Collision Course

Crash reconstruction and investigation isn’t a nice job, but it has to be done. In many western countries, the number of fatalities is falling even as traffic volumes grow, due in part to studying the cause and effect of traffic accidents.This in turn has influenced the creation of the safety systems now routinely fitted to passenger vehicles.This experience should aid countries that are only now becoming heavily motorized.

There has been something of a revolution in the effectiveness of Collision Investigation Units in recent years, thanks to the uptake of superior apparatus for use in accident reconstruction and simulation.


Case Study: Collision Investigation Unit, Cumbria

Every police force in the UK has a dedicated Collision Investigation Unit (CIU) and the Cumbrian division were the first to adopt VBOX technology – principally using a four-camera, 20Hz, Video VBOX Pro – in almost every reconstruction they carry out.

A common requirement when conducting accident reconstruction is the measurement of probable reaction time. In order to ascertain if a witness account is truthful (speed being the most commonly contentious issue) the Video VBOX will be used to measure distance to impact, determining if there was sufficient space – and therefore time – to avoid a collision. By highlighting markings on the road and tracing the route taken, the evidence can be presented in a starkly clear fashion to a jury tasked with making a judgement on the case. Shaun McKeown, of the Cumbrian CIU, explains:

“It’s easy enough to measure a reaction-time distance, but it’s quite another to get a jury of ordinary people to understand the point you’re making. We always present data, but they don’t like looking at graphs and equations. So we configure the Video VBOX with the main view showing the path of the vehicle, with the picture-in-picture trained on the ground on which we have painted highlights of skid marks or gouges in the road surface. The overlaid graphics then display the distance to impact, and when this type of evidence is played they get it immediately.”

The simplicity with which complex data can be displayed is the Video VBOX’s main strength: graphically-enhanced footage is overwhelmingly more effective at conveying information than a dry explanation of diagrams – plus it actually gives the viewer a direct connection to the environment in which the collision occurred.


The text above is an extract from an article in Automotive Testing Technology magazine, and the full content is available here.


Mira Goes Live

Mira Proving Ground have recently introduced a resource which has the potential to be of great assistance to VBOX customers.

I was over there recently to test whether the signal they output from a permanently installed base station is compatible with our kit. Indeed it is – and they now transmit an RTK correction signal to just about every part of the facility. This is a seriously useful feature they’re offering: it means that if you’ve got a VBOX3i RTK and our latest radio modems, you can just rock up and start testing with 2cm positional accuracy.


If you’re carrying out tests that require a high level of positional accuracy – so ADAS validation or development, for instance – you’ll be able to get on with it pretty much immediately without having to first set up a base station.

One of the happy by-products to this is consistency in brake testing. Although positional accuracy to 2cm isn’t necessary to measure stopping distance, it does allow for comparison of results taken from differing areas of the track, which wears in the same way that any road surface does and can lead to sometimes puzzling results. The enhancement of knowing precisely at which point of the road surface the tests are carried out can iron out these anomalous results.

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Asta La Vista, Baby

Back to Sweden again recently, where I got a chance to visit a very interesting place – the ASTAZero proving ground, nearing completion in time for its official opening next year.

This is a joint collaboration between Swedish governmental institutions, industry, and academia – but with a focus on international development of traffic safety systems. It’s big, with a total paved surface area of some 250,000 square metres.


So, it’s a new proving ground. So what? Well the difference here is the nature of the testing that is at the heart of ASTA’s mission. For the first time a facility is being built completely dedicated to the development of active safety systems.

Here’s a bit from their brochure: “…a testbed for advanced active safety where almost any conceivable kind of test will be possible, whether to examine the functions of, for example, autonomous or connected vehicles, platooning, or driver behaviour.”

Some interesting words being used here – ‘platooning’ in particular. I always wondered what term would be applied to groups of connected vehicles, travelling within a few centimetres of each other with minimal driver input. I wonder if it will stick.

ASTA stands for Active Safety Test Area. The Zero? That conveys the facility’s vision: to help bring the number of automotive related fatalities down to nothing. A high ideal, but a commendable one and I wish them every success.

You can find out more about ASTAZero on their website:

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Sweeping changes

Australian Road Trains. Have you seen these things? They’re unbelievable – the longest can be over 50 metres long. Whilst the US, Canada, Mexico and a couple of Scandinavian countries allow LCVs (longer combination vehicles, to give them a much drier title) no one does it quite like they do, Down Under.

