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Self-driving cars work on pure logic: researcher

Dec 08. 2016
Tichakorn Wongpiromsarn, principal research scientist at nuTonomy
Tichakorn Wongpiromsarn, principal research scientist at nuTonomy
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Thai scientist delights in her work at Us-based software firm nutonomy 

“Each day is like a weekend to me, as I really enjoy getting up during the week to look after the results of my development work,” says 33-year-old Tichakorn “Nok” Wongpiromsarn, principal research scientist at nuTonomy, a US-based company that develops software and algorithms for autonomous vehicles – or “self-driving” cars. 

She and her team take care of development of the design and implementation of the decision-making logic and a motion-planner that together provide a guaranteed accuracy for autonomous vehicles with respect to a given set of traffic rules, and also the development of a controller for such vehicles to closely follow the motion-planner’s generated paths.

After graduating with a PhD in mechanical engineering and a minor in control and dynamical systems from the California Institute of Technology, Nok was invited by Emilio Frazzoli, chief technology officer of nuTonomy, to join the company in 2014. 

She initially worked at the autonomous-car business on a part-time basis.

“I like logic, and that’s why I have become an expert in formal logic to develop planning and decision-making for self-driving cars in any environment, so that such a vehicle will be able to know its current location with accuracy and make correct planning and decisions during a drive. The autonomous car is now able to drive at speeds of up to 45 kilometres per hour on city roads, defensively and safety,” she said.

She added that nuTonomy was now at the stage of developing an autonomous car in Singapore that would provide “vehicle mobility on demand” within the next five years. 

The company plans to have 1,000 autonomous vehicles in Singapore to support mobility on demand – or mobility as a service – in the near future. 

“We successfully tested our autonomous car in traffic in the One North area of Singapore early this year, as Singapore has a supportive regulatory environment. We also plan to provide autonomous taxis within the next five years, and to license AV [autonomous vehicle] technology in the long term,” the research scientist added.

She explained that the autonomous car came with four key “environments”: perception, to provide mapping, localisation, object ID and tracking; planning, to provide a mission-planner, decision-making and motion-planning; control, to offer the vehicle path, steering and speed, and other actuation; and hardware, or the actual vehicle model. 

“I feel that if we work in a job that we genuinely love, every day will be like the weekend. We can see and get enjoyment when we look at our development becoming more intelligent each day – just like taking care of a baby. Planning is also about continuing development for the future, such as intent prediction for greater efficiency and safety,” she said.

The company has also developed an autonomous parking solution, as well as autonomous urban-driving solutions to auto-makers such as to Jaguar, Land Rover, Autoliv, Mitsubishi and Renault.

Meanwhile, nuTonomy began trialling its “robo” taxi service in Singapore in August, and last month provided autonomous-vehicle trials on roads in the US after partnering with the City of Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

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