Archives 2016

Autonomous Driving Tech Designed for Russian Conditions

Autonomous Driving Tech Designed for Russian Conditions

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Autonomous vehicle technology is currently being tested around the globe — with the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan being some of the leading hotspots with high-profile demonstrations of the autonomous vehicles.

Russia is also contributing to the self-driving research and demonstrations. Moscow-based Cognitive Technologies has developed autonomous vehicle technology designed specifically for Russian driving conditions, including heavy weather, such as snow and rain, poor road markings, and various road obstacles, such as humans and animals.

The C-Pilot autonomous driving system, which was unveiled in August, can be installed as an aftermarket solution. The self-driving vehicle prototype includes numerous safety features to warn the driver about road or driving conditions, including lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and pedestrian protection, according to a company representative.

The company expects to introduce the system outside of the Russian market to manufacturers and fleets in the second quarter of 2017, and sign contracts with automotive manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers by 2020, according to the company representative.

The system is designed to function similar to the human brain’s hippocampus, allowing the system to learn from its environment, according to a company release.

While many aspects of the C-Pilot system are similar to other systems being developed, one key difference of Cognitive Technologies’ system is that it’s chip free, meaning that it can interface with any vehicle the same way a mobile device does. It can be updated numerous times and remotely, according to the company representative.

Another advantage the Russian system has over some of the others available in other markets is that it can recognize images on the border of the image, according to a company release.

The company is also working with Russian truck manufacturer KAMAZ to test an autonomous truck on a closed track — Russian traffic laws currently prohibit autonomous vehicles on private roads, according to a Cognitive Technologies representative — and has performed simple maneuvers, such as turning, turning around, snaking motion, and others. The field tests are being carried out in poor driving conditions such as low visibility and with road obstacles.

Beyond the traditional automotive market, Cognitive Technologies has been working with agricultural farm equipment manufacturer Rostselmash and Souz Agro, the largest agricultural holdings of the Republic of Tatarstan, to develop agricultural self-driving technologies.

Cognitive Technologies is quietly joining the autonomous car technology buzz … from Russia

Cognitive Technologies is quietly joining the autonomous car technology buzz … from Russia

Published on TECH.EU
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When you think of autonomous cars, your mind probably wanders to some sunny neighbourhood in Silicon Valley with a Google car cruising around in the middle of its latest test. A snowy and icy street in Russia is perhaps not what you had in mind.

In the race for autonomous and connected vehicles, Russia’s Cognitive Technologies is making its own play for the market that everyone from Apple to Volkswagen wants in on.

Cognitive Technologies has been around the block. It was founded in 1993 as a software firm, building image and character recognition software for the enterprise. Along the way it sold its voice recognition solutions to Intel and its text parsing tech to Yandex.

“Three or four years ago, our co-owners decided to expand the business,” explained Roman Tarasov, vice president of global business. Now the company has something else in mind – autonomous cars, and specifically an autopilot system that detects objects and obstacles ahead of the vehicle.

In 2014, it announced this foray into the burgeoning and still-rocky world of autonomous and connected vehicles. Engineers at Cognitive began developing several advanced algorithms that could aid vehicles and drivers (for now anyway) in avoiding collisions and fatal accidents.

C-Pilot, according to Yuri Minkin, Cognitive’s head of self-driving department, is modelled on the hippocampus, an important component of the human brain that assists in spatial navigation. It determines the most important information at a given moment so that the car can react aptly.

“The system identifies everything which is near the car, 360 degrees, and it identifies the horizon line and the cars, pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicycles. It uses enhanced artificial intelligence to predict what each object is going to do,” added Tarasov. “For example, the system sees a kid and an old lady. The kid is much more likely to jump in front of a car than the old lady. The system analyses the scene and predicts possible behaviour of the objects and acts accordingly. That’s our killer feature.”

Cognitive refers this as “foveal computer vision”, focusing on the centre of the field of vision and as objects enter the frame, like a car entering a lane or a pedestrian stepping off the footpath.

C-Pilot uses less computing power, added Tarasov, as it only stores what it deems to be the most important information that it has gathered.

We’re marching further towards a world a where cars drive themselves but we face several obstacles in the way; the obvious being safety. Tesla grabbed headlines in July when a driver was killed in a car crash while using the car’s autopilot feature. The controversy led to serious questions around the competency of the feature and if Tesla had over-promised on its capabilities.

Tarasov explained that Cognitive has built the system for what he calls “real roads”, where conditions aren’t the best, road markings are unclear, or road signs are obscured or missing. And in the case of many places, the weather is bad, like the snow-covered roads of Russia: “As we’re a Russian company in Russia we have specially designed the system for Russian roads.”

This is one of the key differentiators from other systems. “It’s better than basically any system on the market because it’s able to work in real world conditions,” he said.

