What Amazon's Zoox did to prevent accidents in self-driving cars?

What Amazon’s Zoox did to prevent accidents in self-driving cars?

Topics surrounding the autonomous vehicle industry usually tend to focus on venture capital investment, IPOs (initial public offerings), and corporate acquisitions. But the future of the autonomous vehicle industry faces the crucial challenge of proving that it is safer to drive than human drivers and gaining the trust of the general public. In short, safety is the key.

In a safety report released on June 22, Zoox disclosed new information about its custom electric autonomous vehicle, with a variety of anti-collision and protection in the event of a collision. Explains the details of the design.

“Everyone says that the reason for introducing an AV car is all about safety, but in reality no one has reached the next item. To prevent collisions and save lives. What should I actually do?” Mark Rosekind, the company’s chief safety innovation officer and former head of the National Road Traffic Safety Authority, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

The latest report answers that question, he said.

Zoox is a little different from its competitors. The company not only develops a software stack for self-driving cars, but also develops on-demand ride-sharing apps and vehicles themselves, as well as owning, managing and operating a robot taxi fleet.

In December, Zoox unveiled an autonomously driven electric robot taxi that the company built from scratch. There are no handles or sunroofs on the cube-shaped body equipped with sensors, and it is possible to carry four people and run at 75 mph (about 120 km).

At that time, Zoox introduced the specifications of this four-seater vehicle, such as a face-to-face seat configuration like a train and a 133kWh battery that can operate continuously for up to 16 hours on a single charge. But it didn’t reveal everything, and it didn’t reveal how to protect passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers.

Don’t get me wrong, Zoox isn’t the only AV maker that publishes safety reports. Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment Reports (VSSA) have become relatively common in the industry and are included in NHTSA’s VSSA Disclosure Indicators for Vehicle Design, Collision Simulation Scenarios, Test Benchmarks, and Boarding. It is supposed to cover 12 areas such as protection measures for people and road users.

Zoox’s first safety report was released in 2018, introducing the company’s “prevent and protect” philosophy. The latest safety report released today describes how to meet the company’s safety goals, including specific details about vehicle design. And the latest report suggests more safety reports will be released, including details on collision avoidance systems and the lighting systems that vehicles use to communicate with other road users.

Zoox has designed more than 100 safety technologies and installed them in dedicated vehicles. Mr. Rosekind explained in detail nine technologies that fall into three categories: “driving control,” “elimination of single points of failure,” and “protection of passengers.”

Operation control

 Amazon's Zoox
Amazon’s Zoox

Zoox vehicles have independent braking and active suspension systems. In other words, each brake is equipped with its own electronic control unit, which enables more accurate control of traction and weight distribution on the road, resulting in shorter braking time.

The car also features four-wheel steering and interactivity, which Rosekind points out that it doesn’t exist in any AV car on the market today. Four-wheel steering is a function that can adjust the position in the lane and the direction of travel at the same time.

“Our software determines the course of a vehicle, and even if it speeds up and passes through the curb, it will continue to follow it with an accuracy of a centimeter,” Rosekind said.

Two-way driving is possible due to the symmetrical body design with the four-wheel steering. The possibility of two-way driving eliminates the need for U-turns and 3-point turns, which are complicated and time-consuming and increase the risk of accidents with oncoming vehicles.

Elimination of single points of failure

According to Rosekind, the company’s design goal is to ensure that safety-critical systems do not have a single point of failure. For example, the vehicle has two powertrains, a motor, a drive system, and a battery that work together. If one component in the system fails, the other component takes over.

In addition to the two batteries, the vehicle is also equipped with a safety diagnostic system that monitors all of the hardware, software and firmware. In addition, sensors such as riders and radars are placed at the four corners of the vehicle, each of which secures a 270-degree field of view.

Diagnostic systems go beyond monitoring to mitigate discovered failures and performance problems. For example, if the sensor’s performance deteriorates due to damage or debris, you can activate the vehicle cleaning system or change it from bidirectional to unidirectional and place it in a position where it is basically okay if the sensor is incomplete. Rosekind explains.

“Fail-safe operation allows you to continue driving, unload passengers, resolve any issues, or park in a safe place.”

Passenger protection

 Amazon Zoox's Interior
Amazon Zoox’s Interior

Zoox’s goal is to meet five-star anti-collision performance in all seats in the car. The company is currently undergoing a crash test, and according to Rosekind, “it’s going pretty well and it’s almost complete.”

The company has designed a new type of airbag system that incorporates five types of airbags. Curtain airbags are placed on both sides of the car, and the front one is divided into two parts to protect the head, neck and chest. There are also rear and side seat airbags.

The system is equipped with an airbag control unit, which monitors the location and speed of the collision and determines which airbags to deploy in what order. Instead of opening all airbags at once, the airbags open according to the location of the collision and the magnitude of the impact.

In addition, sensors are installed on the surface of the seat, buckle, and seat belt to determine whether the passenger is wearing a seat belt. The car won’t move until everyone wears their seat belts, Rosekind said.

Rachel Maga
Rachel Maga is a technology journalist currently working at Globe Live Media agency. She has been in the Technology Journalism field for over 5 years now. Her life's biggest milestone is the inside tour of Tesla Industries, which was gifted to her by the legend Elon Musk himself.