HD Maps: Moving Towards a New Safety Standard in Autonomous Driving

Far from being a novelty, car safety has been an important subject since the 19th century

From the invention of the hydraulic brake system to the introduction of seat belts and airbags, the world continues to recognize the need for safety in – and outside of – the car.

With the rise of autonomous driving (AD), there is a new challenge on the horizon. For the first time in history, maps, particularly high-definition (HD) maps, will play a critical role in ensuring the safety of passengers and pedestrians alike. When humans are removed from the driving equation, maps and sensors become the vehicles’ eyes instead.

A new safety model

Classical functional safety is well established in the automotive industry. Until now, compliance with ISO26262, which describes the functional safety of road vehicles, has kept us safe on the road by ensuring that systematic and random hardware and software failures are detected and mitigated as necessary.

But unfortunately, the same standards cannot be expected to ensure the same level of safety when full control is given to the vehicle. New standards need to be put in place.

When it comes to the new mobility revolution called autonomous driving, the industry will need to agree on new safety standards regarding maps. One recent development is ISO/PAS 21448, which looks at the safety of the intended functionality.

The crucial component

Once decision-making moves from the driver to the vehicle, HD maps and sensors take over. Regardless of road conditions, HD maps confirm what the sensors see to keep passengers safe and on the move.

For this reason, HD maps are crucial to the autonomous driving equation. They improve a driver’s – man or machine – field of view through an accurate representation of the road ahead and the neighbouring environment. Much like the watchful eye of a drone in the sky, or the collective memory of millions of cars that travelled the same road in the past.

Mapping the considerations

In order to make maps that are able to handle all challenges thrown at them by an autonomous vehicle, there are a number of questions and considerations that need to be made.

1. Speed

If map data, software and services are to be used in safety critical applications for autonomous driving, then it is paramount to bridge the gap between the moment a road change happens and the time it is reflected in the map.

These maps need to be able to translate the information in a matter of seconds, which can be done through the use of machine learning techniques and the application of crowdsourcing for on-demand delivery maintenance and efficiency.

As map changes are reflected at this incredible speed, the map should also retain its integrity, without any loss or degradation of the map database when it’s updated in the user equipment.

2. Quality

For quality purposes, localization should be accurate at the level required for the application. To ensure the right level of accuracy, mapmakers must exert control over map quality through four operational elements:

1. Data collection: Is the data correct?

2. Data processing: What controls are in place to ensure quality and prevent errors?

3. Data provision/release: How will any loss during data transformations be avoided?

4. Data security: How will any external manipulation be prevented?

3. Cost

Guaranteeing safety at the level required for autonomous driving is paramount, but it has a steep price. The challenge for mapmakers is to make sure that safety does not come at the cost of affordability for the end user. As additional protocols for data sourcing and production are created and the velocity of engineering teams changes, mapmakers will need to walk the tightrope of cost versus benefits to achieve uncompromising quality at a reasonable price.

A view to the future

The future of mobility will be dominated by the introduction of autonomous driving, but before it reaches market maturity, a new industry safety standard needs to be in place. With this, an understanding and appreciation for the role high-definition mapping plays within the safety of the vehicle, is needed.

There isn’t a clear-cut outline of what the world of autonomous driving will look like, however as the industry moves towards it becoming more of a reality, steps are being made to ensure the safety of this technological advancement.

About the Author

Willem Strijbosch – Head of Autonomous Driving at TomTom. He is responsible for the cloud-to-car HD Map service, from observations in the car, to aggregating them in the cloud, to turning them into an HD map, to delivering that map to a car. The HD Map service is a crucial component for autonomous driving, increasing safety and comfort of an autonomous vehicle. The HD Map service helps seeing through the car in front of you, around the corner, and two miles ahead to the next exit.