Sunday, November 28, 2021

How Germany hopes to get an edge in driverless technology

Frankfurt – In Hamburg, a fleet of electric Volkswagen vans owned by the ride-hailing service roam the streets to pick up and drop off passengers. The vehicles move on their own, but technicians working from the remote control center monitor their progress with the help of video monitors. If anything goes wrong, they can take control of the vehicle and get it out of trouble.

This futuristic vision is about to become legal in Germany, within reach of current technology. Parliament in Berlin A new law on autonomous driving approved In May, and it awaits the signature of the President of Germany, a formality. The law opens the way for companies to make money from autonomous driving services, which could also spur growth.

Along with the requirement that autonomous vehicles be supervised by humans, German law reflects a realization in the industry that researchers are still far from a vehicle that would allow the driver to disengage safely while the car does all the work. can. The law also requires that autonomous vehicles operate in a defined space approved by authorities, an acknowledgment that the technology is not advanced enough to operate safely in areas where traffic is chaotic and unpredictable.

So German companies that are pursuing the technology have adjusted their ambitions, focusing on money-making uses that don’t require huge success.

Germany’s nationwide approach is in contrast to the patchwork of state laws in the United States. The US government has issued guidelines for autonomous driving, but attempts to establish mandatory rules that apply in all 50 states have come amid disagreements between automakers and autonomous driving developers in Congress over what the law should say.

Some states encourage autonomous driving research; For example, Arizona allows Waymo to offer driverless taxis in Phoenix. But it is not yet possible to roll out such services nationwide, achieving the kind of scale that will help them become profitable.

“Germany is unique in that you now have one law that pertains to the entire country,” said Elliot Katz, chief business officer of Phantom Auto, a California company that provides software to remotely monitor and control vehicles. . “In the US, we don’t have any comprehensive federal autonomous driving regulation. We have state laws, which is problematic because driving is inherently interstate.”

German law could give the country’s automakers an edge in the race to design cars that can drive themselves. By deploying autonomous vehicles commercially, they will collect vast amounts of data that they can use to advance the technology. If the services are profitable, they will also help pay for further development.

“There are two major themes for German carmakers: the transition to electric cars and autonomous driving,” said Moritz Husch, a partner at the Covington law firm in Frankfurt who has followed the law. “German carmakers are one of our crown jewels. They are really keen to be at the forefront of both disciplines.”

The law allows autonomous vehicles that reside within a defined area and be overseen by trained technicians. Importantly, this allows the monitor to remotely monitor multiple vehicles. This means an individual or team can monitor a fleet of autonomous shuttle vans or self-driving taxis by video from a command center, eliminating the need for an observer in every vehicle. In case of trouble, a technician will be able to take control of the vehicle from a distance.

Proponents say the law would allow autonomous buses to serve in rural areas where public transport is scarce. Other services may include automated valet parking or robotic package delivery. Autonomous vehicles can be used to transport components or workers around factory premises or students around the university.

Vehicles already exist that can navigate a predictable course, such as from an airport parking lot to a departure terminal, but current German law requires a human to be on board, which eliminates any cost to the driver. Cancels the savings.

If a driver can oversee a dozen buses from the command center, “there are use cases that would now be attractive,” said Peter Ligesmeier, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering at Kaiserslautern. He said that this would encourage more development.

In technical jargon, the new law allows for Level 4 autonomous driving, in which a vehicle can drive and navigate on its own most of the time but may sometimes require human intervention. It is one step away from the autonomous driving nirvana of cars that can operate without any human assistance.

Volkswagen, for example, is testing a ride-sharing service called Moia in Hamburg and Berlin. The new law makes it easier for Volkswagen to achieve its goal of transitioning Moia’s electric vans to autonomous operation by 2025, though further changes to the country’s public transportation law may also be needed.

“The use of self-driving vehicles is now possible in Germany,” said Christian Sanger, a senior vice president of Volkswagen’s commercial vehicles division responsible for autonomous driving, in a statement. “This is something that not only Volkswagen but all market participants have been waiting for.”

Technology companies like Waymo or carmakers like Toyota have invested billions of dollars in autonomous driving technology, but have yet to see a very high return on their investment. Uber sold its self-driving unit last year after investing more than $1 billion. A fatal crash involving Tesla’s Autopilot software has raised questions about the technology’s shortcomings.

Whether a similar legal framework would give German companies a decisive edge over American companies is another question. That was the intention.

“Germany may be the first country in the world to move vehicles from a laboratory to everyday use without drivers,” said Arno Klare, a Social Democratic member of parliament, during a debate about the law in Berlin.

In the United States, things get complicated as soon as an autonomous vehicle tries to cross state lines. California, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania are considered leaders in providing legal norms for autonomous driving technology. But 10 states, including New Jersey, Rhode Island and Maryland, have not issued laws or executive orders governing autonomous driving. National Conference of State Legislators. Rules in other states have not followed a consistent template.

Prince Prince, who leads the autonomous driving program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said the new law would benefit German companies. But he said he is concerned that both the United States and Europe are at risk of falling behind China in technology and regulations.

“There is an international arms race between the US, Europe and China,” said Mr. Prince, who estimates that fully autonomous vehicles are still a decade away. “China is an authoritarian country. They can pass any rule overnight.”

Nation World News Desk
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