Posting in Technology
Volkswagen's new technology could make roads safer - and save you the stress of having to drive through bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. Your car could just do it for you.
There are few things worse than being stuck in rush hour traffic, bored and exhausted yet forced to focus on the cars around you inching forward along the highway.
Those days may soon be over, if Volkswagen's latest innovation is any indication. Presented this week in Borås, Sweden, the automaker's "Temporary Auto Pilot" (TAP) system allows cars to drive largely without human assistance as fast as 80 miles per hour on the highway. Volkswagen sees the system as a link between current driver-assistance programs and the future of fully autonomous driving.
TAP technology bundles together semi-automatic functions like adaptive cruise control and Lane-Assist, which keeps cars from veering off-course. In "Pilot Mode," a semi-automatic driving mode, the technology allows the car to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front of it, conforms to the driver's speed of choice, slows down as needed before bends in the road, and keeps the vehicle in its own lane. “Above all, what we have achieved today is an important milestone on the path towards accident-free car driving,” said Dr. Jürgen Leohold, Executive Director of Volkswagen Group Research.
"Temporary Auto Pilot" technology was presented to the European Union research and development project HAVEit ("Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport"), which was created to promote the development of technologies that would make driving easier and roads safer by preventing accidents. Launched in February 2008, HAVEit included 17 European partners from the automotive, supply, and scientific communities. The project received EUR 28 million (US$39.7 million) in investments from E.U. grants as well as from the participating organizations.
TAP may make drivers' lives easier, but it is not infallible. Leohold emphasizes that despite TAP's capabilities, drivers must still pay attention to the road and disable the system when necessary. "The driver can override or deactivate the system at any time and must continually monitor it," he said.
While not an entirely autonomous driving experience, like Google's or Audi's recent efforts, the TAP system is based on a "relatively production-like sensor platform, consisting of production-level radar-, camera-, and ultrasonic-based sensors supplemented by a laser scanner and an electronic horizon," according to Volkswagen.
For Motor Authority blogger Viknesh Vijayenthiran, this suggests that a production version of the technology could become available within a couple of years.
“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,” Leohold said.
I, for one, can't wait.
Jun 24, 2011
If this system works most of the time, drivers will tend to rely on it in situations when they really should be in control. It's just human nature. How will people know when the system has been exceeded and they need to take charge? Recognizing this will probably add another second or so on top of the typical second reaction times to respond to driving conditions -- and in many situations this is the difference between life and death. Also, what about legal liability? In court everybody will say the system was driving the car, and it's not their fault. Perhaps the legal principle will be that you are always assumed to be in control and responsible for your car, but this will kill acceptance of the feature. And VW should remember what happened to Toyota last year over the unintended acceleration flap. If the system is even thought to have a possible bug, it will kill the sales of what are otherwise good cars.
I'm siding with fredsko about hackers. Think about this, some hackers decides to hijack every vehicle they can to grid-lock traffic for a ransom. I want an fail-safe over-ride so I can have personal control. Ok, there's nothing being said about what I envision, but we're headed that way. Hop in your Get-Me-There, punch in your destination coordinates and snooze or whatever while Central takes over. Sci-fi? Maybe, maybe not. The logistic are in the planning stages.
While I enjoy driving, and even making my way through the downtown freeways during the morning rush, I have to say that I can see interconnected vehicles programmed for their destinations as the future of the commute. Cars like this VW that independently deal with crowded situations are the start, and if all cars worked this way, traffic jams would be less likely to occur. You wouldn't have some cars jockeying for position while others were slowing unnecessarily, or failing to accelerate when the road ahead cleared, so the disruptions that cause the backups would not be as likely to come into play. Until recently, I didn't believe this would actually happen, but I'm changing my mind about it. The main question is when it will become common.
What happens when a bug gets in the system or hackers break in? Providing yet another excuse for irresponsible behavior may not be a solution. We already have difficulty keeping drivers focused and awake. I'm not sold as this being an advancement. Litigation anyone?! I can, however see value in specialized lanes where every vehicle is using the same system. It seems a universal program could ensure correct calibration between vehicles. If the entire lane is controlled with human oversight, and with the ability to interact with individual vehicles based on conditions, this could be of benefit. Definitely interesting to watch. Thanks!
All your arguments apply to cruise control too, especially adaptive cruise control, but it is extremely convenient in some situations and somehow we make it work. And similar arguments have been made for seat belts and air bags. People are accused of driving more recklessly because they feel the latest safety features will protect them and sue when they do not. These also cause injuries in a crash, but they prevent more harm than they cause, so we end up accepting the broken collar bones and snapped wrists in exchange for not having a broken neck. TAP will probably end up being some combination of convenience feature and safety feature that people learn to use in the appropriate situations and that causes some problems, eliminates others, and overall raises peoples' quality of life.
Most of the systems in modern cars (brakes, engine, transmission, suspension, cruise control, instruments, etc.) are already controlled by computers. Neither bugs nor hackers seem to be a big problem with them. No reason to suspect they would be with TAP.