He sees GPS data as an effective means of rendering driving even safer in the near future. For example, this information can warn drivers of narrow bends ahead. If they are driving too fast to take the curve ahead, the car could slow itself down. When talking about autonomous driving, Huhnke is anxious to make one thing clear: “We did not set out to teach robot cars how to drive. We want to use our new developments to make driving safer and more comfortable for the people in the vehicle.” Every year, 37,000 people die on the roads in the USA alone – reason enough to help drivers to react better and to avoid accidents.
KEEPING IN LANE WITH THE AUTOPILOT
Autonomous driving is still at the experimental stage, but the way is already being paved for this future technology. Not just in distant California, but also closer to home at Volkswagen Group Research in Wolfsburg. Here, Dr. Arne Bartels focuses on driver assistance systems and their intelligent interplay. His latest project is called “Temporary Auto Pilot”, or “TAP” for short. The system is a further development of the Adaptive Cruise Control function that is already in series production for many Volkswagen Group models. It not only controls the speed and the distance to the vehicle traveling in front, but also keeps the car in lane. To begin with, it is only designed to be deployed on motorways. Using laser scanners and cameras, TAP orients itself on lane markings, crash barriers, GPS data and other road users. Whenever the system reaches its limits, the driver is immediately prompted to take the wheel again. TAP is still part of the European HAVEit program that researches intelligent automatic traffic systems. But Bartels believes that it has “the potential to become a concrete product – within the next ten years.”
Bartels works closely together with his colleagues at the ERL. He is in full agreement with Huhnke: “The purpose of all these technologies is certainly not to take the fun out of driving. What we want to do is take the strain off the driver in difficult, dangerous situations, as well as in traffic jams or during monotonous motorway driving.” That’s because whenever the car is only crawling along, drivers’ attention tends to lapse and they focus on other things. The same goes for long stretches of motorway driving. Bartels: “We give them their very own little guardian angel in the form of an intelligent assistance system.”