German automotive manufacturer Continental AG is pouring a lot of resources into making safe and reliable self driving cars a realty. While they have a while to go before their models hit the roads, their prototypes have already shown several amazing functions.
For example, while other self-driving systems function primarily with information gathered by onboard sensors and general navigation and mapping technology, Continental's Connected Enhanced Cruise Control (CECC) harmonizes data gathered by onboard sensors with topographical satellite information to give its cars a clearer "understanding" of its surroundings.
Speaking on the subject of driving the car, test driver Ibro Muharemovic says that he knows "the car has everything under control." He added that "it sees everything around me, it sees everything in front of me and it's able to proactively, not reactive, but proactively avoid anything that's happening."
He showcased the truth behind this on an August 10 demonstration, where he let the system drive him around United States route 31: a 45 mile per hour road. The road proved to have some exceptional challenges, as the area was hit by a fierce storm the night before, leaving topple trees and broken power lines as obstacles for the drive.
Despite these impediments, most of the time Muharemovic still let the system navigate by itself. Occasionally he would cut in to tell viewers that he was temporarily taking control of the vehicle to pass a traffic light or intersection that had lost power during the storm.
This wasn't because the car couldn't recognize that the light was broken, he said. Rather, it was because Muharemovic didn't trust other drivers at those intersections to move carefully, and wanted to add some extra precautionary measures for the vehicle's and his own safety.
One of the interesting problems tackled by Continental's team is handling laning in instances where markers are faded or non-existent. It handles this problem in part by analyzing sensor data of what cars around it are doing, and uses that data to create its own "understanding" of where those lanes are and it positions itself accordingly.
While a novel approach, it still has several problems. Without other cars around it to model its behavior off of, the car could put itself in a poor position. Perhaps more importantly, modeling its own behavior off of the cars around it only works if it's surrounded by human drivers. Several CECC systems all sharing the same road could lead to strange behavior.
Continental still has awhile before its cars hit the roads in force though, and with that, plenty of time to find a universal solution to its problem.
For a release timeline, Continental has set three bench marks that it wants to hit:
- By 2016, the manufacturer wants to deploy low-speed, partially automated driving technology, which it's calling "traffic jam assist," on some of its new vehicles.
- By 2020, Continental wants to release highly automated driving, the the point where a driver could let his car drive itself on the highway.
- Finally, by 2025, continental wants to release a vehicle so fully autonomous that its driver wouldn't have to pay full attention to the road.
Only time will show how realistic that launch schedule is.
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