Within the safe confines of the Contidrome test facility in Germany, it is becoming more commonplace to see engineers nonchalantly placing their hands in their laps (and their feet well away from the pedals) as modified VW Passat mules cruise at 55 mph (88.5 km/h) or faster near the end of the designated ‘highway’ section.
For passengers in those vehicles, concern is only highlighted as the self-driving system intones “Please concentrate” in a rather tinny tone reminiscent of the film ‘Total Recall.’ Approaching the end of the test road, the audible and visual warnings to the driver become ever more strident the more he ignores them. But with space to spare the car starts to slow down, the hazard lights activate and the steering guides the car to a safe stop.
Welcome to Continental’s world of Cruising Chauffeur that will go into series production in 2020.
Automated driving is a key element of the company's future business strategy, said Ralph Lauxmann, head of systems and technology in the Chassis and Safety division. The strategy is predicated on four future demands: traffic fatalities; increased urbanization; improved use of personal time and the ageing society – by 2030 it is estimated that there will be 1.2 B people who are 60+ years old worldwide.
Cruising Chauffeur is one-third of those solutions, the others being automated parking and self-driving cars without a steering wheel or pedals. All three developments are housed within the ‘Project House Automated Driving’ group that have their own special requirements based on technological and philosophical synergies, in which one core solution can be applied to a variety of functions.
Initiated by the driver, Cruising Chauffeur incorporates SAE Level 3 automated driving capability according to the company. It is designed to alleviate the tedium of long-distance freeway motoring by taking over the driving function, including lane-changing and overtaking, from the driver according to regional traffic regulations. The driver resumes control at the end of the freeway with the hand-over initiated by a specially developed human-machine interface (HMI).
“Hand-over warning comes about 15-20 seconds before it is required although this is speed dependent and the earlier you get the warning the better,” explained a Continental engineer who was on hand during our test session at Contidrom.
If, for whatever reason the driver fails to respond when prompted to take over—health issues, for example—the vehicle is able to automatically stop safely.
An infrared camera with two illumination sources either side of the lens is located atop the steering column directed at the driver’s face. An overlay of the mouth and eyes creates a digital image of the of the head with tracking line, or eye gaze vectors, for each eye. Employing smart algorithms to analyze and interpret the driver’s gaze pattern; software determines how much attention the driver is paying to what is happening on the road, or whether the driver is focusing on something completely different.
Depending on the situation, the handover process may also apply other information strategies. If the driver still does not take control of the wheel, the information output is stepped up as the vehicle approaches the point where driving is to be handed over.
A central control unit, the Assisted & Automated Driving Control Unit (ADCU), analyzes data from the vehicle’s cameras, radar and LiDAR in The Cruising Chauffeur’s algorithms to develop a 360° model of the vehicle’s surroundings. Combined with a high-resolution map, this includes all moving and static objects as well as the course of the road and the lanes. The vehicle’s own position is precisely determined on a continuous basis.
The algorithms can identify areas that can be used safely by the vehicle in line with the traffic regulations and head towards these as part of the task of driving.
In the event of sensor or brake system failure or if automation reaches a control limit then the minimum risk maneuver is initiated by the Safety Domain Control Unit (SDCU) as a second automation path.
Cruising Chauffeur also incorporates the 'tresos' safety management solution from Elektrobit (EB), a Continental subsidiary, whilst also providing software solutions for safety-related electronic control units, a major building block in developing the system.