The relaxed Mercedes follows the Kia at highway speed. In sufficient distance. Passengers are talking, listening to music, they are distracted. Suddenly, the Ford Fiesta squeezes into the previously large gap – and brakes.
The Mercedes starts squeaking and shortly thereafter brakes automatically – without the driver having to depress the brake pedal.
The passengers jerk forward, the belts gripping their bodies. The Mercedes stops just a few centimeters from the Fiesta. This is an uncomfortable situation that can happen on a daily basis. Here it was just a test at a training ground. test passed.
Recreate situations safely with soft obstacles
The Fiesta as the target vehicle is the GST, “Guided Soft Target.” It’s just a small car-shaped white shell on a four-wheeled remote-controlled platform.
On the 265-hectare AVL ZalaZONE test and trial site in Hungary, the driver assistance and autonomous systems can be tested on the motorway stretch, high-speed oval and service track.
A 15-hectare smart city zone will be added for future tests – scenarios in the city. “Such tests cannot be safely and repeatedly tested on public roads, for this we need a closed route,” says Robert Matawa, test manager for highly automated driving at Tüv Süd.
The facility is located approximately 50 kilometers from Lake Balaton and is managed by an Austro-Hungarian joint venture.
Automated driving – training ground first, then road
“These experiments are not dangerous and we can run them multiple times, with exactly the same speed,” says Alexander Kraus. The technology department manager at Tüv Süd develops test methods for Level 3 and Level 4 systems with the team. These include assistance systems with which cars can drive automatically, i.e. independently.
However, earlier Level 2 systems such as Emergency Braking Assist are also checked. For manufacturers to get approval for this and to sell the systems, the test company must check and approve them.
The attempt went well – again
Inspectors sit in the Mercedes checking active assistance systems. Equipped with additional monitors, switches and cables in the footwell, the car becomes a test laboratory on wheels. After an emergency braking, the computer saves data in the Mercedes.
Engineer Matawa leaves the track, reboots the system and starts another attempt. “We have to make sure the systems are working properly and reliably, so we check them several times,” he says. Emergency Braking Assist must never fail.
Future autonomous driving systems will increase the test effort significantly. Inspectors must also make sure that the vehicle is always operating properly in accordance with the prescribed guidelines. Except systems are getting more and more complex.
Automated driving – how does it work in everyday traffic?
In the smart city of the future, cars will simulate everyday traffic, regardless of the weather. Because it does not matter whether it is raining, foggy or snowing: the safety systems must function reliably or give steering back to the driver. Otherwise, the cars simply stand still in the rain or snow.
Until now, such tests could only be simulated, but not tested in practice. Nevertheless, simulation is important. “Simulation results can be processed faster,” says Alexander Kraus. They can then be uploaded and inspected directly in the cars via a software update. “This way, you can start a test drive faster and the systems can be approved,” he says.
In the past, car manufacturers developed new technologies faster than test organizations could test and approve for safety. Therefore, legal regulations often lag behind technical possibilities – all over the world.
The first cars start automatically
A few months ago, Mercedes-Benz showed that it can also act fairly quickly. Some vehicles can be driven semi-autonomously in line with Level 3. The Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) has granted the manufacturer system approval for Germany and certain routes. Thanks to the so-called traffic jam assistant, such cars follow the vehicle in front at speeds of up to 60 km / h and steer and brake independently.
Autonomous driving stages
According to SAE, a technical-scientific organization dedicated to the development of mobility technologies, vehicles are divided into five different tiers. Fully autonomous vehicles are Tier 5 cars. They do not have a steering wheel or pedals. There is no driver in these robotic vehicles.
On vehicles between levels 0 and 4, the driver has to hold the steering wheel, always (up to level 2) or intermittently (level 3 and 4) – if the various assistance systems can no longer intervene automatically due to traffic or weather. Therefore, Tier 4 vehicles still have a steering wheel and pedals.
In Tier 3 vehicles, the car accelerates, brakes and turns on its own. At other times, the system prompts the driver to take control within ten seconds.