It’s a big claim. There’s plenty of competition in the space. The obvious example is Israel’s Mobileye, which is a former partner of Tesla’s but is now working with Delphi Automotive and Intel and will be staging a demonstration for its car next month at CES in Las Vegas.

Cognitive has designed its own driverless car, refurbished from a Nissan X-Trail, which it has been using to carry out tests on autonomous driving and to put its image recognition solution through the rigour.

“We’re now in the process of negotiating with major car manufacturers,” said Tarasov as the company is determined to bring this technology to markets outside of Russia, which it can’t do on its own.

Currently its biggest partner is Russian truck manufacturer Kamaz. The pair has a deal in place that will see the truck maker implement C-Pilot in a line of trucks in 2017 to assist drivers. Ultimately Kamaz plans to manufacture self-driving trucks by 2020.

Cognitive has a strong base in its own country, which is all well and good, but not conducive to reaching global markets.

“In Russia we’re a very [well known] company. The western markets, the global markets are not very much aware of us but we can use our good contacts within our Russian car manufacturers to get to the western ones. That’s the plan,” admitted Tarasov.

“Basically we need western investors to get to the car makers.”

Cognitive hasn’t raised any VC funding at all. It has received between $8-10 million from the Russian ministry of education and science. Seeking funding, ideally from a company in the automotive sector, may be on the horizon if Cognitive Technologies wants to make people think of Russia when chatting about autonomous cars.

Russians lead international autonomous driving efforts

Russians lead international autonomous driving efforts

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Cognitive Technologies, a Russian software developer, is now leading a working group set up by IBM, Google, Nvidia, Tyan and Mellanox (all members of the international OpenPower Foundation consortium) to develop driverless vehicles, portal reported.

Their pilot autonomous vehicle will reportedly be powered by IBM’s Power chip. IBM believes that with Cognitive Technologies joining the OpenPower Foundation the members of the consortium will be able to pool efforts in developing more advanced artificial intelligence systems. The consortium is also purportedly keen on benefitting from Cognitive Technologies’ experience in creating all-terrain autonomous driving solutions.

The consortium members may expect to work together to adopt a unified standard for software to be used in driverless vehicles. Their joint product will be licensed, thus opening Cognitive Technologies all doors to the global market.

Albert Efimov of the Robotics Center at the Skolkovo Foundation in Russia believes driverless vehicles will hit the Moscow roads seven-to-ten years from now. It’s the Vienna Convention that supports autonomous driving enthusiasts, as it stipulates that man is not absolutely required to sit behind the steering wheel but is rather expected to be able to stop the vehicle at any moment.

Last year Cognitive Technologies came up with Russia’s first artificial intelligence for autonomous driving, test-run on a KamAZ truck. It’s now being further tested on the premises of the KamAZ auto maker in Tatarstan, in Russia’s mid-Volga area.

Can Russians save Tesla?

Can Russians save Tesla?

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The Moscow-based company Cognitive Technologies is offering an intelligent system of autonomous driving that will be on the international market next year. The recent accident involving a Tesla driverless car offers a chance for Russian developers to muscle in on the market.

The Russian company Cognitive Technologies has developed C-Pilot, an intelligent autonomous driving system that can be installed in cars and other vehicles. The company told RBTH that the technology will be embedded in international automakers systems starting next year, and bulk deliveries of C-Pilot will start in 2019.

The Russian developers said that gaining access to world markets was a direct result of a fatal accident with a Tesla car that ran on the autopilot system developed by the Israeli startup, Mobileye. That company and Tesla recently announced the end of their partnership.

“Leading automakers that previously collaborated with Mobileye are considering alternative proposals about equipping their cars with intelligent driver-assistance systems,” said Olga Uskova, president of Cognitive Technologies. “By 2022, we plan to have about 3 to 5 percent of the world market of autonomous driving systems.”

C-Pilot includes a set of sensors to guarantee the recognition of a wide variety of objects in road infrastructure. The system is also equipped with a high-accuracy positioning sensor based on GLONASS and GPS. Tests were carried out on a prototype of the Nissan X-Trail car.

“Our main competitive advantage over foreign companies is the more advanced artificial intelligence that allows the autonomous-driving system to work well even in bad weather conditions, as well as on bad roads when street signs are missing and the road surface is damaged,” said Yury Minkin, director of the unmanned vehicles development department at Cognitive Technologies.

Total investment in the project will amount to about 750 million rubles ($11.6 million) over the next three years, of which about 360 million ($5.6 million) has been invested to date. In addition, the Russian government has invested 45 million rubles ($697,000) in the project.

The company plans to soon complete features that will warn the driver of situations on the road, including Line departure warning, Traffic sign recognition, and Forward collision warning.

