There’s more to putting self-driving cars on the road than technology and algorithms. There’s also some very basic thinking that needs to be done as to what autonomous vehicles are and what their implications are. Towards this end, Volkswagen has announced the start of Automated Driving Applications & Technologies for Intelligent Vehicles (AdaptIVe); a 42-month project by a consortium of 29 partners, including ten major automotive manufacturers, aimed at developing more efficient and safer autonomous systems.
The problem with autonomous vehicles is not just that they’re incredibly advanced pieces of hardware, or that they have to operate in the chaotic environment of the streets, they also have to interact with the driver. That wouldn't be much of an issue if it involved a switch that you flip between manual and automatic, but Volkswagen points out that autonomous driving involves several possible stages, plus the swap over point between mainly manual drive and mainly automatic drive. These vary from low-speed chores, such as parking assist, to taking over full control while driving at high speed on the motorway.
According to Volkswagen, the simplest and currently the most widely used stage is assisted driving. This is where the driver retains permanent control over the car with the automated system helping for tasks such as parking or reversing. The next level up is the partly automated stage, where the system monitors the driver and takes over only when needed, such as applying brakes when a pedestrian steps into the road, or preventing a dangerous lane change.
In the highly automated stage, the system takes over the actual driving, but the driver still has to remain alert because he has to be ready to reclaim control when requested. Then there’s the highest stage, which it fully automated. In this, the system drives the car and if the driver fails to retake control when requested, the system carries on by itself.
Using seven cars and a lorry, the AdaptIVe project is designed to study the different combinations of these stages. The idea is to work out the best way for the driver and the automated system to interact using advanced sensors and cooperative vehicle technologies. In this way, the system will be able to dynamically react depending on the situation and the autonomous driving stage.
The goals of AdaptIVe are to develop and test new autonomous functions for cars and trucks, investigate partially automated and highly automated driving, and study autonomous driving in cities where close-quarter driving is the norm. In addition, Volkswagen says that the project will look into the legal implications of autonomous systems for both manufacturers and drivers, with a special emphasis on liability and road laws.
"This complex field of research will not only utilize onboard sensors, but also cooperative elements such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication," says Professor Jürgen Leohold, Executive Director of Volkswagen Group Research. "Therefore, I am glad that most European automotive companies are cooperating in this pre-competitive field to create new solutions for automated driving."