difference – please support them!

What’s next

A note from Alex:

“It’s been a crazy year, a very steep learning curve and utterly exhausting.  I am grateful to my colleagues in Sense Media, especially Rob Stead, for supporting this challenging project and I am looking forward to seeing it grow and mature in such a short space of time.  

Self Driving Track Days will return with more events in 2018, but if you can’t wait for your autonomous technology fix, please sign up to the mailing list for updates and news about future events, and check out AutoSens this September in Brussels, which is the much bigger industry event we also organise. See you next year!”