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Hyundai NEXO completes autonomous journey

Hyundai NEXO on its 190-km autonomous journey.

A convoy of five G80 and NEXO vehicles made a 190km journey unassisted, in a trial of Hyundai’s Level 4 autonomy systems

A fleet comprised of Hyundai’s next-generation fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) have succeeded in completing a 190km journey from Seoul to Pyeongchang, all under autonomous control. This is the first time in the world that level 4 autonomous driving has been achieved with fuel cell electric cars, the automaker says.

Autonomous driving has been demonstrated at a limited speed on some sections of South Korea’s roads, but this is the first time autonomous cars have driven long distances at over 100 kph (110kph being the maximum speed allowed by law on Korean highways).

Five Hyundai vehicles completed the journey. Three vehicles are based on Hyundai’s upcoming NEXO FCEV, scheduled to be released in Korea next month, while the other two are Genesis G80 autonomous vehicles. All vehicles are equipped with level 4 self-driving technology, as defined by the SAE international standards, and 5G network technology.

The demonstration started in Seoul on February 2 with the ‘CRUISE’ and ‘SET’ buttons being pressed on the autonomous-driving steering wheel of each vehicle, at which point the cars immediately switched to self-driving mode and began the 190-km journey to Pyeongchang.

On the highway, the vehicles moved in response to the natural flow of traffic, executed lane changes and overtaking maneuvers, and navigated toll gates using Hi-pass, South-Korea’s wireless expressway payment system.

Hyundai says its autonomous system have improved since demonstrations last year, and that these cars can now recognise surrounding vehicles more accurately and make better judgements at junctions and at branching roads. They can also navigate through toll gates by accurately calculating the toll gate’s width and position, and precisely pinpoint the vehicle’s position on a map by using external sensors fitted for situations when the GPS signal was interrupted, such as going through long underground tunnels.

Sensor package and systems on the NEXO FCEV. Source: Hyundai
Sensor package and systems on the NEXO FCEV. Source: Hyundai


An interesting note here is that these autonomous systems require more power from the vehicle’s electric powertrain. Hyundai argues that this is where FCEVs are ideal, largely because the greater energy density contained in hydrogen tanks offers more utility than batteries alone. The NEXO, for example, has a reported range of around 600km on a full tank – just shy of a top-of-the-line Model S – but exactly how much power drain autonomous systems will cause is dependent on many factors. (The consensus appears to be that they could amount to about 5-10% less fuel economy).

It’s a problem that has been raised before, and as the pressure for both autonomous and zero-emission vehicles intensifies, exactly what powertrain(s) to use may prove to be a pivotal decision for automakers and service providers in the coming years.

In the meantime, Hyundai Motor says it is preparing for the commercialisation of SAE-standard, Level 4-compliant autonomous systems in smart cities by 2021. In pursuit of this, it also announced plans at CES last month to jointly develop self-driving technology with Aurora Innovation, a US-based autonomous driving startup. Beyond that, it plans to have Level 5, fully autonomous technology ready by 2030.


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