Autonomous driving will drastically change both vehicles and driving. An expert panel at the international TÜV SÜD Conference crash.tech 2016 in late April also addressed how autonomous driving will affect the development of safety features and test procedures. One of the key results is that autonomous driving will not make investing in passive safety superfluous, and autonomous driving will be impossible without an accident data recorder.
For two days around 130 experts from industry, research and government agencies discussed issues related to vehicle safety, testing and simulation methods. The highlight was a panel discussion entitled: "How does autonomous driving influence passive safety?" Moderated by the chairman of the conference Dr Lothar Wech, vehicle safety expert at TÜV SÜD, Prof. Andre Seeck (Federal Highway Research Institute, BASt), Prof. Klaus Kompaß (BMW), Dr. Christian Kuhrt (Continental), Bernd Ostmann (former editor-in-chief of auto motor und sport) and Dr. Matthias Kühn (German Insurers Accident Research) discussed a variety of issues, some of them completely unsolved from the point of vehicle approval legislation. Where does the airbag go, if the steering wheel is folded to the side during autonomous driving? What type of restraint systems will be needed in the future if drivers are also able to assume different sitting positions? These are only two examples of the issues discussed at the conference.
Tailored to drivers' needs: There are many reasons to predict that autonomous driving will "decelerate" traffic and, as a consequence, improve its safety, explained Dr Wech. However, former editor-in-chief of auto motor und sport, Bernd Ostmann, also recommended to meet drivers' requirements for comfort and not to offer features they may not even want.
Warranted safety: The experts contradicted the opinion sometimes expressed that autonomous driving would render passive safety superfluous to some extent. A stable car body and a safe passenger cell will continue to be fundamental requirements also for semi-autonomous or fully autonomous cars. "The engineers operating in these fields will not be out of a job", ensured Prof. Klaus Kompaß of BMW. In this context, Dr Lothar Wech also referred to "the number one life saver", the safety belt, which will continue to be of vital importance. "Safety belts are already useful in emergency braking scenarios, and many cars today already feature autonomous emergency braking systems."
Relying on computer simulation: On-board systems, particularly electronic on-board systems, are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Tests must cover millions of scenarios. All participants in the crash.tech 2016 panel discussion agreed that this is only possible with the help of computer simulation. Computer simulation also plays a very significant role in approval and homologation. The grid method practised in the Euro NCAP procedure for testing vehicle safety could serve a as role model, explained crash specialist Prof. Seeck. However, even this method would not cover all scenarios. Instead, the test professionals select some scenarios at random for the real tests and compare the result with those calculated and submitted in advance by the manufacturer.
Recording data: After an accident, it must be possible to identify without doubt whether technology or human error was at fault, explained Dr Matthias Kühn, accident researcher at the German Insurance Association. An accident data recorder, for example, may be used as impartial arbiter to determine whether the accident was caused by the driver interfering with the car's system or by the autonomous systems themselves. According to Dr Christian Kuhrt, an additional camera in the passenger cell would be helpful to detect the driver's state. As Dr Kuhrt sees it, "driver monitoring" facilitates the decision whether drivers can take control at all times.
Well planned: So far, existing regulations have proved one of the greatest obstacles to the actual introduction of driverless cars. Prof. Andre Seeck from the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) had good news for the conference. The Driverless Car Roundtable at the German Ministry of Transport had already developed recommendations for establishing a legal framework. These recommendations will be addressed by the German government's Strategy on Automated and Connected Driving.
Separate approaches: While established car manufacturers are gradually first developing autonomous driving for motorways, non-automotive companies such as Google are aiming to virtually revolutionise individual traffic. They intend to start in the difficult setting of city traffic. "Offering a maximum speed of less than 30 km/h, these cars of course will not be comparable to today's cars", explained BASt expert Prof. Seeck. The experts do not share the US internet company's vision of autonomous cars without steering wheels, nor do they consider them feasible in the near future. "I do not expect steering wheels to disappear during my lifetime as a motorist", says Dr Matthias Kühn.
Caption: Crashed: Autonomous driving also makes high demands on passive safety.