Would you be calm behind the wheel of a vehicle with highly automated driving technology? BMW Group’s Research and Technology believes you will be, when driving an automated car. For the record, a car that is highly automated means it brakes, accelerates and passes other vehicles on its own, while also monitoring and adapting to the prevailing traffic conditions.
According to the latest media release from BMW Group, Dr. Nico Kämpchen, Project Manager of Highly Automated Driving at BMW Group Research and Technology, has already completed nearly 5,000 test kilometers with his team. In order to offer drivers comfortable and safe vehicles in the future, equipped with the most modern assistance systems available, the engineers at BMW Group Research and Technology have been working for many years on the development of electronic co-pilots to support automated driving in specific situations – for example the BMW TrackTrainer tested on the race track, as well as adaptive cruise control (ACC) and the Emergency Stop Assistant.
To further understand the potential offered by these systems, as well as their limitations, researchers are ready to take their next major step: developing advanced driver assistance systems for the motorway.
To accomplish this, researchers have equipped a BMW 5 Saloon with intelligent software as well as vision assistance and environment detection systems. The advanced automated assistance function for motorway journeys can be activated with the push of a button. From this point on, the prototype system can autonomously control acceleration and braking, and it can safely pass slower vehicles.
One of the greatest challenges early in the project involved reacting to vehicles merging on to the motorway at exit and access points – but even this problem could be solved with a cooperative approach. The prototype system reacts to the situation by allowing the merging vehicles to join the traffic flow, and it can even change lanes giving the merging vehicles adequate space to enter traffic safely. This is possible up to a speed of 130 km/h, but in compliance with current traffic regulations regarding speed limits and such things as prohibited passing zones.
“This is an entirely new situation and experience for the driver – it is a strange feeling handing over complete control of the car to an autonomous system. But after a few minutes of experiencing the smooth, sovereign and safe driving style, drivers and passengers begin to relax somewhat and trust the independent system,” says Nico Kämpchen, Project Manager for Highly Automated Driving at BMW Group Research and Technology.“ Nevertheless, the driver is still responsible for the situation at all times and must constantly keep an eye on traffic and the surroundings.”
Imagine Cars with Strategies
To ensure that the automated research vehicle functions smoothly and with agility in real traffic, the car must be endowed with strategies to react appropriately in daily traffic situations. The basis for these strategies is comprised of two parts: first, pinpointing the position of the vehicle in its own lane is essential and second, the car must be able to clearly recognize all vehicles and objects in its nearest surroundings. This is accomplished through the redundant fusion of various sensor technologies such as lidar, radar, ultra sound and video cameras that monitor the environment around the automobile.
Redundant does not mean “superfluous” – to ensure that the vehicle situation is precisely assessed, at least two different measurement methods must be used in every direction. In this way the developers at BMW Group Research and Technology can be sure that a potential weakness in one method is counterbalanced by the strength of the other method.
By accessing digital maps, the camera and the localization data of the extremely precise GPS, the automated vehicle prototype can determine its location in its own lane, and it also receives exact information about the characteristics of the route ahead, including the number of lanes that section of the motorway has. This information is supplemented by data from the forward-looking camera integrated in the lane departure warning system. Objects in front of the vehicle are detected by the radar sensors of the adaptive cruise control system with Stop&Go function and by a laser scanner as well. The same is true for objects at the sides or rear of the vehicle.
Automated Future Scenarios
Think Parking Assistant and Traffic Jam Assistant from BMW ConnectedDrive in the BMW i3 Concept, where research will continue on automated vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance systems in order to develop innovative assistance functions for the future. Since the BMW i3 Concept is primarily designed as an urban vehicle, it is equipped with functions that make parking easier and driving in congested traffic less stressful. The park assistant automatically parks the vehicle without any driver intervention. The car accelerates and brakes on its own, and shifts gears from forward to reverse as needed when difficult parking maneuvers are required.
The Traffic Jam Assistant helps drivers in rather monotonous traffic situations and congested areas, taking over so that the vehicle can “go with the flow” and the driver can relax. It maintains a safe distance between vehicles and automatically controls the speed and steering, and is able to stop the car if necessary. As long as the driver keeps one hand on the steering wheel, the vehicle can provide assistance in keeping the car precisely in its lane at speeds up to 40 km.
Automated driving on motorways provides important information and experience that is essential in developing technologies that assist in keeping vehicles safely on track, and this information will influence future strategies for advanced driver assistance.
“The next thing we want to ‘teach’ our prototype is how to deal with road construction sites and motorway junctions. Construction sites are a big challenge because they take on all kinds of forms, which makes detection, localization and determining the right vehicle response quite difficult.” Nico Kämpchen and his team have plenty of work to do and are looking forward to finding solutions to these challenges as well.
About the Reporter: After 39 years in the auto industry as a design engineer, Frank Sherosky now trades stocks, futures and writes articles, books and ebooks like, "Perfecting Corporate Character," "Awaken Your Speculator Mind", and "Millennial World Order" via authorfrank.com. He may be contacted here by email: [email protected] or via his Twitter i.d. @Authorfranks
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