So we’ve been contacted by someone who needs to be able to measure just how far the trailers or hauling vehicles ingress into adjacent lanes, or off the side of the road. Not easy to do. His current solution is ingenious if a little Heath Robinson: attach hosepipes to each trailer corner, drive the test, and measure the water trails before they dry (which I’ll be willing to bet, in Australia, doesn’t take long.)

Road Train Warning Sign and Roadtrain Just Passing By

My colleague Jake has got stuck in, working out a solution. There are a variety of parameters that need to measured, such as Low Speed Swept Path, Frontal Swing, or the terrifying-sounding High Speed Transient Offtracking, which aims to determine the lateral distance that the last axle on the rearmost trailer tracks outside the path of the steering axle, during a sudden evasive manoeuvre. You wouldn’t want to be in the way of one of these things when it starts to go wrong.

The answer: use our Lane Departure Warning setup and software. This ADAS application has been developed for engineers looking to validate the effectiveness of their Lane Departure Warning systems by first mapping the lane boundaries, and then logging a car’s deviation from them and the angle at which they’re approached.

With a Road Train, you configure the hauling unit as the “lane”, and the trailer as the “subject vehicle” in the software. Once processed, the distance between the hauling and trailing units can be calculated. It works very well.

My colleague has just completed an application note about this, it will be available on our VBOX website soon.

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Driving? Not I.

Have you seen the film “I, Robot”? During one scene, Will Smith’s character is seen to be jumping into his futuristic Audi and not driving. The car does it for him.

Later on he takes control, and his accompanying passenger looks on in terrified disbelief, asking why he’s about to drive manually.

So much for science fiction and Hollywood blockbusters – “I, Robot” is a fun diversion for a couple of hours but none of it is based on reality. Well, almost none of it.

An article from Detroit, bemoaning the fact that in Michigan (the self-styled ‘automotive capital of the World’) the legislation to allow self-driving cars to be tested on the open road hasn’t yet been passed, but it has in Nevada, California, and Florida.

The Michigan State Governor is upset about this, but never mind him. Self driving cars. Cars that drive on their own, are a reality.

So where will this take the testing industry?

Well… the revolution is already established, up and running. We’re about to release a major new software update that will aid test engineers who are developing cars to the latest ISO standards. These regulations form part of the required testing for automated vehicles. Not just things like adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, or lane departure – no, they also cover those vehicles that can control themselves independently of human interaction.

Watch this video, from Volvo. It won’t be long before you are able to read a magazine or do some work on the way into the office whilst your car does the driving.

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Braking Down

Been getting around a lot recently, visiting customers at a variety of test facilities. It’s a really useful exercise because I get to see VBOXs being put through their paces in the environment for which they were designed, rather than on my desk, connected to a LabSat and a roof-borne antenna.

It’s also an ideal opportunity to, shall we say, dispel some misconceptions. I touched on this briefly a few months back. Some things just get stuck in people’s heads and it takes a physical demonstration or an authoritative intervention to change their mind.

This time, it’s brake stops. A ‘core competency’ (as my colleagues in the Marketing Department would have me put it) of VBOX products. At a certain European test track engineers carry out brake stop manoeuvres over a distance-marked tarmac area. Whilst I was there I witnessed a couple of these and was then called over by one of the drivers. He complained that the brake distance results were very inconsistent.

I checked his test procedure. I asked how he initiates the start of the test. His response was, in my world at least, very surprising: “We hit the brakes at the first marker.”

The reason they conduct these stops on a marked out apron is so that they can get definitive results based not just on the GPS data, but also on where the car actually stops. They were seeing VBOX results that differed to those based on the painted track markers.

You can’t do it this way. I explained that, no matter how good a driver you are, it isn’t possible to brake at exactly the same point each time. Once I’d set them up with a light-barrier, so that the test start point was always the same, the results spoke for themselves.

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Why Is Coast Down Testing So Important?

A few years ago I had an illuminating chat with an engineer from a UK-based manufacturer (they make very nice cars, that’s all I can say about who he worked for) who described their coast down practices. One thing I learned was that going somewhere hot, like Arizona, nets better results than they could ever hope for if they did it in the UK – for one thing the consistency in temperature makes life easier. Plus they like going to Arizona.


