Insight

Column: A Fully Automated Ride From Helsinki to Rovaniemi – to Happen or not to Happen?

Robots are becoming ever more prominent, helping us carry out tasks that we humans think of as dull, dangerous, or dirty. Robot vacuum cleaners help us clean the house, robotic lawnmowers keep our grass neat and tidy. Likewise, driving assistance has developed rapidly and automated vehicles are more frequently visible on the streets – albeit with a safety operator.

Autonated drive level 5 - happen or not to happen

Robots are becoming ever more prominent, helping us carry out tasks that we humans think of as dull, dangerous, or dirty. Robot vacuum cleaners help us clean the house, robotic lawnmowers keep our grass neat and tidy. Likewise, driving assistance has developed rapidly and automated vehicles are more frequently visible on the streets – albeit with a safety operator.

As for driving from Helsinki to Rovaniemi fully autonomously without any human assistance (also known as SAE Level 5), I believe this will not happen for a long time. Since the beginning, Sensible 4 has believed in the advantages of SAE Level 4: automated driving without a driver but with remote operations that can assist fleets of vehicles. Many other companies have also realised the difficulty of Level 5 and pivoted their strategy to focus on Level 4 which can already take us far.

To reach the point where we have Level 4 automated vehicles, without a safety operator onboard, requires more than just technological development. Legislation and regulations must be developed further as well as solutions to “unpredictable road users”; pedestrians, cyclists, and human drivers.

Fundamentally, there has to be a clear business case where automated driving provides a solution to a real-life problem. Automated vehicles can speed up electric vehicle usage, they are fuel-efficient and provide a solution for the growing shortage of drivers that many countries face. In Europe, there is a 20% shortage of truck drivers. New technology is often expensive and automated vehicles, with a safety operator onboard, are not commercially viable. Instead of trying to solve all the challenges at once, companies tend to target niche use cases or segments, where the business can become commercially viable in a shorter time frame.

Sensible 4’s automated driving software platform DAWN™, enables different types of vehicles (trucks, vans, shuttle buses) to operate autonomously in any weather. Our technology is developed in the four seasons of Finland, and we have carried out multiple successful automated driving projects, on public roads, around the world. We are now taking the product to the industrial segment where the closed environment makes it readily commercially viable. A closed operation is not without its challenges, but we are successfully operating a heavy-duty truck year-round autonomously in an industrial environment that is dusty, muddy, and sandy.

From the closed area, the logical next step is to public roads without passengers. In a couple of years, we believe, that DAWN™ carries passengers with last-mile shuttles on public streets.

That is our plan. Maybe someday, there will be enough niche-focused technologies that combine into a Level 5 automated vehicle. Then again, Level 5 automation is described as the most complicated technical engineering challenge to mankind. We might eventually get there, but it requires huge technological leaps. While waiting, let’s enjoy the smaller steps – they already make our everyday lives easier.

Harri Santamala, CEO and co-founder, Sensible 4

Harri Santamala is the CEO and co-founder of the Finnish self-driving technology company Sensible 4. Santamala is one of the pioneers behind the Finnish road automation ecosystem and was one of the first ones to take automated buses to open-road conditions in 2016. At Sensible 4, Santamala’s work focuses on developing new technologies to the autonomous driving space that will speed up the (highly anticipated and needed) shift from fossil-fuel-based transportation to a more sustainable model of shared driverless mobility.

Original publication:
ETNdigi, 2/2022, page 19, link: A Fully Automated Ride from Helsinki to Rovaniemi - To Happen or Not to Happen?

Also available in Finnish:
ETN.fi, 4.11.2022, link: Milloin robottiauto ajaa meidät Helsingistä Rovaniemelle?