NEWS

12 April 2022

What’s it like to operate an autonomous passenger vehicle?

What’s it like to operate an autonomous passenger vehicle?

It can seem strange to talk about ‘operating’ an autonomous vehicle; after all, autonomous vehicles operate themselves. At the moment, though, UK law requires a safety driver or operator to be present for any autonomous vehicle trial. The operator can be inside the vehicle or monitoring it from elsewhere, but they must be ready to take control of the vehicle at any point if necessary.

Paul Proteasa and Peter Antal have been serving as safety operators aboard the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle, an autonomous public transport service supported by ESA, for several months now. We spoke to them about what it’s like to operate the shuttle, and how it differs from their past experience with driving buses.

It can seem strange to talk about ‘operating’ an autonomous vehicle; after all, autonomous vehicles operate themselves. At the moment, though, UK law requires a safety driver or operator to be present for any autonomous vehicle trial. The operator can be inside the vehicle or monitoring it from elsewhere, but they must be ready to take control of the vehicle at any point if necessary. Paul Proteasa and Peter Antal have been serving as safety operators aboard the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle, an autonomous public transport service supported by ESA, for several months now. We spoke to them about what it’s like to operate the shuttle, and how it differs from their past experience with driving buses. How does operating an autonomous vehicle differ from driving a bus? At first, operating the shuttle felt strange and disconcerting. It had no steering wheel, so the operators instead had to become acquainted with a handheld controller and the on-board emergency stop button. It turned out to be much like riding a bike, though; with experience, the required skills quickly became ingrained until they felt natural. Aboard the shuttle, you find yourself thinking two steps ahead in a way you don’t on a bus. As a bus driver, if you see something unexpected, your role is to directly react to it by moving or stopping the bus. As the operator of an autonomous shuttle, if you see something unexpected, your next move is to anticipate how the shuttle will react to this event, and whether you’ll need to react to that. Another significant difference between driving a bus and serving as a safety operator is the fact that, when you’re standing by as a safety operator aboard an autonomous vehicle, you can talk to passengers. In fact, this is an important part of the operator’s role on the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle. Many people who board the shuttle may not have ridden an autonomous vehicle before, so they may have questions or uncertainties, and the operator is there to answer those questions. It took Paul some practice before he was able to speak to passengers while the shuttle was moving. At first, when people tried to talk to him, he wouldn’t hear it because he was so focused on the road ahead. By now, he’s mastered the art of speaking while keeping his attention on the road. Learning to train new operators Fully autonomous vehicles are still a rare sight, which means that few people have personal experience with their operation. In other words, autonomous vehicle operators have valuable knowledge that others can benefit from. In early February, when the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle had been running for a couple of months, Darwin’s operators underwent Navya’s ‘Train the Trainer’ course; Navya is the autonomous vehicle developer behind the shuttle’s creation. Julien Brulé, Navya’s head of customer delegation, came to Harwell to teach Peter and Paul how they could impart their knowledge to new operators, with two days of theoretical training and one day of practical training on the shuttle. Peter and Paul felt they took a lot from the experience. The things they were being trained on were things they already knew, as they had already been operating the shuttle for some time. However, they were taught how to think about these things more consciously, and how to explain them to others. Essentially, they learnt how to look at what they were doing from a teacher’s perspective, so they would then be able to teach the required skills to other people. Peter and Paul were quick to put their newfound teaching skills into action. A month after the Train the Trainer course, they trained Irving Galva Tapia to be Darwin’s newest autonomous shuttle operator, with Paul in charge of theoretical training and Peter handling practical training on the shuttle. The focused one-on-one training went quickly and well, and we’re delighted to welcome Irving to the team! We’re hoping to launch the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle service in other locations, such as Málaga, so the expertise and teaching skills of our shuttle operators will continue to be valuable in the future. We’ll also be gathering and sharing some thoughts about the experience of autonomous vehicles from a passenger’s perspective, so keep an eye out for future articles! Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Read moreless

29 March 2022

Darwin at MWC Barcelona 2022

Darwin at MWC Barcelona 2022

MWC Barcelona, one of the biggest annual events in the telecommunications industry, ran from 28 February to 3 March this year. Rodrigo Barreto, our lead architect, shares his experience at the event in this post.

