The road to 240 million virtual kilometers: BMW’s autonomous driving journey with Unity

Before BMW’s autonomous driving (AD) technology is mass production-ready, it will need to drive 240 million virtual kilometers. Learn how Unity is helping BMW put more on its odometer every day.

In our first post, we covered how a team at BMW Fully Autonomous Driving & Driver Assistance Systems has used Unity to develop custom tools for simulation visualization and scenario creation. With these tools, the BMW Group is well-equipped to tackle the most daunting daily challenges in AD development. 

Let’s walk through a few areas where Unity is helping out in a major way.

Enabling continuous testing day and night

BMW’s Unity-based scenario editor lets its AD developers test with precise control. These images show a simulated test parameterized across different times of day and weather conditions.

The road to 240 million virtual kilometers: BMW’s autonomous driving journey with Unity - host infront night

The same scenario at night.

The road to 240 million virtual kilometers: BMW’s autonomous driving journey with Unity - host infront rain

The same scenario in the rain.

By combining simulation with key performance indicators (e.g., continually maintaining a safe distance from traffic vehicles), BMW can assess how complete its features actually are. As individual components of its AD function master basic scenarios, BMW can conduct mass validation of its entire AD system in more complex situations.

These tests come in multiple forms:

Small-scale feature tests – These tests are the most common type of testing, and they enable BMW to rapidly evaluate portions of its AD system, such as vehicle trajectory planning. In a typical day, BMW’s team will log tens of thousands of virtual kilometers; the majority of these are short-distance tests (from hundreds of meters to 1 kilometer) in increments of less than a minute. Large-scale system tests – Instead of a series of mini-tests for a specific feature, this type of simulation is designed to test the broader AD system. It plays out as an extended scenario that can run for hours and strives to replicate real-world scenarios; for example, an autobahn trip between the German cities Munich and Stuttgart. These simulations are more complex, often involving a virtual world complete with moving vehicles, pedestrians, and variable weather conditions, as well as map data, sensor models as inputs to perception algorithms, vehicle trajectory planning, vehicle dynamics, and much more.

Because driving situations can be repeated as often as required in simulation, BMW runs tests throughout each day, including “night drives.” After using the Unity-based scenario editor to set up tests, developers can review the results the next morning, leverage analytics to pinpoint exactly when functions failed, and bring up the exact point of failure in a frame rendered from Unity. The team can automatically extract those problematic situations as small-scale scenarios, and then visualize them to better understand why the situation was problematic.

For instance, in this scenario, a traffic vehicle cuts in suddenly, yet the host vehicle does not decelerate immediately, resulting in a near accident. The scenario can be subsequently replayed after each incremental code update until the AD function reacts properly.

After an initial failure in this scenario, improvements ensure that this vehicle brakes properly in response to a traffic vehicle merging

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