Rand Corporation reported in 2016 that autonomous cars would need to be tested over 11 billion miles in order to prove that they’re better drivers than humans. With a fleet of 100 cars running 24 hours a day, that would take 500 years, according to the report. That seems both improbable and impractical, so companies like Cognata are filling the autonomous vehicle testing void with virtual miles.
The need to establish the reliability of autonomous vehicles in short order has prompted Emerge, Maniv Mobility and Airbus Ventures to invest $5 million in funding in Cognata. The company’s simulation system uses artificial intelligence, deep learning, and computer vision to create a virtual environment for testing cars without drivers — no roads required. It simulates the data collected by the vehicle’s sensors when encountering other vehicles and a variety of road conditions.
Cognata recreates real cities in 3D, starting with San Francisco, with every building and tree in place. Then it layers in data, like traffic models from different cities, to understand how vehicles drive and react in each particular location. “We can see the difference between San Francisco, Bangalore, and London,” said CEO Danny Atsmon in a phone interview. The third layer of Cognata’s virtual test is the emulation of the 40 or so sensors that autonomous vehicles require, including cameras, lidar and GPS. These simulations are run using the computers provided by the auto manufacturer or Tier 1 supplier in a far safer environment than, say, the street you live on.
Because the tests are run using Cognata’s cloud platform, “we can drive millions of miles in a few hours,” Atsmon said. “We can take hundreds of thousands of instances to run hundreds of thousands of scenarios,” including things like false positives from the sensors, “in a few hours or sometimes a few days.”
Before founding Cognata, Atsmon was the director of ADAS and machine learning at Harman — now part of Samsung — which supplies manufacturers with connected car solutions. (You might know the company better for its Harman Kardon sound systems.) Atsmon’s goal in founding the autonomous vehicle testing company after leaving Harman was to create a scalable way to test cutting-edge technology in less time and for less money than deploying a fleet of vehicles on the road. It’s also far safer.
“Because we are creating things virtually, we can recreate full cities — even the cities where autonomous driving is not allowed yet,” Atsmon said. “We can bridge that gap so that those cities will be more ready when they do allow it.”