Innovations delivered by German engineering
Automobiles are unlike any other industrial products because they are an expression of the German art of engineering. The car was invented in Germany, and here it is reinvented over and over – with more than 6,700 patent applications per year.
The German automotive industry produces the most efficient and the safest vehicles in the world. Every year, 30 billion euros are invested in research and development in order to extend the industry’s leading position. A large proportion of this investment feeds into the continual improvement of safety. The objective is to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.
However, hazardous situations arise again and again in road traffic, caused by adverse conditions or human error. A large number of safety systems and driver assistance systems now exist to support the driver. They help in performing the tasks of driving. Acting in different ways, depending on their requirements and applications, they make it easier for the driver to operate the vehicle.
The German automotive industry has always played a key role in the development of driving safety and assistance systems. “ABS” was first introduced onto the market for mass production in October 1978. It prevents the individual wheels from locking when the brakes are applied, with the result that the driver can still steer the vehicle during an emergency braking maneuver.
In 1995 the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) marked another milestone in driving safety. A microcomputer monitors the signals from the ESP sensors and registers when the vehicle becomes unstable or starts to skid. By selectively applying the brakes on individual wheels and throttling engine output, ESP restores the vehicle’s stability so that it does not leave the roadway but stays on course instead.
Many innovative driver assistance systems created to increase driving comfort originated in the development centers of German vehicle manufacturers and the supply industry. Adaptive cruise control (ACC), available on the market since 1998, actively helps the driver maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front by either braking or accelerating. The adaptive cruise control systems currently in widespread use are in fact able to brake independently, bringing the vehicle to a standstill, and to move off again automatically after a signal from the driver. Both for passenger cars and for commercial vehicles, ACC principally has a comfort function that relieves some of the stress on the driver on the highway or in constant nose-to-tail traffic. Moreover, automatic ACC also improves road safety because it helps avoid sudden emergency braking situations that arise when the vehicle is too close to the one in front or the driver’s attention lapses.
For many years now, drivers of passenger cars and commercial vehicles have widely accepted driving safety systems and advanced driver assistance systems as devices assisting them in road traffic. Today’s vehicles contain up to 100 control units, most of them in the field of engine management. Their safety potential has been proven many times over in studies and practical trials. Some systems, such as ABS and ESP, are in fact now either legally required in new vehicles or else they are installed as standard on the basis of a voluntary undertaking by the European automotive industry.
The evolution of driving functions – from assistants to automatic machines
Today a large number of driver assistance systems is available for almost all vehicles. They ensure stability in critical situations, maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front, and support the driver while parking. Monitoring the surroundings in all directions requires data and information from the vehicle’s sensors (ultrasound, radar, cameras).
The capabilities of the sensors and the data processing by the control units are continually growing, and highly advanced software is used to analyze this information in fractions of a second. In the future, passenger cars and commercial vehicles will have a complete image of the surroundings in real time.
Radar sensors that are usually located in the front and rear of the vehicle can detect other vehicles and obstacles. The rear sensor detects traffic approaching from behind and vehicles that are overtaking. The traffic in front is monitored by longrange radar. The short-range radar surveys the vehicle’s immediate surroundings.
Cameras are used, for instance to recognize lane markings, traffic signs, traffic lights, and other road users.
Ultrasound sensors have been installed in vehicles from the beginning of the nineties, to help drivers maneuver into parking spaces. Since then, their range of functions has increased markedly. They can measure parking spaces while the vehicle is in motion, and detect vehicles driving in an adjacent lane.
In the past, radar, cameras, and ultrasound sensors were used for separate functions, but now all the relevant data can be linked intelligently and simultaneously by sensor fusion. That makes automated driving possible in the first place. Special attention is paid to functional safety.
The inclusion of redundancies and plausibility checks – that is, the system’s internal check on whether the environmental data have been recorded correctly – prevents erroneous interpretation of the data. The signals from the vehicle sensors are compared with one another. Only if the data are consistent will the system actuate the steering and the engine.
The automated driving functions include “highway driving,” which in the case of highly automated driving will be used up to a defined speed on highways and similar roads. The driver can choose when to activate the system and does not have to monitor it continuously. This takes away some of the stress of driving, and in certain situations they will be prompted in good time to resume the task of driving. In the case of fully automated driving, the driver does not have to monitor the system at all. In the distant future, in built-up areas the driving function “urban driving” will make it possible to drive on various routes without the driver intervening at all. In this case the driver will be free to use the time on the road as they choose.
Automated driving will contribute to a new quality of mobility.