News Column

Automated Driving Takes the Dummy Out From Behind the Wheel

June 13, 2013

Heiko Lossie, dpa

Automated Driving

Otto currently has one of the toughest jobs at German car component company Continental.

The crash-test dummy is regularly hung from a cable across the roadway on a test circuit at Wietze north of Hanover and positioned so that his feet are touching the ground.

All day long, speeding cars bear down on him and although most brake or take avoiding action in the nick of time, Otto sometimes gets slammed against the bonnet of a vehicle.

Thanks to Otto's pliable nature he can cope with such mishaps. He was given his name by a research team at Continental.

Otto could well be helping to usher in an automotive revolution.

The cars which drive into Otto are extraordinary. A driver sits at the controls of each but he does not do any driving.

Continental is testing fully automated driving that would make more than 125 years of manned motor car history look as old-fashioned as winding a watch.

Fully automated driving on the motorway could be a reality by 2025, says Continental, leaving drivers to concentrate on other activities - thanks to such high-tech applications as on-board cameras, infrared and laser.

The road to fully automated driving is a long and winding one.

"Before we can realize fully automated driving - even on test tracks - we have a good deal of research and development work ahead of us", said Alfred Eckert, who in is charge of the futuristic project at the company.

Movers and shakers in Germany's car sector are convinced that the automation will be a key element of future driving although the move towards it will be progressive rather than sudden. The motive is to make driving safer and more comfortable too.

Driver assistance systems are an integral part of many modern cars, so partial automation is the logical next step.

Wolf-Henning Scheider, managing director at Bosch, one of Continental's competitors, believes that sensor-driven warning systems will quickly trickle down into cheaper cars from the luxury end of the market.

"The safety issue is so attractive to car manufacturers that I predict these systems will rapidly find their way into mid-range cars," said the manager.

Scheider is convinced that sensors which anticipate emergency situations and apply the brakes automatically will become standard over the next three years. There are parallels from the past for this - take ABS brakes, airbags and anti-skid systems such as ESP.

These were once considered absolute high-end options and in some cases are now not just common but obligatory for new cars.

The progressive approach is an economic necessity. Component suppliers like Bosch and Conti are toiling to make automated driving affordable, but in the end the degree to which the systems find their way into production cars will be regulated by the market, namely when the price is right.

"The volume that can be generated will be a key factor," said Bosch. The pace at which complex automated driving technology finds its way into expensive cars will determine how quickly the devices are then incorporated into cheaper vehicles.

The technology would allow drivers to consult their emails while hurtling down the motorway, just as they do when riding a train.

Peter Fuss works for the Ernst & Young consulting company and been advising carmakers on strategic issues for years. In his view the trend towards more driver assistance and safety in cars does not come as a surprise.

"I see this as an evolutionary thing - it only becomes a revolution when driving is genuinely automated."

The expert points out that it is by no means clear how drivers will react to the idea of a computer doing the driving for them.

"The psychological aspect plays a big part here," said Fuss. It all comes down to whether industry can convince consumers of the potential benefits.

There are however nightmarish aspects to be considered - technical glitches that might cause deaths of drivers and passengers or interference by cyber-terrorists who might hack into automated driving systems.

Legislation would have to be changed before automated driving could become a reality and in the final analysis it will come down to the reliable flow of data. Vehicles which drive themselves must be able to communicate with traffic lights, traffic control and weather centres and navigation devices.

In view of the complexity it comes as no surprise that search engine giant Google is at the forefront of automated driving research and is operating experimental vehicles on US highways.

Both Continental and car company Audi have since applied for similar licences in order to test automated vehicles on US roads.

For more coverage on the automotive industry, please see HispanicBusiness' Auto Channel

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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