“Data in the Desert” hints at the future of autonomous vehicles

UK-based Wejo unveils new operating system to "democratize" AV data.

auto, car, cars, “data in the desert” hints at the future of autonomous vehicles

/ A cluster of sensors atop the roof of the DLIVEREE.Gregory Leporati

PAHRUMP, NEVADA—You could hear Porsches, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis roaring across the desert—or, more specifically, Spring Mountain Motor Resort, a scorching-hot racetrack about 60 miles west of Las Vegas. I was driving a Porsche GT3 RS with Jamie Wall, a professional racecar driver and McLaren coach, beside me—and it handled a bit differently than the 1997 Toyota Camry I’ve owned for the past 18 years.

“I bet it’s a fair bit faster, too,” Wall laughed.

As we set out across the winding road course, our goal, technically, was loftier than just having fun: We were acquiring data that could help fuel and inform autonomous vehicles.

It was all part of “Data in the Desert,” an event in late September hosted by Wejo, a UK-based cloud and software analytics startup, aimed at showing off its latest connected-vehicle technology. And despite the on-track action, the day’s highlight came a few hours earlier, when Wejo unveiled something quite different from the Porsches and Ferraris we were driving: its autonomous vehicle prototype, called DLIVEREE, which showcases its Autonomous Vehicle Operating System (AV-OS).

auto, car, cars, “data in the desert” hints at the future of autonomous vehicles

/ While the array of sportscars was fun, they weren’t the star of the show.Gregory Leporati

“The reason we’ve built AV-OS is that we have an obsession about democratizing access to this data and technology for all OEMs,” said Richard Barlow, Wejo’s founder and CEO, at the unveiling. Wejo is partly backed by General Motors, though Barlow notes the company works with 30 OEMs.

Manufacturers, he said, are developing their AV technology in silos, eager to be the first to reach level 5 autonomy—an entirely driverless car, not locked to a specific operational design domain. The problem is that these cars will ultimately need to speak to one another and share data in order to function correctly and interact safely on the roads of tomorrow—something Wejo hopes its AV-OS will solve. Not only does it provide a shared set of data and an operating system for all OEMs to utilize as they develop their AV technology, but it ensures that none of their intellectual property will be exposed in the process.

“We want to make this more of a level playing field,” Barlow continued. “The incumbents—the Teslas of the world—shouldn’t be the exception to the rule.”

auto, car, cars, “data in the desert” hints at the future of autonomous vehicles

/ Richard Barlow, Wejo’s founder and CEO, explains the safety enhancements that AV-OS can bring about—particularly from vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Wejo

Industry experts say that this is a much-needed next step to help accelerate the deployment of AVs—which has been relatively slow to progress, despite yearly proclamations from the likes of Elon Musk that safe, fully autonomous vehicles are on the horizon.

“We’re still in the early stages of AV deployment, and it’s a real problem that everyone is working on their own super-secret technology, entirely on their own,” said Jiaqi Ma, an engineering professor at UCLA and head of the New Mobility at UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies. Ma believes that a level 5 autonomous vehicle is still 10 to 20 years away from deployment, but a shared platform like AV-OS could allow OEMs to experiment with early applications and potentially speed this process up.

“We need an integrated platform, a cloud service—just like Wejo is trying to do here—to enable these vehicles to safely work together.”

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