Can you recover a car that is in a skid? Or safely tow a trailer?
Creating a standardized framework and process for credentialing professional test drivers to test these skills and more, an automotive industry initiative, is a reality thanks in part to the automotive expertise from U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC).
Bernie Duplan, a mechanical engineer in the automotive instrumentation division at ATC, played a key role in drafting the credentialing process as a member of the Driver Skills Standards Committee, a volunteer group within The Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE as it is widely known.
“The mission of this particular committee was to build a standard that would create a consistent method for credentialing drivers. Professional test drivers, specifically,” said Duplan. “It morphed in to any professional driver, but the original and probably the main focus, is professional proving ground test drivers.”
SAE is a volunteer organization for engineers and technical experts in aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries. SAE focuses on creating and maintaining voluntary consensus standards for these industries as well as providing professional development and networking opportunities for experts in these fields. While adhering to the standards published by SAE is voluntary, providing a framework for credentialing test drivers allows for consistency in training across the industry, Duplan said.
“The problem is that you have all of these manufacturers with their own training programs and their own credentialing programs, certifying their drivers to do certain tasks on their proving ground,” Duplan said. “But they don’t always recognize each other’s credentials so there was a lot of motivation in the industry to create this system.”
The credentialing program, created by subject matter experts with expertise from various companies and in a wide range of test requirements, creates a standardized method of certification for the industry that translates anywhere a test driver may go, he added.
The SAE publication, known as J3300 Driving Level Skill Certification, provides procedures for examining and certifying professional drivers in foundational driving skills such as cornering, accelerating and braking with four levels of expertise. Additional certification endorsements include Low Mu / Winter Driving, Trailer Towing, and Automated Driving (autonomous vehicles). For certification, a driver must pass an examination consisting of a series of driving skills assessed on criteria to include safety, control, consistency, pace, and behavior and attitude.
The collaborative effort between private industry and government organizations to draft the J3300 standards adds a military testing perspective to the industry-wide certification, Duplan said.
“We have a unique type of testing, often pushing vehicles to the limit in terms of longitudinal grades, vertical walls, and going over obstacles,” Duplan said. “When we give input to the certification process, we have a unique perspective that our industry partners may not have considered.”
Kevin Pelletier, a Lead Facility Operation Specialist at ATC, agrees. In his role as Test Course Certification Coordinator (TCCC), Pelletier administers the training required for operators to conduct testing on the automotive test courses at ATC. Implementing the newly released J3300 certification process at ATC, in conjunction with the organization’s already robust training program, will improve safety and help ATC to prepare for modernization and future requirements such as testing autonomous vehicles, he said.
“Vehicles are becoming more complicated and the safety systems built into them do amazing things that an everyday driver doesn't even have to think or worry about,” Pelletier said. “The certification training will allow the operators to understand what the vehicle is doing, how it is doing it and why. If the operator understands all this, he or she will be able to conduct the test at a higher efficiency, safely.”
Due to the unique nature of testing autonomous vehicles, the autonomy endorsement for J3300 certification will focus on a driver’s cognitive processes in addition to the foundational driving requirements.
“Understanding your own mental state and your ability to maintain focus are critical when a test item is managing the bulk of the driving for you,” Duplan said. “That is one area of the certification standard that will be important for ATC as we receive more autonomous programs in the future.”
The SAE J3300 process has been long with the committee beginning on the project in October 2016. Duplan joined the team in 2018 and after two years of work there is a sense of accomplishment and pride in having the final product published, he added, but it’s just the beginning.
“There is definitely a lot of pride that something I worked on has been published, but we’re nowhere near actually being complete with this,” Duplan said. “You could argue that we are really at the very beginning because now we are starting to implement it.”
Implementation of the credentialing process and wide acceptance by the automotive industry as a standard certification are keys to the success of the program, he added. Duplan believes applying the new standards at ATC will not only align test center processes to industry standards but has an added benefit as well.