MWC Barcelona, one of the biggest annual events in the telecommunications industry, ran from 28 February to 3 March this year. Rodrigo Barreto, our lead architect, shares his experience at the event in this post. - The Mobile World Congress is traditionally the largest international event in telecommunications. It is where behemoth companies make impactful announcements on the launching of new technologies, on the signing of mega customer contracts and on the formation of strategic partnerships. It is a once-in-a-year opportunity to meet the majority of relevant players (notably, Apple is the exception) under a single roof (actually, seven different halls in a single complex – more on that later), and also a chance to witness up-and-comers from all over the world exhibiting their offerings as part of the many national pavilions that are present at the event. Expectations of MWC2022 were at a boiling point in more than one way, as this was the first major edition post-pandemic and after a number of major shifts in international relationships. Darwin had a prominent presence at MWC this year. Our satcom partners, Hispasat, were eager to display our cooperation as a success case of integration between terrestrial and satellite communications, and our presence at their stand provided very relevant visibility. Navigating MWC 2022 Coming to the conference, Milos (our CEO/CTO) and I were keen on synchronising thoughts on our game plan. We agreed we would apportion time between the Hispasat stand and walking the floor, and we defined target objectives in areas such as collecting competitive intelligence, identifying potential partners in strategic areas and solidifying existing partner relationships. We knew that drawing a precise plan is always an elusive task, and so we also allowed ourselves flexibility and opportunities for discovery and exploring; you never know who you will meet or which opportunities will present themselves at events like this. Arriving at the Fira Barcelona, we quickly realised that, thankfully, the crowds were back. However, contrary to what I have witnessed in previous editions of the MWC, gaining access to the show was straightforward and extremely fast thanks to the face recognition system that the organisers had put in place; all required data had been collected as part of the registration process. Once we were inside the venue, it was time to make our way to the Hispasat stand. It sounds like a simple enough task, but it took us a good hour and a half to accomplish it. First stop, bumping accidentally into a long-time acquaintance in front of the Nokia stand. A few minutes more, and another friendly encounter at the Mavenir stand. Then off to Hall 7, but not without first trying to mentally map the location of the stands of key companies along the way in each of the intermediary halls. The Fira is divided into seven huge halls, which are all interconnected. In normal circumstances, reaching Hall 7 from the entrance would take 10 to 15 minutes in a brisk walk using the covered footbridge. However, if you walk the show floor in a zigzag fashion from hall to hall, as we did arriving for the first time into the show, the time required can easily expand to 45 minutes. The topics of discussion at MWC 2022 The technologies, products and services showcased during the Mobile World Congress are always very extensive, but a more limited number end up being part of a common industry narrative. This year the topics that were high on the agenda included the Metaverse, green solutions for otherwise power-hungry telco infrastructure, the disaggregation and opening up of radio access networks (Open RAN), and the wide use of AI to automate telco operations (Zero Everything). On the opposite side of the spectrum, topics that were super-hot in the narrative from previous years ended up a bit diluted. We expected to see more on 5G use cases and particularly on support of automotive mobility (C-V2X); this was prominent at the Qualcomm stand, with technology maturity at the level of proofs of concept, but we didn’t see it at many other stands. Another observation is that the industry as a whole is still largely focused on making 5G a mainstream technology; the focus is not yet on 6G. The topic closest to our hearts, convergence between terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks, was mostly visible at Hispasat and Intelsat’s stands – not surprisingly, satellite operators. Beyond the event It is almost impossible to dissociate the experience of attending the Mobile World Congress from the warmth of its host city. Beautiful Barcelona is so well prepared to accommodate the large influx of visitors and offers so much in terms of cultural, gastronomic and general leisure/sightseeing opportunities. Visitors can easily recover from the burden of a busy day of commitments by, for instance, going for dinner at one of the many tapas bars in the old city. We certainly took full advantage of these opportunities, including cementing partnerships by enjoying a good meal in a relaxed environment – for example, in the picture below, socialising with our friends at Cognizant. Back from the show, it is time to follow up on the contacts and conversations initiated in Barcelona and, regrettably, also time to embark on a diet. See you next year, MWC Barcelona! Rodrigo Barreto, Darwin Lead Architect Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Read moreless

