The Darpa challenge was the first autonomous vehicle I saw, and I was hooked. The technology of yesterday’s television shows was driving, without me, right in front of my eyes.
DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and it is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). Their mission is to give our armed forces an advantage in theater.
The first Darpa challenge was in 2005 and was out in the Nevada desert, between Stanford’s Volkswagen named Stanley, and Carnegie Mellon’s Hummer called Highlander. There was nothing around, nothing that could be hurt, if there was a major accident or at least that, was my thought, looking at the expansive desert. The next challenge took place in 2007 and occurred in a simulated neighborhood with stop signs and other cars on the same street, some of them running stop signs.
Autonomous driving is not an unmanned vehicle like the Predator or Global Hawk. Autonomous driving has nothing to do with the type of engine is in a car or the type of fuel a car uses. This is Artificial Intelligence using sensors so that the driver of the car is not always the person sitting in the driver’s seat.
The Darpa challenges were preprogrammed to go to certain places, to create certain maneuvers. The autonomous vehicle that is being tested today, a 2012 Volkswagen Passat, will not be preprogrammed. It will be you, the commuter, going from home to work with all the unpredictable happenstances of the day. The Passat is a semi-automated vehicle; the driver can switch between automated and manual modes.
Today Nevada gave Continental, one of the top global auto suppliers, approval to start testing autonomous vehicles on Nevada’s highways and streets. In a statement today by Dr. Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the executive board of Continental, Degenhart reiterated Continental’s mission, “As a company, Continentals strategy is clearly focused on making this type of future technology a reality. It’s clear to us that automated driving will be a key element in 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.”
Continental has been preparing for this day. Inside of Continental Chassis and Safety division is the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) Business Unit. Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Emergency Brake Assist, Lane Change Assist, Intelligent Headlamp Control, Traffic Sign Recognition and pedestrian detection. All of these systems and technologies are currently available in a car today. All of these systems will be mandatory to create an autonomous vehicle.
What is Vision Zero?
Vision Zero is Continental goal of zero automobile fatalities and then zero accidents. Seventy percent of all serious accidents could potentially be avoided if all cars included the ADAS systems. In January 2012, I talked to Dr. Ralf Cramer, President and Member of the Executive Board, Chassis & Safety Division, Continental AG. Dr. Cramer said that IIHS reported that the Volvo XC60 reported 51% fewer bodily injury claims than competitive SUVs and 27% reduction in frontal crash claims versus other SUVs. The Volvo XC60 uses Conti’s lidar-radar system that makes it possible for the car to make an emergency stop up to 15 miles per hour.
One other benefit might be fewer highways needed. If you can have cars queue up using safety sensors, we would be able to space traffic more evenly, with fewer accidents.