A new research project – inspired by swarming insects – is aiming to create a ‘pioneering’ collision avoidance system to enhance the safety of autonomous vehicles.
Funded by a €1.8m (approx £1.6m) grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the ‘ULTRACEPT’ project will set out to develop a ‘trustworthy’ sensor to protect against ‘unexpected hazards’.
The project is being led by the University of Lincoln and brings together experts from universities in Germany, China, Japan, Malaysia and South America.
The sensor, influenced by the rapid reactions of insects, will incorporate near-range collision detection technology, long-range hazard perception and thermal-based collision detection tools.
The combination of technologies is designed to ensure that the sensor works day and night, and can quickly adapt to unexpected hazards and different conditions – such as sudden weather changes or driving in and out of tunnels.
Developers say the ‘robust, low-cost, and energy-efficient’ system will offer a capability which is currently beyond the autonomous vehicles in development.
Professor Shigang Yue, professor of computer science at the University of Lincoln, said: “Autonomous vehicles, although still in the early stages of development, have demonstrated huge potential for shaping our future lifestyles – from sending children to school, driving commuters to work, delivering packages to households, and distributing goods to warehouses, shops or remote areas.
“But to be functional on a daily basis there is one critical issue to solve; trustworthy collision detection.
“Biology provides a rich source of inspiration for artificial visual systems for collision detection and avoidance.
“For example, locusts, with a compact visual brain, can fly for hundreds of miles in dense swarms free of collision; praying mantis can monitor tiny moving prey with the help of specialised visual neurons; and nocturnal insects successfully forage in the forest at night without collision.
“These naturally evolved vision systems provide ideal models to develop an artificial system for collision detection and avoidance, and we hope that in the future, each vehicle, with or without a driver, will be well equipped with an innovative sensor to navigate as effectively as animals do.”