August 1, 2019

Like most Americans, Peter Richards is fascinated by autonomous vehicles. He views the advent of these driverless cars, trucks, and buses as a paradigm shift that promises to bring enormous benefits to individuals and to society.

Society's ability to reap those benefits, however, depends on the development of a new, cohesive system that will allow AVs to communicate with all their new external interfaces, from other vehicles to toll booths, gas stations, and parking garages. That is why Richards devised the Autonomous Vehicle Integrated Communication System (AVICS) for his Systems Engineering program's final project.

AVICS enables advanced communication between autonomous vehicles and external systems to increase the safety and efficiency of automated automotive transportation of people and goods throughout urban and rural environments, says Richards, a senior systems engineer with Raytheon in Fulton, MD.

Richards began his project by reviewing multiple surveys that asked consumers for the top benefits they believed autonomous vehicles would confer, as well as their chief concerns about using the promising new technology. The surveys revealed that while consumers looked forward to benefits such as their ability to engage in other tasks while driving, the removal of accident-causing human errors, and the vehicles' ability to park themselves, they also worried about issues such as AVs being vulnerable to cyberattacks, and software bugs causing accidents.

From there, I devised the system capabilities necessary to provide each desired benefit and to address each concern, he explained.

Richards designed AVICS to support numerous interfaces in a centralized manner that includes existing communications paths, such as satellites, mobile devices, and toll booths. The system also includes new modes of communication, such as automatically providing payment to gas stations and parking garages and lots. He believes these new data exchanges through the centralized system increases the efficiency and integrity of the information.

He also made certain that his system can easily adapt to changes in technology and in response to regulations.

While I was working on this project, I heard a story on NPR one morning about vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems being developed by three different automotive manufacturers to exchange vital information between vehicles to avoid collisions. The surprising part of the story was that none of the three systems were currently compatible with the other two, said Richards. I wanted to make sure that my system would be readily adaptable, as it's impossible to predict the decisions that will be made by competitors and regulators.

Despite his nine years of experience as a systems engineer, prior to working on AVICS, Richards had never developed communications systems for vehicles.

I have worked previously on the development of software for avionics and command and control systems, but not on anything related to this, he said. It was fun to explore a technical area of expertise that was new to me. The knowledge I gained of aircraft communications through my previous experiences definitely helped me think about how to structure a communications systems for autonomous vehicles.

The Systems Engineering program at Johns Hopkins Engineering regularly highlights the design projects and in-depth thesis research of its students. We will continue to make these presentations available so that they can benefit the entire systems engineering community.