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Paul Gray: E2I (Expert to Infrastructure)

Paul Gray in car

Nice to know even though Australia no longer manufactures mass-market cars, our home-grown technology for connected and autonomous vehicles is being exported. iMOVE talks to Paul Gray, CEO of an Adelaide-based company, Cohda Wireless, that’s partnering with the big guys in trials around the globe. And this is no bootstrapped start-up – Cohda’s been around since 2004, and has offices in China, the US and Europe.

Tell us briefly about where you’re working and what you’re doing?

At Cohda we develop and manufacture Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I), Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P) technology – collectively known as Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technology. It’s wireless technology that connects vehicles to each other and smart city infrastructure with the purpose of making our roads safer. In October 2018, we trialled our technology in Adelaide’s CBD with support from the Government of South Australia’s Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure’s Future Mobility Lab Fund. We demonstrated two things: the ability of our technology to connect vehicles with each other and with infrastructure to make road-use safer and secondly, how our technology solves the challenges faced by Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) in city environments where accurate positioning is affected by city infrastructure.

A connected autonomous car approached an intersection where a second connected car, driven by a human, runs a red light. Cohda’s V2X technology allowed the connected autonomous vehicle to detect the potential collision and brake even though there was no way of the cars ‘seeing’ each other. The connected autonomous vehicle was able to detect the threat of the vehicle approaching the intersection at speed and made the decision to stop so that a potential collision was avoided.

The ability for cars to drive autonomously is dependent on accurate positioning. The test site, Flinders Street, is an urban canyon where Global Navigation Satellite Systems can be off by up to 40 metres because of city infrastructure. Cohda’s V2X-Locate technology achieves accurate vehicle positioning by connecting the vehicle to roadside infrastructure. This ‘on the ground’ connectivity between cars and roadside infrastructure enables vehicles to positioning with sub-metre accuracy.

Our big focus is on developing and selling V2X software for connected vehicles as well as connected autonomous vehicles. Our V2X solution has been deployed in the Cadillac CTS sedan that went into production in 2017. It is the world’s first production vehicle to have V2X … very cool. In 2019, that tech will be in production with a European car maker too.

We’ve also provided V2X in smart cities infrastructure such as the A2-M2 project in the UK.

We’re also working on a range of other projects. In the mining sector, we’re providing solutions for collision avoidance in underground mines. We’ve got a pilot with Rio Tinto, for example. All of our research and development work is conducted here in Australia while our overseas offices focus on sales and support.

Hypothetically, someone’s given you a bucket of money and a reasonable time frame to sort out a big problem. What would you fix?

In terms of connected vehicles, I’d be developing and rolling out the infrastructure to unlock that problem so car manufacturers and consumers could get immediate value. It would be sufficient to focus on metropolitan areas and along the major corridors.

Part two of this hypothetical scenario. This time you’re to fix a problem to have an appreciable impact with a very small budget and strict, short timeframe. What would you like to have a go at?

That’s my day job – Cohda’s mission is to make our roads safer and more enjoyable for all road users, and we are making significant impact with limited budgets.

What’s the average person not know about the transition to having conventional, connected and autonomous vehicles on Australian roads?

Those vehicles don’t all have to be connected. We’re seeing already cars out there with automation such as built-in sensors, tech to keep you driving within the lane, anti-lock braking and adaptive cruise control. A connected vehicle and a connected autonomous vehicle can do the job better and more cost effectively.

You can buy level 3 autonomous vehicles now – there’s nothing stopping you doing that. You must be in control of the vehicle. There’s a lot of appeal for the features and it’s going to happen quite rapidly without hitches. Austroads and the National Transport Commission are behind it. There’s momentum. It will only be a couple of years before they have recommendations about how to manage this transition period. It will happen a lot faster than people would imagine.

How assured can we be that self-driving cars take out or minimise the risk of accidents that human error cause?

It’s really what self-driving cars can do well. Now, 94% of fatalities on our roads are due to human error. Of those, 25% are the result of speeding, another 25% involve drugs or alcohol and another 10% are due to driver distraction. That’s where an autonomous vehicle can be a really good asset by constantly paying attention.

The question remains, will an autonomous vehicle ever be as good a driver as a good human driver? However, in the short term our goal is simply to build an autonomous vehicle that is better than a bad human driver.

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