PREVIOUS articles in this column have discussed the subject of Next-Generation Vehicles (NxGV), and as mentioned, will be an intrinsic focus of the new National Automotive Policy, which will be announced next month — on top of energy-efficient vehicles which area prominent aspect of the current policy.
The next step for our industry would be the development of technology to support the NxGV ecosystem. This is vital to the development of the NxGV value chain — the parts and components manufacturers, aftermarket players, as well as the talent pool made up of engineers, technicians and specialists in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, smart manufacturing and product designing. All successful programmes in the development of expertise, capability and talent have one key infrastructure in common — a testing or proving ground.
Just like sports teams have their own training ground to test and practice new techniques,tactics and strategies, the development of NxGVs would need similar grounds to test mobility products, particularly as the world is moving towards connected and autonomous vehicles. If you have a chance to visit the manufacturing plants of our local original equipment manufacturers, you will notice a test track, where cars are driven over different terrains and road conditions, with engineers taking notes and reading data on the performance, comfort and safety of the vehicles they have designed or manufactured. However, when it comes to Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) — which are within the definition of an NxGV — the items that have to be tested are expanded beyond the performance of the traditional car.
CAVs, in particular those above Level2Autonomy, are built to monitor, analyse and communicate with its surroundings in order to function. They respond to road conditions, weather, traffic conditions, pedestrian and cyclist presence, etc.
In the future, they will communicate with sensors and data communicated by traffic lights, weather stations, other vehicles and many other sources of environmental data to form automated judgments and self-corrections based on artificial intelligence. This wide of range of technologies work with one another to ensure the safety of future vehicle occupants and those surrounding them.
In view of fatal incidents that have occurred during past tests of autopilot modes, it then becomes pertinent for testing of NxGVs to be conducted in a safe and secure environment, where not only human lives are not subjected to risks, but where businesses can also operate in a business-friendly environment of common testing — the latter an obvious reason to ensure healthy competition among the industries in the development of NxGV technology.
Hence, comes the utility of CAV test beds —a“mock up” running ground that allows the physical proving of designs, prototypes and production models (including components) of NxGVs. Given the complexity of the tests needed to successfully implement an autonomous vehicle programme, such test beds must also allow for real-time testing of all elements that allow vehicles to communicate, using the technology mentioned above. Recently, I had the privilege of visiting ZalaZone,anew infrastructure zone designed to support experimental research and the development of future automotive and mobility technologies. Situated in Hungary, it integrates classic vehicle dynamics testing with a host of testing facilities for CAVs in its purposebuilt proving ground modules, such as a dynamic platform, handling courses, smart city zones, braking surfaces, rural roads, highway sections, high-speed ovals, bad roads, slopes, noise measurement surfaces, water basin and kick plate modules.
The visit was also attended by the International Trade and Industry Minister, with the delegation spending time to fully understand the development of such test beds, with the ministry and the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute planning to work closely with ZalaZONE to create a similar testing zone for Malaysia in Cyberjaya, with the aim of making Malaysia a centre of excellence for the
Asian region in CAV testing.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute.