What is an autonomous car

Autonomous Cars: How Far Are We?

Autonomous cars have their place in our visions of the future. They are no longer absurd utopias. But the company still requires patience, even if the topic is on the agenda everywhere.

The latest examples from research and development: Toyota announced at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas that it wanted to build an experimental city of the future in Japan, a "woven city" in which technologies such as autonomous driving could be increasingly used in real environments to test.

Akio Toyoda presents the vision of his "Woven City" at the CES. Building a future city is a lifelong dream.

Self-driving cars with technology from Bosch and Daimler are already being tested in the USA. The two companies have been testing a ride-sharing service there since the end of last year. But not only car manufacturers, but also search engine companies such as Google, cell phone companies and various start-ups are working on the autonomous car.

The ADAC expects that a larger number of cars will only be available after 2040 that can drive completely autonomously from door to door, i.e. no longer require a driver on country roads. But "can" does not mean "may" for a long time.

Autonomous driving: who is where?

The Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI) 2019 provides an insight into how well individual countries are prepared for the transport revolution.

The report assesses the ability of 25 nations to master the challenges of the impending transportation revolution. To do this, the countries were compared on the basis of the requirements in the four areas of politics / legislation, technology / innovation, infrastructure and customer acceptance.

"Progress has been made by all countries in most areas, which shows that governments are increasingly concerned with the regulatory implications and practicality of autonomous driving," said the auditing firm KPMG, which first published the report in 2018.

Germany ranks eighth in the analysis. As in 2018, the Netherlands came first, followed by Singapore, Norway, America and Sweden.

Overall, the economic development of a country is closely related to the readiness for autonomous vehicle technologies, it is said. Other important factors are also the excellent condition of the roads, a well-developed mobile network and investments and innovations by the private sector.

How far is Germany?

Technologically, on the other hand, the industry has already arrived at autonomous driving, test vehicles are on the road around the world.

Nevertheless, we are currently still at the preliminary stages to autonomous driving. Since 2017, however, "highly automated driving", or "piloted driving" for short, has been approved in Germany. This step corresponds to the third level on the way to the fully automated car (see infographic)

The automotive industry, specifically the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE for short, German "Verband der Automobilingenieure"), has agreed on a five-stage system for the development of autonomous driving(see infographic). Each level stands for a different degree of automation, i.e. the extent to which the vehicle can take over the driver's tasks.

The third stage means that the car almost completely takes over the journey, but the responsibility remains with the driver. That means he must be able to intervene in every situation. But: As soon as the driver puts his car in highly automated mode, he can turn his attention away from the traffic. He could read the newspaper, for example, or turn to the children in the back seat.

The vehicle is sufficiently intelligent to cope with everyday situations on its own - including steering, braking and warnings in critical situations. Nevertheless, the system is designed in such a way that the driver can override the system request at any time. Level 3 is particularly intended for use on motorways.

What happens on the test tracks?

In Germany there are already several test fields for connected and automated vehicles. Corresponding systems are being researched and developed on the A9 motorway digital test field in Bavaria, for example.

In Hamburg, a test track project plans to equip traffic lights and a bridge so that they can send information to vehicles. In Berlin's city traffic, a 3.6-kilometer route between the Brandenburg Gate and Ernst-Reuter-Platz was equipped with technology.

In the future, there will also be test cars on the road that are driven by computers and in which a person only sits to check. In Lower Saxony, a test field is currently being built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), on which automated and networked vehicles will be tested, and driving behavior and traffic flow will be recorded and analyzed.

What are the problems?

Above all, legal aspects need to be clarified. For example, the ADAC demands that the systems must be at least as secure as an average driver. Debates among auto insurers and ethicists who analyze accident decisions have only just begun.

Then there is the difference between town and country. For example, a model project that is currently being tested in Osnabrück has been stopped in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for the time being because the technology does not work in the country. In Osnabrück, the public utility company is testing a small, self-driving bus called Hubi that carries passengers on public roads. The vehicle uses a sensor system that needs buildings "to scan" at the roadside.

