BMW Tests an Autonomous Vehicle

31 August 2011

Automotive autonomous driving is a reality! It will not be long before we will be able to press the “autopilot” button, kick back and relax while driving in traffic  AutonomouStuff provides many of the bmwsensors used for this type of research.   See the story below:

The thought of driving a BMW from Munich to Nuremberg on the autobahn might thrill a driving enthusiast, but for most German commuters it’s just another slog in rush-hour traffic.

That’s why BMW is testing a 5-Series sedan outfitted with autonomous tech on that stretch of roadway. The German automaker wants to see if cars with the ability to sense their surroundings can make heavy traffic less of a chore for stressed-out drivers. Engineers from the Highly Automated Driving group have racked up more than 3,100 miles in a semi-autonomous car that can take over during a traffic jam and even bring the car to the shoulder if the driver becomes incapacitated.

BMW’s system uses radar, lidar, ultrasound, video and highly detailed GPS maps to sense the vehicle’s position in relation to its surroundings, including oncoming traffic. With that information, the prototype BMW can not only keep its place in heavy traffic but also pass slower traffic. Researchers say the car can even handle merging traffic — but it does so by slowing down to let oncoming traffic into a lane, much like an 80-year-old aunt of ours. We’re impressed, but we wouldn’t want to try that on the autobahn.

Much of the environmental sensing technology came about as part of BMW’s partnership with the German government’s SmartSenior Initiative, which funded the development of an emergency stop assistant. It can detect when a driver is unable to continue driving — say, due to a medical emergency — and takes over, safely pulling a car over to a shoulder and calling emergency services.

Both systems work thanks to a series of technological redundancies. If there isn’t adequate GPS data, the car will rely on lidar and ultrasound information, for example. If there aren’t at least two accurate data streams, the system won’t operate. Engineers hope these fail-safes will teach drivers to adapt to a semi-autonomous vehicle.

“After a few minutes of experiencing the smooth, sovereign and safe driving style, drivers and passengers begin to relax somewhat and trust the independent system,” said project manager Nico Kämpchen. “Nevertheless, the driver is still responsible for the situation at all times and must constantly keep an eye on traffic and the surroundings.”

BMW debuted a similar system on the i3 concept. Called Traffic Jam Assistant, it brakes, accelerates and steers at speeds up to 25 mph. To keep drivers from getting complacent, the BMW system will only function when the driver’s hand is on the steering wheel (unlike the photo above).

Next up for the Highly Automated Driving Group: construction zones, the obstacle courses of autonomous vehicle trials. “Construction sites are a big challenge, because they take on all kinds of forms, which makes detection, localization and determining the right vehicle response quite difficult,” Kämpchen said.