innovITS is based at the MIRA testing facility in the West Midlands

innovITS is based at the MIRA testing facility in the West Midlands

QUBE is just-auto's online research platform, providing constantly updated insight and analysis on the global automotive manufacturing industry across over 40 sectors and 200 companies. In this month's just-auto management briefing we republish extracts from QUBE. This interview is part of QUBE's Connected Vehicle Technologies Intelligence Service

Vanessa Scholfield, analyst for vehicle connectivity at just-auto spoke to Phil Pettitt, Chief Executive of innovITS about the genesis for the innovITS ADVANCE project and his plans for its future development.

Based at MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) in the West Midlands in the UK innovITS is a collaborative venture between innovITS, MIRA and Transport Research Laboratory (TRL). Government funding of some GBP10m supported the first phase of the centre's construction which has been developed to enable faster and cheaper to market solutions for emergent Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and Telematics solutions.

Formally opened in June 2011, innovITS ADVANCE marks a step change in automotive research and development within the UK, providing:

  • The world's first purpose-built facility for industry to develop, test and validate of ITS products and innovations 
  • A 'virtual city' configurable to replicate the navigational network connectivity of almost any type of street environment from skyscraper neighbourhoods typical of London's Docklands or Lower Manhattan, to mixed suburban development. 
  • Fully controllable private communications networks allowing virtually any scenario of signal attenuation and denial to be replicated. 
  • A dedicated and secure testing environment for the automotive, telematics and ITS industries.

just-auto: What is the genesis of the project and what has been the timeline to its current offering?

Phil Pettitt: The facility was originally outlined as a project set up in 2005 as a 5 year funded programme. The original conception was based upon the question of what do we and the industry need to accelerate development of products for Active Safety.  This lead to the realisation that that what was required was a new kind of test facility.  Existing facilities were designed to test vehicle handling or endurance so did not possess the road layouts or other features required to properly test these new features.  As a result, development relied too much upon trial on the public highway, which again has drawbacks for testing these new systems.  We then needed two years for planning the details and obtaining a first round of funding before development could commence.  A second round of funding allowed the full realisation of the city circuit to be accomplished which has meant it has taken five years from conception to reach summer 2012 with an operational facility.

j-a: To what extent did the stake holders define what was required?

PP: During the planning stage we had lengthy discussions with a range of potential users.  This consultation included workshops in which we worked through potential applications to determine what the testing requirements were likely to be.  This gave us the information to design the layout of the test facility and its features; everything built can be traced back in detail to those stakeholder requirements.  Although the original motivation was for a facility for testing active safety systems there has been a growing realisation of the relevance on innovITS ADVANCE for testing other applications such as those to achieve traffic efficiency or environmental gains.

j-a: How has the funding been raised - and what is the level of investment so far?

PP: A lot of time has been given to planning and guiding this project by innovITS and its board, by our collaborators TRL and MIRA who have much experience in testing and operating test facilities and from the wider stakeholder community in advising on requirements and design choices.  Construction and equipment costs have been funded by the public sector for just under £10million; an initial tranche came from Advantage West Midlands, the regional development agency, and this resulted in the detailed planning, permissions, construction works and some equipment.  A second tranche of funding came from the UK Department for Business Innovations and Skills which allowed us to augment the road layout and provide a comprehensive range of equipment features for the facility.

j-a: Is this the first facility of its kind in the world and how does it differ from any other similar test facilities in use?

PP: We believe that what we have is unique.  We have seen a similar facility in Japan but without the communications features.  There are many test tracks of the traditional variety for handling and endurance testing but these do not represent urban road-scapes with junctions, traffic controls and test communications networks. Finally, there are many sites where the public highway and installed equipment is available for developer trials but these lack the precision and repeatability required during development and it is difficult to get the precise communications performance for such activities such as failure mode testing.. 

j-a: What is the USP of InnovITS ADVANCE and how do you see this changing in the future ?

PP: What makes innovITS ADVANCE unique is the combination of realistic urban road layout, private, manipulable communications clusters and other test equipment that provides a safe and controllable environment in which our users can perform repeatable tests, exercise failure modes and keep their activities private.   

We also benefit from a location at the heart of MIRA which has a wealth of other test facilities to complement those we offer on a site targeted for economic development and thus ready for a supporting cluster of technology organisations.

j-a: I understand this is the first phase of the development - what do you see for Phase 2 and what is the timescale for this?

PP: The original plan was for this to be the first phase with other developments to provide facilities for higher speed applications, beyond the urban setting, together with a range of supporting infrastructure.  The emphasis is currently in making this first phase a success and potentially to work with others for the other facilities required.

j-a: Who are/will be the main customer groups?

PP: Essentially, it is important for anyone developing telematics systems in vehicles or to support them by the roadside.  Thus, it is of crucial relevance to vehicle manufacturers and their supply chain.  It is also useful for those developing roadside equipment or mobile applications to be used in vehicles.  We have had interest from universities and many other organisations with interests in ITS.

j-a: Can you provide an example of a recent testing activity that has been carried out at innovITS ADVANCE?

PP: The majority of work undertaken on site is confidential. However, prompted by the need for automakers and their Tier 1 suppliers to supply eCall equipped products to the European markets adopting this technology, innovITS ADVANCE has carried out a demonstration of capability in the area of eCall testing and certification.  With its independent and fully controllable private GSM network and Skyclone GNSS denial capabilities, innovITS ADVANCE is uniquely placed to provide an environment in which eCall systems can be tested under all conditions of signal quality and attenuation.

To carry out this first demonstration of eCall using at the innovITS ADVANCE facility, innovITS worked together with partners DENSO, CINTERION a Gemalto Company, TRL, MIRA and PMN, to connect the site's private GSM network to an external eCall Public Service Access Point (PSAP).  With this first vehicle test successfully completed, innovITS and its partners are now planning to work towards implementing a comprehensive eCall test and certification service based at innovITS ADVANCE - one of the first such facilities to offer this service in Europe.

j-a: Do you see the facility as complementary to other test sites and what scope, if any, is there for collaboration?

PP: We fill a valuable niche in a comprehensive portfolio of test sites.  There are those who can perform the component tests to ensure the performance of each piece of these applications, there are simulators with their specific use and there are many open sites for extended trials.  Between these, we have a facility for testing complete systems with precision and in detail that can provide the assurance that trials at the large open test sites can go without hitch or unwelcome surprises.  Each type of testing resource has its place and used together should help to accelerate the introduction of new products and services in this area in a reliable and robust manner.

j-a: How do you see the site developing in the future?

PP: A key challenge will be intercepting new technologies and demands for tests as they emerge.  We have sought to provide an infrastructure at the site that will permit and ease future evolution.  What we also envisage is a growing understanding in the community from using the test facility in how to improve their systems and how they are developed.

This interview is reproduced from QUBE's Connected Vehicle Technologies Intelligence Service

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