Braunschweig becomes test city for smart cars

Braunschweig becomes test city for smart cars

What you see in the photo is not a funny computer game for nerds, but quite serious research. In the simulator, traffic experts from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) test automated driving – that is, driving with a car that takes over partial or complete control: It does an emergency stop when a child runs into the road. It drives slowly at the traffic lights because it knows they are about to turn red. It changes lanes because there's about to be a construction site and everyone has to merge in.

Scientists at DLR have been working on intelligent cars and traffic networking for a long time. Now this research is getting another powerful boost. The Federal Ministry of Transport has selected six cities in which automated driving will be tested: Braunschweig, Hamburg, Munich, Ingolstadt, Dusseldorf and Dresden. 80 million euros have been earmarked for this by 2020.

Fewer accidents and traffic jams, less dirt and noise

The goal: to make traffic safer – after all, there are around 3,500 accident fatalities nationwide every year. In addition, traffic should flow better – with fewer emissions of soot, particulate matter, carbon dioxide and noise.

In Braunschweig, the news from Berlin has made quite a few scientists cheer, especially Professor Karsten Lemmer from the Institute of Transportation Systems Engineering at DLR: "Many cities were interested – but Braunschweig is particularly outstandingly suitable," he says. "We have optimal conditions here, especially because of the good cooperation with the city and the state."

A long-term study, unique in Germany, has been running on the Ring for two years: 35 traffic light intersections are equipped with communication and measurement technology. They record the movements of all road users and enable communication between traffic lights and research cars. The whole thing is part of the "Intelligent Mobility Application Platform".

Drivers do not yet notice much of this research. Although the measurement technology is visible at the traffic lights – but everything else runs largely in the background. Will that change now? Curves soon many driverless cars through Brunswick? Or cars in which the drivers lean back in complete relaxation with a book? Karsten Lemmer shakes his head with a laugh. "Basically, everything is tested with simulations in the lab before it hits the streets," he says. "Then there are test drives on closed-off terrain and only then do test cars drive in city traffic – always with safety drivers on board."

Control of the car alternates between humans and computers

Plus, a lot of research is still needed for fully automated driving, where the car drives all by itself, she says. We've made much more progress with partially and highly automated driving: Here, control alternates between man and car.

In urban traffic, special factors must be taken into account: In addition to cars, trucks, buses and streetcars, there are also cyclists and pedestrians on the road. DLR researchers are now interested in quite a few aspects: Do trees interfere with communication between traffic lights and cars? How do cars know that an ambulance is about to arrive and needs a clear path?? What happens when two highly automated cars agree among themselves which of them gets the right of way, but drivers see it differently and suddenly want to intervene? How is it possible to relinquish or regain control of the car while driving without anything happening??

And what about the incidents involving the car manufacturer Tesla in the USA?? Only recently there was a fatal accident there: a computer-controlled car had crashed under a truck without braking. Lemmer does not want to comment on this – he still does not know what exactly happened. What he does know: "Technology is demonstrably less prone to error than humans. About 90 percent of all errors in traffic are due to humans. So no one has to be afraid. On the contrary: automated driving will make traffic safer."

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