23 March 2022

The story of Darwin’s founding

The story of Darwin’s founding

Today is 23 March, which means it’s Darwin’s third birthday!

Darwin’s a slightly unusual company. There are plenty of clothing or kitchenware brands out there, but there aren’t many companies dedicated to combining satellite and terrestrial communications. So where did the idea for Darwin come from? Why and how was it founded?

Today is 23 March, which means it’s Darwin’s third birthday! It’s been a whirlwind three years since Darwin Innovation Group was founded on 23 March 2019. To be honest, it’s been a whirlwind time for most companies; a year after Darwin was founded, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the world of work for almost everyone. But we’ve also had a lot of positive experiences, and we’ve had the opportunity to work on exciting projects, such as the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. Darwin’s a slightly unusual company. There are plenty of clothing or kitchenware brands out there, but there aren’t many companies dedicated to combining satellite and terrestrial communications. So where did the idea for Darwin come from? Why and how was it founded? To answer these questions, we spoke to Darwin’s co-founder Daniela Petrovic. How was Darwin created? The concept for Darwin first took root in 2018 at Telefónica, where Daniela worked at the time. At the time, there was a lot of discussion about the need for ubiquitous communications: supplementing terrestrial communications with satellites for greater coverage. ‘One thing I don’t like is hearing the same discussion in two meetings,’ Daniela says. ‘If we’re talking constantly about the need for something, I start getting nervous and I need to do things. There were many conferences, both in the satellite and terrestrial industries, that were talking about the need for ubiquitous communications. I had a discussion with my colleagues to see whether it was possible to do something about it, and then we presented our idea for action to Brendan O’Rourke, the CIO of Telefónica at the time, who was very supportive.’ After Brendan O’Rourke lent his support to the idea, Telefónica invited the European Space Agency (ESA) to discuss forming a company to tackle ubiquitous communications. ESA also liked the idea of combining satellite and terrestrial communications into a single concept, and went on to support Darwin in projects such as the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle. Darwin was created in March 2019, and many of Daniela’s Telefónica colleagues who had supported the concept, such as Ram Kurakula, Rodrigo Barreto, Atul Gokhale and Paul Rizos, would join the fledgling company. One major figure behind Darwin who didn’t work for Telefónica was Milos Petrovic, Daniela’s husband. He was enthusiastic about the idea, and the two of them founded the company together. Daniela was a telecommunications engineer and Milos a computer scientist by background; their different skillsets were able to complement each other in the aims of the company. Looking back and looking forward Darwin was born out of Telefónica and, to start with, the staff consisted largely of people who had worked at Telefónica alongside Daniela. This meant that, from the start, the company had a lot of experience and knowledge from the terrestrial communications industry. An early priority was recruiting people from a satellite communications background in order to turn the idea of ubiquitous communications into something tangible. In the three years since then, Darwin has made a lot of progress. Last year we had the opportunity to demonstrate our ubiquitous communications technology in Cornwall, where, despite variability in both terrestrial and satellite coverage in the area, we were able to remain connected in motion 99% of the time. We’ve also worked on projects that could benefit from this technology. In collaboration with O2, we opened the Darwin SatCom Lab at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in 2020, as a space for testing connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technology; remaining connected at all times is particularly important for self-driving vehicles. In collaboration with ESA, meanwhile, we’ve been working on the Air Quality Platform as a way of measuring vehicle emissions. Perhaps the most visible of our projects is the Darwin Autonomous Shuttle, which was launched in 2021 with the aid of many of our partners. It’s now been transporting passengers around Harwell Campus for four months, and we’re working to launch similar autonomous passenger services in other locations, such as Málaga. The importance of collaboration A recurring theme in Daniela’s story was the fact that none of this would have been possible alone. Darwin could not have been founded if it had been a single person’s idea, without the support of others. The creation of Darwin needed the faith and backing of many people. Daniela’s colleagues helped her to shape, refine and present the concept, and Telefónica and ESA’s support helped to make it a reality. Similarly, Darwin would not be able to succeed in its goals as a startup standing alone. We’re able to do the things we do because we have the aid of our partners. Telefónica, ESA, UKSA, Hispasat, Aviva, Cognizant, the University of Oxford and the University of Glasgow: all these organisations have lent their support to Darwin, and, with their help, we’re able to achieve far more than we could ever achieve alone. As we mentioned in our article on the importance of diversity, innovation thrives in an environment with a variety of skills and perspectives. We’re trying to achieve that on a large scale by partnering with these varied organisations, creating an ecosystem to support greater innovation than a single startup is capable of by itself. The story of Darwin isn’t just the story of a company; it’s the story of the people behind that company’s success. Darwin owes its existence to everyone who helped create it, everyone who’s joined along the way, everyone who’s aided in our goals from our partner organisations. With the help of those people, we’re hoping to achieve much more in the future. Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Read moreless

