Development of an Autonomous Platooning Campus Vehicle System; Responsible Innovation in the Development of Autonomous Trucks

Johnson, Gilchrist, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Furukawa, Tomonari, EN-Mech & Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Forelle, MC, EN-Engineering and Society PV-Institutional Research and Analytics, University of Virginia

As an engineer, I have always been intrigued by the development of autonomous systems. I believe autonomy has the potential to bring both great benefits and consequences to society, depending on the effectiveness of the implementation. For my undergraduate thesis at the University of Virginia, I wanted to explore the effects of this implementation within the scope of autonomous vehicles. Throughout my research into this subject, I determined that a single paper would not coherently explain my findings on both the social and technical aspects of effectively implementing autonomy. Thus, this thesis will contain two papers, the first providing a technical description of the development of my own autonomous system, and the second providing a social analysis of responsibility within the development of autonomous vehicles.

The first paper, The Development of an Autonomous Platooning Campus Vehicle System, details the development of an autonomous platooning system used to transport passengers around the University of Virginia main campus. Standard product development practices such as researching customer needs and determining target specifications were used to generate various concepts for the system. Through these practices, my team and I decided on utilizing electric golf carts as base vehicles due to their reliability, low top speed, and already implemented electrical components. These vehicles were then modified to include a custom-made electronic control module (ECM) used to implement a drive-by-wire system into the carts. Robotic Operating System (ROS) based software was developed to implement platooning into the system. This included multiple ROS nodes to control the mechatronic systems of the carts, and an algorithmic node used to track and path plan the trajectories of the platooning carts. Finally, a detailed user manual was written for the system to ensure that the system could be utilized by patrons without previous knowledge of ROS.

The product development stage of my technical project was the inspiration for my social analysis. During that stage, I notice a disconnect between how autonomous vehicles are characterized and how they are implemented within society. As I got further into the development process, I realized there was a need for me to ensure that the system my team and I were developing would be implemented responsibly within the existing UVA transportation system. Thus, the second paper, " Responsible Innovation in the Development of Autonomous Trucks", attempts to analyze the social effects of the implementation of autonomous vehicles within the transportation industry. The purpose of this paper is to determine if the trajectory of automation in the transportation industry adheres to the guidelines of responsible innovation, as outlined in the article Developing a Framework for Responsible Innovation (Stilgoe et al. , 2013). First, the paper briefly reviews the history of autonomous vehicles, detailing their conception, evolution, and current implementation. Then, the analysis section of the paper addresses each aspect of Stilgoes framework through the analysis of various research studies conducted about the effects of autonomy within the industry. Finally, the paper argues that while the implementation of automation has been somewhat responsible, more effect must be placed on anticipating the possible effects of automation and including the voices of parties that may be excluded from current conversations within the industry.

By conducting research on the two topics concurrently, I gained a greater understanding of each topic and a better understanding of how engineering and ethics exist synergistically. My technical topic allowed me to gain first-person experience in the development processes of autonomous systems; my social topic gave me a platform to research the ethical considerations of automation and the shortcomings of previous attempts at innovation. By utilizing both topics simultaneously, I now understand that my work as an engineer extends far past my technical knowledge. Because of this research, my team and I took much more comprehensive steps in ensuring that our system was implemented responsibly. This included conducting a campus-wide poll about concerns with the system and interviewing workers within the University of Virginia on what suggestions they had regarding the development of the system. By publishing my findings from both papers, I hope to inspire my fellow engineers to take similar steps when developing their own systems to further gain an understanding of how their work interacts within the environments they exist in.

Stilgoe, J., Owen, R., & Macnaghten, P. (2013). Developing a framework for responsible
innovation. Research Policy, 42(9), 1568–1580.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Algorithm, Automotive Technology, Autonomous Robotics, Self Driving Trucks, Club Car, DARPA, Electronic Control Module, Golf Cart, Linux, Mechatronic System, Platooning, Product Development Practices, Python, Responsible Innovation, Robotic Autonomy, Robotic Operating System, ROS, Self Driving, Union, VICTOR Lab

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Tomonari Furukawa
STS Advisor: MC Forelle
Technical Team Members: Cameron Chiaramonte, Patrick Dunnington, Nicholas Sofinski, Alexander Wilson

Issued Date: