Who invented the driverless car?

"When the machine is in motion, the person must no longer have any responsibility"

GDV Conference Automated Driving

The automobile is changing in ever shorter cycles. In the future, more and more cars will receive information from other vehicles and the environment in real time, send their own data, warn of dangers, take over driving functions or replace the driver entirely. This development raises questions that require social dialogue. At a symposium in Berlin today, the GDV created a prominent forum for this purpose.

Finds that people are lousy in surveillance: the former Federal Constitutional Court judge and chairman of the ethics committee on automated driving, Prof. Udo Di Fabio, at the GDV conference in Berlin

In science fiction novels, the future of mobility looks like this: Robot taxis pick up passengers in front of the door on request and transport them to the desired destination on demand. While the car fights its way through the dense traffic autonomously, the occupant passes the time reading, watching videos or making phone calls. A real gain in comfort.

It is undisputed that this is one of the great advantages of autonomous driving in addition to greater safety. Whether and when the vision of driverless driving will become a reality is still completely in the stars. "You shouldn't have too high expectations," says Mark Vollrath, professor at the TU Braunschweig, at the conference of the German Insurance Association (GDV) "Automated and networked driving - brave new world !?" on Tuesday in Berlin. Automation has enormous potential, but it also creates new dangers, according to the expert in traffic psychology.

The technical development takes place in stages

The obstacles are mainly on the way there. After all, the driverless car doesn't suddenly hit the road, technical development takes place in stages - via partially and highly automated systems. Although these can gradually relieve the driver of more and more tasks, they still require his attention so that he can take control of the vehicle in critical situations. According to Vollrath, whether he is able to do this should be questioned critically. “People are not built in such a way that they can be attentive all the time.” Automated driving leads to boredom, the driver would be occupied with other things than constantly checking the traffic. “It's like waiting for an exciting moment in a boring television series,” says the scientist.

The possible problems in the interaction between man and machine also concern the insurers, who are heavily involved in the field of road safety with their accident research UDV. "It must be technically ensured that the automation levels that are about to be introduced guarantee a clear distribution of tasks between the driver and the technology," emphasizes Wolfgang Weiler, President of the GDV. It will be carefully observed whether the transition from assisted driving to automated driving should actually take place in small steps or not much more with a technological leap. Traffic psychologist Vollrath also questions whether drivers even think in stages of development.

The Federal Government laid the foundation for the use of automated driving systems with the reform of the Road Traffic Act last year. "We have thus created the most modern law for automated driving in the world," emphasizes Steffen Bilger (CDU), Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Transport. As a country that invented the car, it is the claim to be at the forefront when it comes to autonomous driving, too, he emphasized. The technology holds many opportunities: for traffic safety, added value, but also the development of rural areas. In order for autonomous driving to prevail, however, the expansion of the digital infrastructure must progress faster, said Bilger.

First automated driving functions, but only for use on the motorway

The car manufacturers want to use the new legal framework to quickly bring the first systems onto the market. The Association of the German Automobile Industry (VDA) is expecting the first automated driving functions as early as next year, but only for use on the autobahn. The first application example is the traffic jam assistant, which can maneuver a car independently through slow-moving traffic, says Marko Gustke, member of the coordination office for networked and automated driving at the VDA. From 2022, the assistance systems would be ready to be able to control cars autonomously in traffic - but also only in use on motorways. “We are still a long way from driverless driving in city centers,” stresses Gustke.

"When the machine is in motion, then humans must no longer have any responsibility."

According to the former constitutional judge and chairman of the ethics committee on automated driving, Udo Di Fabio, the development towards that point should not lead to the responsibility for vehicle control being distributed between the driver and the computer. “When the machine is running, then humans must no longer have any responsibility.” People are lousy in monitoring, according to di Fabio, who took up Vollrath's image of the boring television series.

Autonomous driving will probably only become an exciting thriller when the driver no longer has to monitor the traffic or the technology. And you can use the onboard film database as you wish. But that's still science fiction at the moment.

By Karsten Röbisch

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