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The Automated Drive North: Q&A with Katelyn Magney, VSI Labs.

Company News July 8, 2020

On 12th July 2020, VSI Labs, OxTS partner and leading researcher of active safety and automated vehicle technologies, will set off on the “Automated Drive North”. The team will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, via Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in VSI’s L2+ research vehicle.

This is the first of four automated drives that VSI will complete over the next six months, with routes taking the team from coast-to-coast and border-to-border. To find out more, we caught up with Katelyn Magney, Marketing & Communications Manager at VSI Labs, who will be part of the team that heads out on this first 1,200-mile journey.


Perhaps the best place to start is how you will get from A to B. Please could you give us an overview of the research vehicle and what you hope to learn about it during these drives?

Our research vehicle is a 2018 Ford Fusion that our engineers have equipped with a full stack of sensors including visible cameras, thermal imaging, LiDAR, radar and precision localization.

VSI Labs L2+ Automated Research Vehicle in 2020
VSI Labs’ L2+ Automated Research Vehicle, a 2018 Ford Fusion.

The goal of these drives is twofold: they will help us test various ADAS applications, by exposing them to a diverse set of environments and driving conditions, and we’ll also collect a tremendous amount of data. The computer onboard the vehicle can process and record critical scenes and segments where the sensors are challenged. This will be useful for our post-drive analysis as we will be able to annotate challenging segments and road scenes.


Previously, VSI have completed the Automated Drive East and West from Minnesota to Washington DC and California, respectively. Have you made any changes to the research vehicle this time around?

We are constantly trying to improve our systems in the vehicle. One of the biggest changes this time around is the addition of a ruggedized computer in the vehicle, which is better suited to handle the conditions we encounter when driving cross-country and can store the massive volumes of data.

We’ve also added a new three-camera setup in the front of the vehicle that now includes thermal detection.


The previous automated drives were about discovery, rather than proving the capability of VSI’s AV applications. Is that the same this time around, or are there some specific performance targets that you are hoping to achieve?

Discovery is still at the forefront of these upcoming drives. VSI’s goal is not to build out AV & ADAS applications that are ready for production. Rather, we’re helping the companies that are working toward that. So our mission continues to be discovery-driven, and we hope to learn a great deal as we did on our previous drives.

While our previous drives, like the Automated Drive West, have been on interstates and major controlled access highways, this year we are getting off the beaten path, driving on lesser travelled routes to expose the technologies to new challenging situations. In fact our launch event, the Automated Drive North, exposes the technologies to various “northerly” scenes, meaning the road conditions and environment would be similar to countryside and rural scenes.


VSI have integrated the RT3000 as part of its HD-map-based lane keeping system, using it to provide cm-level position localisation on the open-road. What role will the RT3000 play in this upcoming drive series?

Precision localization and motion estimation is vital to ADAS and automated driving, particularly in the test and development stages that VSI is involved in. With the RT3000, our time-stamped data that we collect is further enhanced with this metadata so, when we are doing post-drive analysis, we have more granularity in knowing where the vehicle is relative to the “targets” within the environmental models.

RT3000 in VSI Labs L2+ Automated Research Vehicle
OxTS RT3000 in VSI Labs’ L2+ Automated Research Vehicle


We will obviously keep in touch with you during the drives to see how things are going, and we’ll share those updates on the OxTS LinkedIn. Are there any other ways that people can follow your progress?

Yes, we’ve been working on an upgrade to our telemetry tracking site and we’re excited to unveil it soon. Once it has been launched, you’ll be able to follow along on our journeys in real-time. In the meantime, you can visit the VSI Labs website to learn more.


And finally, as part of the team that will be travelling in the research vehicle, what are you most looking forward to about the Automated Drive North?

I’m most looking forward to spending time with my colleagues on the road and seeing some beautiful nature in Northern Michigan!


Everyone at OxTS wishes Katelyn and the VSI team a successful trip to Ann Arbor and we look forward to catching up again soon to hear what they learned along the way.

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