This means that this technology can only be used in urban areas in towns and villages, it was said to justify the demolition in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Many people are fascinated by the idea of ​​autonomous cars, buses and taxis. But it will take some time before we can really sit back and relax in the car.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Travel from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas

    This Audi A7 is full of sensors. At the beginning of 2015, the car drove independently all the way from Silicon Valley to the CES technology fair in Lag Vegas. The road trip on the highway was 900 kilometers long. The helmsman was only on board in an emergency - he did not have to intervene on this voyage.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Really cozy!

    This prototype from Mercedes Benz bears the name F015 and shows in all its conventions what an autonomous car could look like: a driver's seat is superfluous. Instead, all occupants can look at each other while driving and chat in comfort. This research vehicle was also developed in Silicon Valley. Its maximum speed is currently 200 km / h.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Not for the impatient guy

    Autonomous vehicles are actually very safe. They are programmed in such a way that, in case of doubt, they tend to slow down the journey. You definitely keep the specified safety distance and do not endanger other road users with aggressive driving maneuvers, such as this speeder.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Cozy always afterwards

    These two autonomous cars from the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich show how it is done: one car drives in a relaxed manner, the other follows faithfully, always behind. They even find their way in unpaved terrain on paths that they did not know before. This is shown by an exercise at the ELROB robot competition 2012.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    That wouldn't have been necessary

    Such pile-ups occur when people drive too fast, have poor visibility and do not keep a safe distance. Smartly built robotic cars wouldn't make such mistakes. If many of them were networked, they could even send signals kilometers in advance to the following cars: Beware of traffic jams!

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Sensors for all types of danger

    Robot cars can use different eyes to recognize their surroundings. An autonomous car developed by Google, for example, uses such a laser sensor. It rotates and scans its surroundings three-dimensionally with a laser beam.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    The real world from a laser point of view

    And this is what it looks like: The car of the University of the Federal Armed Forces drives through rough terrain. The laser creates a three-dimensional map that it feeds into the computer. So you can even take the perspective of an outsider and watch the car on its journey of discovery.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Orientation by satellite, radar and eye

    Robots can also use many other means to orient themselves in the field. For example with optical eyes - like this commercially available USB camera - or small radar sensors. Positioning by satellite is also important for cars - via GPS data.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Seeing cars - future technology from Germany

    Researchers at Daimler also work with optical cameras. In 2011 they were nominated for the German Future Prize for the invention of seeing cars. This camera is mounted behind the windshield of a mid-range car. She attentively follows what is going on on the street.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Image points become movement

    The optical camera initially recognizes thousands of pixels - a so-called point cloud. From the movement of individual pixels, it calculates vectors - that is, movement arrows. Different vectors are of different lengths. From this, the on-board computer creates a complex movement image of the traffic in front of and next to the car.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Slow down or evade?

    The on-board computer filters out the vectors that run unusually at the car's speed, so it can recognize dangers: a pedestrian walks in front of the car from the right and is marked orange. Another car is moving away in the background. The movement points are green - no danger. This allows the car to react if the driver is inattentive.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Who decides - computer or human?

    So the technology would be ready. But the question of whether robots should be let loose on the traffic autonomously poses difficult ethical questions to politicians and lawyers: Who is responsible if a robot car has an accident: manufacturer, software programmer, owner or driver? And what about outside of normal traffic?

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    When it gets too dangerous for people

    For example in the war effort - when you want to transport material from one place to another. Or after a chemical or nuclear accident, when the contaminated area is too dangerous for people. To this end, developers are building autonomous vehicles that can already perform practical tasks, such as here at the Polish Military Academy.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Exhibition of autonomous robots

    The European robot competition ELROB took place at the Polish Military Academy in Warsaw in summer 2014. Such autonomous vehicles were able to compete there for five days. This van from the Swiss company RUAG was first presented in 2012 in Thun, Switzerland.

  • The car thinks, the car steers

    Hands off the wheel!

    If a vehicle drives into a booby trap without a driver, the technology will break down, but at least nobody will be harmed. During the ELROB exercise, however, someone had to sit in the driver's cab to press the emergency stop button if something went wrong.

    Author: Fabian Schmidt