In the second stage, in 2018, the active driver assistance system will be implemented, and in the third stage, 2018- 2022, developers will finalize those technological components that enable autonomous movement in certain modes; for example, in traffic jams or on motorways. The project’s final stage will be fully automated movement.

Russia unveils first road signs for driverless vehicles

Russia unveils first road signs for driverless vehicles

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Cognitive Technologies, the developer of Russia’s first driverless truck, unveiled new road signs indicating unmanned vehicles.

In 2018 road signs for driverless vehicles will appear on certain roads in Moscow, the Moscow Region and Tatarstan. According to Cognitive Technologies, which commissioned the signs, the paper work with design layouts was sent for approval to the Interior Ministry.

The signs were developed by the Russian design studio, Art Lebedev. A variety of options were offered, from a friendly driverless car with a smile, to a car without a windshield (“no pilot, no collision”).

The three new road signs have the following meanings: “Attention, driverless vehicles in the area;” “Beginning of a road with driverless vehicles;” and “End of a road with driverless vehicles.”

The new road signs are expected to be approved soon, and will be operational by 2020 after coordination with the State Traffic Inspectorate. Cognitive Technologies said driverless vehicles will appear before then as full-fledged traffic features on Russian roads.

Robot harvesters are ready to rule Russia's fields

Robot harvesters are ready to rule Russia’s fields

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The Republic of Tatarstan in central Russia has unveiled a program to develop unmanned combines for agriculture. The first robot harvesters will be working the fields in just two years.

A combine harvester slowly crawls across a Russian field and processes crops. At first glance, there is nothing unusual in this. If you look closer, however, you will find there are no humans inside – the harvester functions entirely by itself.

As the Russian agricultural sector faces a severe shortage of workers, scant manpower remains in rural areas. Many Russian agricultural holding companies have no alternative but to bring in migrant workers to the fields. The use of unmanned agricultural vehicles, however, will solve several problems at once – there won’t be a need to ship in human workers, and it will increase productivity. A robot combine harvester does not need to sleep; it does not get ill, or need to go on holiday.

A program to develop unmanned vehicles for agriculture has now been launched in Tatarstan; and an agricultural holding company, Agropolis, will produce this smart equipment for smart agriculture.

Investment into Agropolis over the next five years will total more than $225 million, and the first unmanned harvesters will be ready in two years. Each is expected to cost only 15-20 percent more than traditional, man-operated vehicles.

Agropolis’ main shareholders include Rostselmash, Russia’s largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery, and Soyuz-Agro, one of Tatarstan’s leading agricultural holding companies, as well as the Russian company Cognitive Technologies (CT). The latter already has experience in the creation of unmanned vehicles, and closely cooperates with KAMAZ, Russia’s largest producer of trucks, for which CT is developing unmanned vehicle control systems.

Better than Google?

Robotic systems for Russia’s agricultural sector will be developed in several key areas, said Olga Uskova, president of CT. First, this concerns agricultural harvesters and other equipment.

“This robotic technology is based on our developments for KAMAZ trucks, whereby the camera and the computer create a so-called ‘virtual tunnel,’ and the vehicle itself decides where it needs to go,” Ms Uskova said, adding that Russian systems are just as good as leading foreign companies in this field – such as Google – and even surpass them in some respects.

According to Ms Uskova, foreign-built systems are largely designed for ideal road conditions – markers, pointers, signs and smart roads. CT’s systems are geared to Russian conditions and can be used in the absence of any road indicators.

Russia uses this approach in addition to the active model, which involves the use of radiating devices – radars and lidars – that determines the distance and speed of objects. This model is used in many international projects, such as Google Car.

Drones eradicating weeds

Agropolis also plans to create automated crop monitoring systems. Drones will fly around fields and for example, monitor the presence of weeds. Also, stationary measuring devices will be installed in different parts of fields and for example, measure moisture levels or useful minerals in the soil. If these figures drop, then a command will be given to activate automatic watering, or fertilizer systems.

There are obstacles, however, to the use of drones in agriculture. “So far, there is no legislative basis for this kind of transport vehicle,” said Oleg Korobkin, director of operations of the DPD transport company in Russia.

“Creating the necessary maintenance infrastructure is an important condition to facilitate the emergence of demand for such equipment,” said Alexander Dyakonov, transport director of the logistics company, FM Logistic. “Moreover, we should think about what to do with the current human drivers; more than 2 million people operate and service commercial transport and other vehicles in Russia”.

Legendary Russian Kamaz Truck on Autopilot

Legendary Russian Kamaz Truck on Autopilot

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The truck is equipped with sensors capable of detecting people, road signs, lane markings, and other vehicles. This is the only driver-less car to operate in severe weather conditions.

The KamAZ autonomous truck, which features an autopilot, is a joint project between the company Cognitive Technologies and Russia’s National University of Science and Technology (MISiS).