8 March 2022

Happy International Women’s Day from Darwin

Happy International Women’s Day from Darwin

Happy International Women’s Day!

International Women’s Day is a day for celebrating women and challenging gender inequality. Its history goes back over a century, and in its early days it was tied to the fight for women’s suffrage.

Happy International Women’s Day! International Women’s Day is a day for celebrating women and challenging gender inequality. Its history goes back over a century, and in its early days it was tied to the fight for women’s suffrage. If you’d like to know about its origins and its development over the years, you may be interested in the timeline on the International Women’s Day website. Across the world, International Women’s Day is marked in different ways. Some countries observe the day as an official holiday; some countries hold marches; some countries have a tradition of giving flowers or presents to female friends, colleagues, partners and family members. Several women with ties to Darwin have shared their experience of International Women’s Day in Serbia, where the day is often marked with flowers, gifts and festive meals. Our co-founder, Daniela Petrovic, has fond memories of celebrating International Women’s Day: 8 March always made me feel connected with all women around the world and across generations. My earliest memories of 8 March are the smiles on my mum’s and my teachers’ faces when I presented them with flowers. On this day, the whole school would be filled with beautiful bouquets and the teachers looked relaxed and happy. Today I am trying to replicate the same atmosphere with my family and with my extended family, my team at Darwin, and to keep the tradition going. Vera Matijevic, engineer and retired professor of mechanical engineering, also has strong associations with International Women’s Day: It has always been and it still is  a special day for me, filled with wonderful memories, from my children bringing handmade gifts from the nursery school to my colleagues and students bringing flowers. 8 March has always made me feel very happy, respected and loved by the people I am surrounded with. Vesna Petkovic, a managing director with a long history in the nonprofit sector, reflects on the progress that International Women’s Day marks and the road ahead: Women have come a long way in terms of equal rights and independence. Women no longer have to have a man beside them to be able to interact with society, and can use their own intellect and skills to seize their own opportunities. International Women’s Day recognises the progress we have made, and is an event to celebrate equality. Even in countries that don’t officially observe International Women’s Day, events and discussions may be taking place to mark the occasion. If you’re interested in finding out what’s going on near you, or what online events you might be able to attend, the International Women’s Day website has an event search. These days of celebration are important, but it’s also worth remembering that the accomplishments of women and the challenges we face remain relevant throughout the year. As Roberta Mugellesi Dow, Integrated Applications Manager at the European Space Agency, says, ‘Every day should be March 8 for all women in the world.’ With that in mind, we wish all women an excellent day, and a wonderful year to come! Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Read moreless

22 February 2022

The evolution of transport

The evolution of transport

Last week, we talked a bit about our namesake, Charles Darwin, and his theory of evolution. In this post we’re going to look at a different type of evolution: the evolution of transport.

