Springtime for autonomous driving concepts
This month we’re returning to one of our favourite subjects in the automotive industry – autonomous driving – in light of some interesting news over the last few weeks. Google has released information relating to 11 crashes experienced while testing their autonomous vehicles, while Mercedes has become the first company to be granted a license to test its autonomous truck on public roads in the state of Nevada. And from the grand to the miniature, a research team at the DFKI Robotics Innovation Centre in Bremen, Germany, has developed a Smart Connecting Car that could become the passenger ‘road train’ of the future.
EO Smart Connecting Car 2
Source: DFKI Robotics Innovation Centre
The designers behind the EO Smart Connecting Car 2 set out to develop a flexible micro-vehicle for the mega-cities of the future. The key drivers therefore, were the problems that any city faces – not enough parking spaces, congestion and traffic. The vehicle, which is the result of ongoing research, development and optimization of the original EO Smart Connecting Car concept, tackles these problems in a number of innovative ways, and also attempts to challenge the way we think about shared transportation.
The car can be driven in the normal manner, and due to individual hub motors located on each wheel, can also drive diagonally and sideways, and even turn on the spot – making it much easier to squeeze into a small parking space. It features two seats and a highly intuitive user interface inside the vehicle, along with panoramic windows for a better view. The vehicle also has another trick up its sleeve – it can shrink its wheel base from 2.5m down to 1.5m by lifting the car upward over the rear axle and effectively tucking the wheels in underneath. The car can still drive at a reduced speed in this mode, and it enables the vehicle to park in the smallest of spaces.
However, perhaps the most interesting development with this small electric vehicle is that in the future it may become fully autonomous, and several of the vehicles could link together in a chain to form a road train of sorts. Individual cars could join and leave the chain as necessary while taking passengers on the commute to work. The researchers have come up with some innovative ideas in this scenario where the vehicles could use intelligent charging to share battery power while connected, and occupants could make use of in-vehicle communication to chat to other passengers on the route to work.
Daimler Freightliner Inspiration Truck
Autonomous driving concepts range from the small city car to long-distance trucks, and Daimler announced earlier this month that it had been granted the first license for autonomous truck testing on public roads in the state of Nevada.
In July last year Daimler Trucks provided the world’s first autonomous truck demonstration, with the Merecedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, which drove autonomously along a cordoned off section of the A14 Autobahn in Germany. Now Daimler has taken the Freightliner Inspiration Truck on a highway near Las Vegas, where it demonstrated its self-driving capabilities with Nevada Governor, Brian Sandoval, in the cab.
The Truck had to undergo intensive testing to earn the license, including 10,000 miles on dedicated test circuits in Germany, and features Daimler’s Intelligent Highway Pilot system – which has been developed from the Mercedes-Benz technology for autonomous passenger cars. The Highway Pilot consists of a number of radar and camera monitoring systems that can assess the road up to 820 feet ahead, and also uses existing cruise control, lane-keeping and collision-avoidance technologies. The system controls speed, brakes and steering, complies with speed limits, controls the distance to the vehicle in front, and uses the stop-go function when necessary.
What it can’t do at the moment is initiate passing manoeuvres, change lanes, or enter or leave the highway. These are all functions that will still have to be carried out by a driver, so for the time being at least, a qualified truck driver will still have to be present inside the vehicle. However, the autonomous functions offer the potential to take a huge load off long-haul drivers, allowing them to avoid draining journeys and utilize the time to carry out other tasks while the truck takes care of the driving.
Google Crash Reports
There’s been precious little information about autonomous driving tests and incidents that have been encountered during testing, but companies such as Google are required by Californian law to submit details of any incidents. Recent media reports prompted Chris Urmson, Director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Program, to post an article this week stating that they had been involved in 11 accidents over the course of six years and 1.7 million miles (approx. 1 million self-driving) – but the autonomous vehicle was responsible for none of them.
Of the eleven incidents Google say they have encountered – all of which resulted in only light damage and no injuries – seven were caused by other people shunting into the rear-end of the self-driving vehicle. At least one was due to another road user running a red light, and the others all occurred while a human driver was in control of the vehicle.
If these figures are to be taken at face value, then it’s a very impressive record for a fleet of 23 vehicles which have covered 1 million miles in self-driving mode.