Volkswagen to test highly-automated driving in Hamburg

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For the first time in a major German city, Volkswagen Group Research will test automated driving to Level 4 in real driving conditions.  A fleet of five e-Golf vehicles, equipped with laser scanners, cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radars, will drive on a 3km (1.9 miles) section of the digital testbed for automated and connected driving in the city.

The results of the test drives, which will be continuously evaluated taking full account of all data protection rules, will be incorporated in the Group’s research into automated driving, and will test customer-centric services.

Axel Heinrich, head of Volkswagen Group research, said, “The tests center on technical possibilities as well as urban infrastructure requirements. To make driving even safer and more comfortable in future, vehicles not only have to become autonomous and more intelligent – cities must also provide a digital ecosystem that enables vehicles to communicate with traffic lights and traffic management systems as well as with one another.”

A 9km (5.6 miles) digital testbed for automated and connected driving is currently being constructed in the city of Hamburg, with completion scheduled for 2020. To that end, the city is upgrading traffic lights with components for infrastructure-to-vehicle (I2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication. Volkswagen and the city of Hamburg are thus working to further optimize traffic flows through digitization toward full-size implementation of automated driving in the city area.

Michael Westhagemann, Hamburg’s senator for economics, transport and innovation, said, “Two and a half years from now, Hamburg will be hosting the World Congress for Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). Automated driving will play a key role. I am delighted that our strategic partner has already become the first user for our digital testbed. We will establish Hamburg as a model city for intelligent mobility and be presenting numerous innovative mobility projects to a global audience in 2021.”

The e-Golf vehicles configured by Volkswagen Group Research have 11 laser scanners, seven radars and 14 cameras. Up to 5GB of data is communicated per minute during the regular test drives, each of which lasts several hours. Computing power equivalent to some 15 laptops is tucked away in the trunk of the e-Golf. This computing capacity, combined with state-of-the-art sensor technology, ensures that data on pedestrians, cyclists, other cars, intersections, rights of way, parked vehicles and lane changes in moving traffic is captured over the shortest distances and in milliseconds.

Despite the diversity and complexity of the information, the artificial intelligence used in the vehicle software must register all relevant objects and respond to them without triggering any false alarms. Several different artificial intelligence approaches are used: these include deep learning, neural networks and pattern recognition.

For safety reasons, specially trained test drivers will be seated behind the steering wheel during all test drives in Hamburg, to constantly monitor all driving functions and intervene in an emergency.

Volkswagen Group Research is collaborating with all brands and relevant Group departments to enable the functionality of automated driving on public roads – right through to Level 5. The findings of this project will be incorporated into further research and development initiatives.

The goal is to be in a position to offer customers concrete products for the automated transportation of goods and passengers on public roads a few years from now. This will contribute to lasting improvements in traffic flows and road safety. However, automated driving without a safety driver in public traffic requires changes in the legislative framework and the availability of the necessary infrastructure.


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Tara has worked for UKi Media & Events since 2013, initially as a freelancer. She has been a journalist for over a decade and has worked for a range of publications, including Personnel Today, Management Today and The Grocer.

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