Elliot Weiss: Building up Shared Control and Teleoperation Capabilities in Vehicles (Technische Universität Braunschweig)
This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to conduct a research exchange in the Institut für Regelungstechnik (IfR) at the Technische Universität Braunschweig. I have been collaborating remotely with this group at TU Braunschweig for more than three years, and this summer I was able to spend three months working together in person. My PhD work at Stanford involves developing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and testing these systems on a special prototyping platform that combines virtual reality with a full-sized vehicle. At TU Braunschweig this summer, I got to implement the ADAS I had been working on here in California and a system for remote vehicle operation on their equivalent prototyping platform.
Shared Control Implementation
I have been working at Stanford on shared control ADAS, which are assistance systems that blend control with drivers to provide support in dangerous situations while keeping drivers in the control loop. In particular, I have been interested in how shared control systems may be useful in scenarios where multiple maneuvers are possible (eg follow or pass a slower moving vehicle), and therefore the system needs to share both decision making and control with the driver. I have so far tested this system on a research vehicle at Stanford, but this summer I had the opportunity to do so on one of the vehicles in the IfR at TU Braunschweig with support from my German labmate Markus Steimle. This test vehicle, like the one I use at Stanford, is a Human&Vehicle-in-the-Loop (Hu&ViL) platform, meaning it immerses a driver in a virtual driving environment with a VR headset to safely simulate other road users while driving on a closed test track.
Implementing the shared decision making and control system required collaboration with many students, faculty, and staff in the IfR and opened up new research directions as a result. Some of these areas include safety concepts for testing shared control architectures, the relationship between human-machine interaction in shared control and more formal notions of controllability in automotive safety, and the design of haptic feedback systems to give different drivers comfortable steering support. Near the end of the summer, 17 lab members and collaborators from nearby Volkswagen were able to drive with the system, giving me invaluable feedback and insights that I will take back to my research at Stanford. This project taught me a lot about adapting previously designed systems to a new hardware platform and broadened my research horizons beyond the topic areas I was focused on going into the summer.
Enabling Remote Vehicle Operation
An additional and unexpected research project arose after I attended a presentation from one of my labmates Leon Brettin about teleoperation. During the presentation, Leon introduced various conceptual frameworks for remotely controlling vehicles, and I jumped on the opportunity to introduce experimental methods as a further possibility in this work. Using the knowledge needed to transfer my shared control system to the TU Braunschweig Hu&ViL platform, we were able to quickly build up a low-latency remote operation system for prototyping future teleoperation concepts. This system displays a virtual version of the real driving scene for the operator, eliminating the need to send large quantities of HD video data. Getting to develop a teleoperation system at the IfR during my research exchange was really fun, and I hope it will remain useful for future research endeavors. Through both the shared control and teleoperation work, I was hopefully able to provide knowledge and transfer technology in broader support of experimental work in the IfR.
Outside of the Lab
Beyond the technical exchange, I gained eleven new friends through my labmates in Germany and a wide range of unique cultural experiences. Some of these include weekend explorations of several German cities and smaller towns in the area, a flight with one of my labmates in a(glider), enjoyment of local cuisines such as Fischbrötchen in Hamburg and the famous VW Currywurst, and a visit to my German Grandfather's childhood home. I also was able to make connections via sports, playing tennis and badminton and getting into a regular rock climbing routine with some of my labmates. I was excited as well to experience German sport culture, attending a couple of 2. Bundesliga soccer matches (which have some of the most passionate fans I’ve ever seen) and a local professional tennis tournament in Braunschweig.
I really enjoyed life in Braunschweig, particularly the ease with which I could bike around town and the abundance of greenery in nearby parks. It was very helpful to have learned some German before going, having taken the first-year GERLANG sequence at Stanford. Although most people were able to speak some – if not very good – English, being able to relate to others in their native language and understand conversations around me made a big impact on my feeling of belonging in Braunschweig. One last element of my time in Germany that I’ll touch on were daily lunches at the Mensa (the university cafeteria) with my labmates. The meals were varied and affordable, and it was really nice to take a break from work together every day and get to chat over warm food. The Mensa was a great routine that I will definitely miss. For many reasons, I will smile very fondly on my time in Braunschweig this summer, and I can’t wait for the next time I can visit.