This week, Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Continental, a global automotive systems supplier, received approval from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to test autonomous vehicles—also known as self-driving, or driverless, cars—on the state's public roads.
After completing driving demonstrations on December 18 in Carson City, the DMV's Autonomous Review Committeeapproved Continental's safety plans, employee training, system functions and accident reporting mechanisms. Now, Continental will receive its testing license, as well as a special red license plate featuring an infinity sign, to represent the car of the future. The plate is designed to be easily recognized by law enforcement and the public. It will only be used for licensed autonomous test vehicles.
Continental will be the second company to receive the special plates, following Google’s autonomous reviewand approval last May. No other state licenses self-driving vehicles for testing.
The development of products and systems for automated driving is one of Continental's key long-term technology strategies. "Over the last few weeks, we on the Executive Board have considered the strategic and budget planning for our five divisions for the coming year in great detail. For our automotive divisions, this planning includes all of the necessary elements that need to be implemented, step-by-step across the board, so that fully-automated driving becomes reality by 2025," said Dr. Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the Executive Board.
He added, “At Continental, we will be investing billions overall in research and development over the coming years…to help smooth the path to the mobility of the future.…As a system supplier, we are perfectly positioned to develop and launch series production of solutions for partially automated systems for our customers by 2016. We will be able to develop the first applications for highly and ultimately fully automated driving, even at higher speeds and in more complex driving situations, ready for production by 2020 or 2025."
Hands-off driving at 80 mph
From a technological point of view, automated driving represents the evolution of driver assistance systems. From 2016, partially automated systems may, therefore, be assisting drivers in "stop –and-go" situations on the freeway —but only at low speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
When truly hands-off navigation becomes available in 2020, drivers will be able to use the time they would ordinarily spend at the wheel for other activities, such as ordering Christmas presents online. However, even with the optimum level of automation, the driver must be able to take control of the vehicle at all times.
On the freeway, a fully automated vehicle will independently drive at 80 miles per hour. But when the vehicle reaches the desired exit, for example, the driver will have to take control, even with this high level of automation.
When fully automated systems become available in 2025, they also will still be limited to driving on the freeway. However, if the driver fails to respond to a demand to take control, the vehicle will return to a safe state by itself, i.e. by braking and stopping on the hard shoulder.
Continental's current automated vehicle can accommodate multiple driving scenarios. Using four short-range radar sensors—two at the front, two at the rear—one long-range radar and a stereo camera, the vehicle is capable of cruising down an open freeway as well as negotiating heavy rush-hour traffic.
Taking advantage of Continental's sensor fusion technology as part of the ContiGuard safety concept, the vehicle is able to track all objects as they enter into the sensors' field of view. The object information is then processed and passed on to the Continental Motion Domain Controller to control the vehicle's longitudinal and lateral motion via signals to the engine, the brakes and the steering system.
The equipment in Continental's automated vehicle differs from the customized sensors and tailor-made actuators in other automated vehicles. The vehicle, which has logged more than 15,000 miles, is built primarily with equipment that already is available in series production. Continental's short-term goal is to relieve the driver of tedious and monotonous activities, such as driving on highways with minimal traffic or in low-speed situations like traffic jams.
"Earning this license represents an important intermediate step towards automated driving for Continental," said Christian Schumacher, head of Continental's Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) Business Unit. "Continuing our research and testing in the most challenging environment– public roads— under the highest safety standards, will allow us to continue to assess and develop our highly automated vehicle. This vehicle demonstrates what modern technology can do to provide a safer, more comfortable drive."
"We are proud that our state is serving as the platform for automated testing and licensing. Nevada's steady climate, varying terrains and driving conditions offer an excellent opportunity for more companies, especially automotive organizations, to take advantage of this autonomous driving opportunity," said Troy L. Dillard, director of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. “Automated vehicles, such as the one Continental is testing, illustrate the extensive research and development occurring within the automotive industry and embody the future of a vehicle equipped to make the driving experience safer and more enjoyable."
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli