John Buszek is the Vice President of Products and Services at AutonomouStuff. He coordinates the Open Autonomy Pilot, a research program that will use open-source software to operate an AutonomouStuff Lexus RX450h automated research development platform on a loop in Downtown Peoria, Illinois, beginning in June.
After working for several years in the automotive industry with a focus on technology and autonomous systems, John sees the Open Autonomy Pilot as a big step toward easily accessible autonomy. Beginning June 3, an automated Lexus SUV will continuously drive a several-block loop through Downtown Peoria gathering data to refine software and expand simulation scenarios.
John recently took the time to respond to a few questions about the project and where it fits in a rapidly evolving industry. John's answers are below, lightly edited for clarity and space.
What is the main goal of the pilot program?
Open Autonomy Pilot is all about making it easier for the world to develop autonomous driving. One of the huge barriers to autonomous driving is software. There's a lot of open-source software for autonomous driving that has a lot of the key functions you need, whether it's different types of perception, localization, planning your path or controlling the motion of the vehicle. Taking that software and bringing it into a vehicle, that's another endeavor. AutonomouStuff specializes in autonomous systems and integration of autonomous systems into vehicles, so we feel that a way that we can continue our goal of enabling the future of transportation is by making it easier for our customers, the autonomous driving community, to take that open-source software and bring it into research vehicles. So, we're applying this open-source software in our neighboring city in Downtown Peoria. We want to make sure the software is working well, that we have a workflow that all of our customers can follow, to get the vehicle operating safely.
How is AutonomouStuff ensuring safety during the pilot?
The first thing to know is, if you ever see one of these vehicles driving autonomously through Downtown Peoria, the first thing to know is someone is driving it. This is a car being driven by someone. It turns out it's an engineer who's been trained on how to drive vehicles that are in an autonomous mode. I would say you can compare it to when you have cruise control on the highway in your vehicle, your feet aren't touching the pedals, but you're driving — it's just a different way of driving. We've already seen cars where you can actually take your hands off the wheel, but of course you're still driving, you're watching the road. Whenever you see one of our vehicles driving in Downtown Peoria, that vehicle is testing the types of functions that you would need in order for there to eventually be no driver in the car, but there still is a driver in the car. That driver is watching to make sure the system is operating correctly, and if at any point they touch either one of the pedals, the brake or the throttle, or if they touch the steering wheel, they regain control of the vehicle. We're also driving the vehicle very slowly, so it's very easy for the safety driver to grab the wheel if there's anything that the autonomous driving system did not do correctly. The main thing to know is someone is driving that car.
How has the pilot been received in Peoria?
We have a history working with the city, just because our headquarters is located nearby in Morton. They're our neighbors, we have a good relationship there. And what you find is Peoria is very excited about autonomous driving, they welcomed us, they're trying to help us in every way they can. The city just loves the idea of being able to contribute to this amazing technology — and I'd say Peoria has a history. You know this phrase, "Will it play in Peoria?" It's the idea that if any type of technology, from something simple all the way to the most complex technology in the world, if it can work here, in this Midwestern city, you could say that it could be successful anywhere. We're really excited to be able to work with Peoria to bring that phrase to life through this amazing technology of autonomous vehicles.
How is Open Autonomy Pilot different from other autonomous vehicle projects?
There's plenty of companies that are on public roads testing their technology, similar to how we are with the safety driver, making sure all the functions work correctly. There's many, many companies that are doing that. I think what makes us unique is the fact that this is not something that's for us at AutonomouStuff — this is something that we want to provide to the world. We want anyone to be able to replicate what they're seeing here and create some type of autonomous driving technology based on the achievements we made in Peoria with open source software and with our research vehicle platforms.