Last week, we talked a bit about our namesake, Charles Darwin, and his theory of evolution. In this post we’re going to look at a different type of evolution: the evolution of transport. How non-living things evolve We often use the word ‘evolution’ to refer to the way non-living things have changed over time: the evolution of architecture, the evolution of medicine, the evolution of transport. This ‘evolution’ is different from natural selection, of course, because humans are consciously involved. It’s more similar to selective breeding, where humans choose animals or plants with particular qualities and breed them in the hope of manifesting those qualities in their offspring. However, it’s easy to see where the evolution analogy comes from. As time goes by, new techniques and new technologies are developed. If these prove to be more efficient than the previous way of doing things, they may become widespread as more people adopt them. If they prove to be a step down, they will usually be abandoned after this becomes clear. In this way, positive developments survive and the world evolves. At Darwin, of course, we’re particularly interested in the evolution of transport. The decline of the horse Over time, more efficient technologies are adopted and flawed ones fall out of favour. Horse-drawn carriages were used for thousands of years, but they were swiftly replaced by motorised vehicles after their introduction. The Microsoft blog post ‘The Day the Horse Lost Its Job’ gives an idea of how quickly transportation was transformed: In 1900, 6,000 horses hauled New York trolleys, more than all U.S. cities combined. But just 17 years later, the horse-pulled trolley took its last trip and the electric trams took over … In 1890 there were 13,800 companies in the United States in the business of building carriages pulled by horses. By 1920, only 90 such companies remained. An engine-powered car is faster than a horse-drawn carriage, of course, and it also has other advantages. Engines don’t need to rest in the same way horses do, and they aren’t vulnerable to epidemics. In 1872, an outbreak of horse flu brought parts of North America to a halt, causing food and fuel shortages; The Conversation has an interesting article on this epidemic if you’d like to know more. The rise of electric vehicles We’re now seeing the rise of electric cars. Electric cars have a surprisingly long history; electricity-powered vehicles were first built in the nineteenth century, and the first road vehicle to exceed 100 km/h was the electric La Jamais Contente in 1899. In the early twentieth century, petrol-powered vehicles won the race against electric cars, as at the time electric cars struggled to compete in range and speed. Since the 1980s invention of the lithium-ion battery, with its capacity for longer journeys and its relatively low size and cost, electric cars have become more practical and more attractive. However, for a long time, electric cars struggled because the infrastructure to operate them simply wasn’t in place: something that’s now changing. According to gov.uk, the number of public charging devices in the UK has increased by 700% in recent years, from under 4,000 in 2015 to over 28,000 in 2022. With the number of charging points in the UK now over three times the number of petrol stations and constantly increasing, it’s easier than ever to operate an electric car, and that’s reflected in their accelerating sales. In 2020, according to the BBC article ‘Why electric cars will take over sooner than you think’, the number of electric cars sold jumped by 43%, despite the number of overall car sales decreasing during the pandemic. As electric cars produce lower carbon emissions, the government has banned the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, encouraging the evolution of the UK’s vehicles from combustion engines to electric motors. We’re watching evolution in action, as one form of propulsion gradually grows in size and influence, preparing to overturn the status quo. There are more changes to come on the heels of the electric vehicle revolution; self-driving cars are on the horizon. We’re excited to be a part of what comes next, and we hope you are too. Darwin Innovation Group is an Oxfordshire-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Read moreless
1 2 3 4 5 6 16

News tags