Henny A Passenger As BMW Goes Driverless On Public Roads

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By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

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MUNICH, Germany. June 14, 2013. Although BMW does not have a world premiere with the presentation of its autonomous driving prototypes, it is one of the first car manufacturers to tests such cars on public roads.

That is why it was pretty special that last week I got a ride in such a car on a stretch of Autobahn from Garching, a small town close to Munich, to the airport and back.

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The driver took his hands from the steering wheel of the BMW 5-Series and lifted his right foot from the throttle. The ‘5’ picked up speed or slowed down whenever the car ahead of us in the same lane did so. We also overtook other vehicles entirely autonomously.

On a large screen attached to the dashboard I could see what the cameras were registering, and which systems were about to be applied, such as in the left bottom corner ‘Adaptive Cruise Control, Lange Change ‘right’, the speed limit, actual speed and where other cars were driving on which lane in the direct vicinity of our car.

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For quite some time, BMW is developing self-driving vehicles and accomplished the first test in October 2009 on the Nordschleife of the Nürburgring, followed by a similar test at Laguna Seca Raceway, California, in May 2011. A year later, the first test was made on a 25 miles long stretch of the German A9 motorway between Munich and Ingolstadt.

Then the study proved the potential benefits, such as lane keeping, safe lane changing and overtaking. Also it showed that the traffic rules and speed limits were more consequently met.

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In the future, the automation will be tailored to the driver. In monotonous situations he or she may get rid of routine driving. In such cases drivers tend to keep busy with something else than driving and autonomous driving will definitely improve safety. In stress situations there is support of the system and at a mediocre activity of the driver, there is increased comfort and better efficiency.

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In this context, the European Commission is funding within the so-called Framework 7 program the Sartre Project Safe Road Trains for the Environment. But before autonomous driving cars can be sold, a number of complex legal issues will have to be addressed. In that respect regulation in Europe are not much different from those in the US.

In North-America autonomous driving vehicles are being tested by Google since mid 2012. In the nineties, General Motors showed a car that could drive fully independently on the so-called ‘automated highway’.

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But mind you, at the 1939 World Fair, GM already presented its vision on technologically advanced super highways where cars without drivers could maintain a safe distance between each other thanks to ‘automatic radio control’.

Now, the technology is completely different, but the idea at that time was the same: in order to allow more cars safely use a road, there will be fewer traffic jams and less time will be wasted by standing still. It was also clear that fuel consumption would be reduced because of the more uniform and more efficient traffic flow.

With the autonomous driving 5 Series, BMW gives us an impression of the ‘highly automated driving’ research project and the technology which is used, as well as the next steps that need to be made in the further development. BMW expects to offer driving functions for highly automated driving by 2020.

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