"While most automakers try to fix the problems with today's tech, Volkswagen is working on tomorrow's. The future of driving, in major cities at least, is looking more and more likely to be done by high-tech computers rather than actual people, at least if the latest breakthroughs in self-driving vehicle technology mean anything. Internet search engine giant Google has logged some 140,000 miles with its self-driving Toyota Prius fleet and Audi has had similar success with its run of autonomous cars.
Now Volkswagen has presented its ‘Temporary Auto Pilot’ technology. Monitored by a driver, the technology can allow a car to drive semi-automatically at speeds of up to 80 mph on highways.
It works using a combination of existing technology such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, rolling them all into one comprehensive function. Nonetheless, the driver always retains driving responsibility and is always in control, and must continually monitor it. In this way, Volkswagen only sees it as a stepping stone towards what seems like an eventual future where nobody will be doing any driving.
In the semi-automatic driving mode, the system maintains a safe distance to the vehicle ahead, drives at a speed selected by the driver, reduces this speed as necessary before a bend, and maintains the vehicle’s central position with respect to lane markers. The system also observes overtaking rules and speed limits. Additionally, stop and start driving maneuvers in traffic jams are also automated.
The good news--or bad, depending on how you look at it--is that compared to the more advanced autonomous driving technologies, Volkswagen’s latest Temporary Auto Pilot is based on a relatively production-like sensor platform, consisting of production-level radar-, camera-, and ultrasonic-based sensors supplemented by a laser scanner and an electronic horizon.
This means that we could see a production version within the next couple of years."
The main economic difficulty with deployment will be getting the sensor costs down. This is inevitable (if we believe Moore's Law), but how long it will take is still unclear. The political restrictions are beginning to fall. Forbes reports:
"The State of Nevada just passed Assembly Bill No. 511 which, among other things, authorizes the Department of Transportation to develop rules and regulations governing the use of driverless cars, such as Google’s concept car, on its roads.
As Stanford Professor Ryan Calo notes, this is a big step forward in ensuring that safe, driverless cars become a reality.
Specifically, the law provides that the Nevada Department of Transportation “shall adopt regulations authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles on highways within the State of Nevada.” The law charges the Nevada DOT with setting safety and performance standards and requires it to designate areas where driverless cars may be tested. (Note that this could take some serious time: Japan, for instance, has been promising standards for personal robots for years and has yet to release them.)
You can read the full text of the law here."