Self-Driving Cars Almost Here

One after another, the world's automakers are announcing revolutionary breakthroughs in vehicle control systems to make roads and drivers safer for all. Electric car development has captured much of the attention lately, but the safety improvements are keeping pace with the environmental improvements coming to the international marketplace. For instance, Audi, a unit of Germany’s Volkswagen Group, last week announced three active safety projects and a new design for its Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak, a car that can drive itself and will undergo high-speed test runs up Pikes Peak, Colo., this fall.

The three safety projects are:

  • "Safety for Pedestrians and Cyclists," which equipped a test vehicle with a forward-looking 3D-imaging sensor system. A processing unit identifies the traffic situation and initiates a concept of action for braking and steering.
  • "Active Emergency Braking," using systems to consider guardrails and nearby vehicles in traffic to intervene and automatically brake earlier to avoid a collision.
  • "Driving Safety and Attentiveness," which uses a camera to record the position and orientation of the driver’s head, then analyzes the data to gauge the driver's attentiveness.

"The development of predictive systems for vehicle safety is already a focus at Audi today. The information gleaned from this research provides significant value-added for our daily development work and is of vital importance for the next generation of vehicles," said Dr. Ulrich Widmann, head of Vehicle Safety Development at AUDI AG.

The partners in developing the self-driving car technology are the Stanford University Dynamic Design Lab, the Electronics Research Lab for the Volkswagen Group in Palo Alto, Calif., and Oracle Corp. "Our aim from the start has been to show how the future of driver assistance technologies will lead to dramatic improvements in traffic safety and saving lives," said Dr. Burkhard Huhnke, executive director of ERL. "With this project we are working on electronics that will help drivers steer their way out of dangerous situations. But first we need to create programs that would replicate the quick decisions and rapid maneuvers of the best rally racers under the most difficult road conditions."

"Many of the leading automotive technologies we see in our cars today evolved out of motorsports," said mechanical engineering Associate Professor Chris Gerdes, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford. "This is because racing pushes emerging technologies to the limits before they can be adopted more broadly."

Their car uses two computers in its trunk, one to run safety critical algorithms and the other running vehicle dynamics algorithms.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Jun 28, 2010