I was reminded again recently about the importance of coast down testing. We’ve been selling VBOXs to the industry for years specifically for this purpose, but recent conversations with the guys at the sharp end have made me realise just what a big deal it is.

Why is it so important? It’s those emissions regs again (for which the EC type approval document is… long). For the manufacturers, making cars with low emissions values is vital these days – not just from a legislative, but also from a sales and marketing perspective.

Official emissions testing is carried out on a dyno where there is no wind resistance. To compensate, an extra load is placed on the engine via the dyno’s rollers – the amount of which is derived from the coast down results previously generated at the test facility. No wonder they want to get these numbers in a conducive environment.


The coast down values must have a statistical accuracy that falls within a 2% range, so consistency is essential. We supply specific software to abide by the regulations laid out in EC70/220 and it’s good to know that wherever they’re testing, the engineers can rely on it.

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Getting the High Five from NCAP

Just got back from the Automotive Testing Expo in Stuttgart, where we had a pretty busy three days. As I expected, our increasing focus on ADAS probably took up 50% or more of the conversations we had on the stand. It’s got me thinking about just how the manufacturers market their new models these days.

It wasn’t too long ago that just about every advert you saw for a new car – TV or print – concentrated on speed and handling. Excitement. Sportiness. But that’s all changed, partially through legislation and political correctness, but also because the sheer volume of regulations – each generating a new acronym – that must be adhered to when developing a new car. Given that we sell equipment for developing the systems that keep people alive, either by accident avoidance or crash protection, we need to be ahead of the curve. Or at least on it.

Stuttgart was full of the current buzz acronym: AEB. Autonomous Emergency Braking. It’s not all that new in terms of concept or even practical application, but the reason so many test engineers mentioned it to me is because of the forthcoming NCAP star rating itinerary. For 2014 there’s going to be a new generation of cars being launched, all with AEB, because Euro NCAP won’t hand out five stars unless they have it. Next year AEB is only necessary for collision mitigation, but for 2016 it will also be for pedestrian protection.

The full NCAP ratings report can be found here.

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Following On

Yesterday I was back at a freezing cold Keevil airfield with the chaps from Anthony Best Dynamics.  We were testing the combination of a twin antenna VBOX3iSL-RTK with their Steering Robot for accurate Path Following. A few small tweaks to their robot control algorithm have worked well.

AB Dynamics prefer the use of actual body heading in their robot control rather than single antenna GPS ‘course over ground’ heading. Fortunately the ‘True heading’ channel measured by the twin antenna VB3i provides this signal, the added advantage being that the True Heading signal is accurate at all speeds. As a result, smooth steering control can be achieved down to zero velocity – which is harder to achieve with a single antenna system.

The VB3iSL-RTK gave us the perfect combination of vehicle body heading and accurate position, and we proved out the new solution for path following from simple straight line control to high speed, high dynamic, double lane change manoeuvres.

I know that our customers are in need of consistency and repeatability in their testing, and this successful combination of an ABD steering robot with a VBOX should suit them admirably.

Going Straight

Last year at the Detroit Testing Expo I must have talked to a dozen engineers asking about how they can test their vehicles as they roll off the production line. Often these days I’m asked about end of line testing, and how VBOX kit can be applied to it.

Well, of course it can. In fact, it already is. We were approached last year by a major vehicle manufacturer (I cannot divulge the name, sorry) because they wanted to test the car’s centre-line deviation prior to delivery.

So we made them a bespoke system, comprising a VBOX enclosed in a special rubber housing, with the antenna on the lid, atop a beanbag that can sit securely on a dashboard. It connects to CAN through OBD, giving it power and so that it can read the car specification from VIN.

The car is then driven over a set course to test how much it drifts in a straight line with no steering input. The driver is given an indication of pass or fail, and at the end of the test the results are automatically sent into a central database over Wi-Fi. It’s neat – quick, easy, with minimal training involved and setup time per vehicle of less than 30 seconds.

We’re increasing the capabilities through firmware and software now so that a wider variety of tests can be carried out. The nice thing about all this is that VBOX now bookends how these cars are made – from initial testing and development, through to “yes, that’s ready for the customer.”