Automation: evolution instead of revolution

Apple is said to be planning a car, and Google cars drive hundreds of kilometers on the roads of California every day. Will German manufacturers be left behind in the field of autonomous driving?

Self-driving cars sound like a sweet promise: instead of stressing out and wasting time, you can be a passenger in your own car. After all, Germans spend an average of 2½ years of their lives behind the wheel. Self-driving cars make driving not only more comfortable, but also safer and more efficient. When will they finally be reality?

Despite all the fascination with cars that drive autonomously, we are convinced that safety must come before speed in this matter. Vehicles can already automatically park and stay in a lane safely today. Yet all current vehicle types require the driver to maintain control over the vehicle at all times. An “autopilot” does not yet exist. This is even truer for higher speeds. Before this can change, we must work step by step and with the utmost care to guarantee that fully autonomous driving will be truly safe.

In the coming years, the German automotive industry will continue to invest millions to make fully networked and autonomous cars become a reality. This is because we are convinced that our cars will be able to drive without requiring constant driver attention. In 2025, the first fully automated vehicles made by German manufacturers could be on the road.

Evolution instead of revolution

The German automotive industry has started down the road towards this goal, and the guiding principle is evolution instead of revolution: we are basing our approach on the steady development of driver assistance systems. Firstly, this gives customers time to gradually get used to relinquishing at least some control over the car. Secondly, this enables us to ensure that the technology is absolutely safe and reliable.

We are at an exciting point in the development of the driverless car: the transition from partially to highly automated driving. Driver assistance systems can already do things for drivers in many situations. They not only issue warnings, they can also steer, brake, park and evade: active lane assistants prevent the vehicle from leaving the lane, emergency braking systems bring the vehicle to a halt if the driver does not act, and active lane change assistants can conduct passing maneuvers independently. Cars today can already maneuver themselves into parking spaces autonomously as well. Cameras, radar systems, laser scanners and ultrasonic sensors make these functions possible.

Number one in intelligent innovation

The German automotive industry is a pioneer in driver assistance systems thanks to its innovations: according to the quarterly “Automated Vehicles Index” created by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, German manufacturers are at the most advanced stage of technological development in the world due to the fact that many models already have automated vehicle functions.

And our development departments are already working on the next step: fully automated driving. Initial models can already steer and accelerate simultaneously in certain situations, and thereby drive through traffic jams or roadwork sites, for example, without the driver having to intervene. By the end of the decade, this will be possible while driving on the highway, and, in the course of the next decade, in more complex situations, such as city traffic. Only when the vehicle can handle every situation autonomously will we be able to speak of driverless cars.

Exactly when this will become a reality still cannot be said with certainty. The sensors and radar systems currently still have problems with recognizing their surroundings reliably in rain or snow. Furthermore, accurate and up-to-date map creation is necessary. Therefore, German automobile manufacturers Audi, BMW and Daimler bought the powerful Nokia Here mapping service, which will be used in four out of five cars in Europe in the future. Yes, we will also master these challenges so that we can bring the mobility of tomorrow from the future to the present.