It was only December of last year when Google earned patents for autonomous vehicles. Now, the technology continues to rapidly move ahead as automotive supplier Continental has commenced testing a semi-autonomous vehicle of its own that is more affordable and could be among the first licensed for use on Nevada’s designated public roads by months end.
Nevada is the first state to pass laws regulating driverless vehicles. To qualify for a special state license, engineers at Continental have built and driven a heavily modified Volkswagen Passat with its brake and steering controls removed and replaced with sensors to digitally read and interpret surroundings. According to engineer Ibro Muharemovic, the Passat has logged almost 10,000 miles of autonomous driving and during a more recent trip from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Brimley, Michigan, home of Continental’s development and testing center, more than 90 percent of the journey did not involve the use of hands and feet.
Unlike Google’s ambitions to create a sophisticated fully autonomous vehicle, Continental went along to develop an interim semi-autonomous option that could take over duties during stop-and-go traffic or extended stretches of highway, the least satisfying of driving conditions. However, Continental and Google’s endpoint is identical: to create a solution that will reduce accidents, congestion, and fuel consumption. Continental director of engineering systems and technology Christian Schumacher said, “We still have a long way to go, but the technology is amazing.”
According to Ravi Pandit, CEO of India’s global IT and engineering company KPIT Cummins, “There is a strong business case for an autonomous car that can drop you off or a cab without the expense of a driver.”
Despite the optimism, mass production semiautonomous cars are still a couple years away. The technology exists but the idea raises questions of liability, regulation, and public acceptance. NHTSA will begin a study of autonomous driving in August with a one-year pilot project in Ann Arbor, testing 3,000 cars with the ability to communicate with one another to avoid an accident. What’s more, in an event of a crash, the law has yet to resolve who is reliable or whether the occupants of an autonomous car are legally exempt from bans on mobile devices.
As for passenger anxiety, Ravi Pandit is confident that, “A car can see better than a human can, and the car responds faster.”
Engineer Ibro Muharemovic commented, “I was surprised by how well it worked.” Continental’s Volkswagen Passat is fitted with a stereo camera that can monitor speed-bumps or potholes as far as 220 yards away and adjust steering, braking, and acceleration accordingly. Muharemovic adds, “The driver is always in control and can override the system any time.”
If testing is successful and Continental is qualified for Nevada registration, a special red license plate will be provided to distinguish the driverless car. In the future, production driverless cars would receive a green license plate.
Check out video footage of Continental’s autonomous Volkswagen Passat driving itself below.
[Source: Detroit Free Press]