Hyundai completes world’s first fuel cell-powered autonomous vehicle demonstration

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Korean auto maker Hyundai has successfully completed the world’s first demonstration on public roads of hydrogen fuel cell-powered SAE Level 4 autonomous electric vehicles, with a fleet of three NEXO sedans self-driving on a 118-mile (190km) journey from Seoul to PyeongChang.

Until now, automated driving has only been demonstrated on selected sections of Korean domestic roads and at a limited speed, so this was the first time that autonomous vehicles have operated on public highways at 68mph (110km/h), the country’s maximum speed limit. Three vehicles completed the journey, all based on NEXO, Hyundai’s next-generation fuel cell electric car, which is scheduled to be released in Korea next month. All vehicles were equipped with Level 4 self-driving technology, and equipped with 5G network equipment from KT Corp (formerly Korea Telecom), the country’s largest mobile service provider.

During autonomous driving, a high volume of data is processed by the vehicle’s onboard systems, necessitating large power consumption. A fuel cell electric vehicle is able to produce electricity to meet this power consumption, as well as powering the vehicle’s drivetrain systems, through a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel cell stack, with the only tailpipe emission being water vapor. With a target range of 500 miles (805km) on a single charge of hydrogen, which takes only five minutes to refuel, Hyundai believes fuel cell technology could be the optimal power source for self-driving vehicles.

Entering the highway at Seoul, the test vehicles moved in response to the natural flow of traffic, executed lane changes, overtaking maneuvers, and navigated toll gates using Hi-pass, South Korea’s wireless expressway payment system. Building on the successful demonstration of Hyundai’s vehicles that drove autonomously in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) early last year, the cars feature a number of advanced technologies that enable them to recognize surrounding vehicles more accurately, make better judgements at junctions, and navigate through toll gates by accurately calculating their width and position. The vehicles were also able to pinpoint their position on a map using external sensors fitted for situations when the GPS signal was interrupted, such as going through underground tunnels.

Hyundai is preparing for the commercialization of Level 4 compliant autonomous-driving system in smart cities by 2021. The company announced plans at CES 2018 last month to jointly develop self-driving technology with Aurora Innovation, a USA-based autonomous driving startup.

Jinwoo Lee, head of Hyundai’s Intelligent Safety Technology Center, said, “Our philosophy for developing autonomous driving technology is to provide the highest level of safety combined with the high standard of convenience that our customers expect.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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