Despite research by automakers such as Audi and events such as DARPA's Grand Challenge, we're still waiting for fully autonomous cars to chauffeur us about town. Volkswagen has presented a new system called Temporary Auto Pilot (TAP), which is a link between existing driver assist technologies and completely automated vehicles. While still being monitored by the driver, TAP allows semi-automatic driving on a highway at speeds of up to 130 km/h (80 mph).

Temporary Auto Pilot was presented by the head of Volkswagen Group Research, Prof. Dr. J├╝rgen Leohold and is part of the EU-funded, 28 million euro (approx. US$39.5 million) HAVEit (Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport) research project. Instead of allowing for a car that could drive completely on its own, TAP combines automatic driving assisting technologies that are already in use, with semi-automatic functions that need to be constantly monitored by the driver.

TAP can control the car's speed, maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles, or reducing the speed before a bend. It also keeps the vehicle's central position with respect to lane markers. Stop and start maneuvers in a traffic jam are also automated and the system is able to travel at up to 130 km/h (80 mph) on the highway. Of course, TAP can be deactivated at any time.

The system works courtesy of a sensor platform, consisting of radar, camera, and ultrasonic sensors supplemented by a laser scanner and an electronic horizon.

The intention is to prevent accidents due to driving errors by inattentive, distracted drivers. "One conceivable scenario for its initial use might be in monotonous driving situations, e.g. in traffic jams or over sections of a driving route that are exceedingly speed-limited," says Prof. Leohold.