Fusion tests self-driving Fiat Ducato, Europe's favorite camper van
Europe's ubiquitous camper van and motorhome base vehicle, the Fiat Ducato took a step toward camping future last year when it rolled out in all-electric guise. Now it takes another step, albeit a less official one, in gaining Level 4/5 autonomous driving capability. UK driver-assistance company Fusion Processing is testing its automated driving system in a long-wheelbase Ducato crew van. The hardware will ultimately feature in a driverless bus route, but for now it previews the self-driving cargo and camper vans of the future.
Fusion released the first information and images about its autonomous Ducato last week. The van features Fusion's CAVStar Automated Driving System, a hardware and software suite designed to be integrated with OEM systems or retrofitted to existing vehicles. The system combines a series of radar, LIDAR, optical cameras and ultrasonic sensors with an AI processing unit. Designed to provide Level 4 autonomy out of the gate, upgradeable to Level 5, the system is meant for a driverless vehicle experience, fully analyzing its surroundings and reacting via steering, throttle and braking inputs.
Fusion says that its tech can be used to automate any size vehicle, whether powered by an internal combustion engine, electric drive or hybrid combination of the two. It's currently working on the CAVForth autonomous bus pilot with plans of launching an autonomous service on a 30-mile (48 km) loop between a Fife park-and-ride and Edinburgh Park business park in Scotland. Fusion is leading the CAVForth consortium, which also includes highway management authority Transport Scotland, bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis, fleet operator Stagecoach Group, Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Edinburgh Napier University.
"Traveling mostly on motorways controlled by Transport Scotland, the single-deck autonomous buses will be required to safely interact with other traffic in a live road environment, negotiating junctions and bus stops while carrying fare-paying passengers at speeds of up to 50 mph," Fusion explains.
The autonomous buses are currently undergoing track testing, with plans to begin road testing in the second half of 2021.
The CAVstar-equipped Ducato gives Fusion a smaller test vehicle, and as with the buses, Fusion plans to test it first on the track and later on public roadways. To meet driver-free Level 4 capabilities, the van employs redundant steering and braking systems designed for emergency takeover in the unlikely event that the primary systems fail.
"We needed a vehicle on which to install the automated driving system developed for CAVForth, and although we have a full-size bus in our Bristol facility, the Ducato crew van serves as a more convenient test platform to take on the road and measure the system performance," explains Fusion marketing chief Jim Fleming.
Fleming states that the Level 4 Ducato was converted in a few months' time. Along with serving to further test and refine the CAVStar hardware for the CAVForth project, the van also demonstrates how Fusion's tech is capable of converting an existing non-autonomous vehicle into a smart, capable Level 4 transporter.
March 2021 has been a notable month in the slow journey toward autonomous camper vans and motorhomes. We've seen both Europe's most popular motorhome base van and its most famous one equipped as autonomous test vehicles. Robotically prepared, autonomously driven personalized vacation rigs may not be right around the corner, but at least we're seeing some movement in the right direction.
Source: Fusion Processing