Self-driving VWs hit the streets of Hamburg

Prototype self-driving cars from the Volkswagen Group have started testing in an urban environment for the first time.

Five prototypes, each based on the current Volkswagen e-Golf electric hatch, hit the streets of downtown Hamburg, Germany, on Wednesday, operating at Level 4 self-driving capability. And as the technology is still being developed, a safety driver remained behind the wheel at all times.

A Level 4 self-driving car is able to operate on its own within set conditions, though a driver is still required to handle things outside of the conditions. Level 5 is the ultimate goal. At this level, a self-driving car is able to operate to the same extent as a human driver.

Volkswagen self-driving car prototype testing in Hamburg, Germany – April 3, 2019

VW Group’s prototypes feature 11 laser scanners, 7 radars and 14 cameras and gather approximately 5 gigabytes worth of data for every minute of driving, which is then processed by artificial intelligence software. Inside, a display shows stationary or moving objects depending on the situation and settings, as well as lane boundaries and predicted movements of other traffic participants.

The system is designed to predict all possible outcomes 10 seconds into the future in order to be best prepared. And it re-evaluates the situation multiple times every second.

The testers currently cover only a small 1.86-mile route. This is to explore the technical possibilities as well as determine any infrastructure requirements to ensure maximum safety, Axel Heinrich, head of research at VW Group, explained.

Volkswagen self-driving car prototype testing in Hamburg, Germany - April 3, 2019

Volkswagen self-driving car prototype testing in Hamburg, Germany – April 3, 2019

“In order to make driving even safer and more comfortable in future, vehicles not only have to become autonomous and more intelligent—cities must also provide a digital ecosystem that enables vehicles to communicate with traffic lights and traffic management systems as well as with one another,” he said.

A larger 5.6-mile route is planned for 2020, with Hamburg city officials helping to install the required infrastructure, such as traffic lights that can communicate with vehicles. The goal is to establish Hamburg as a “model city” for self-driving cars by 2021.

VW Group is developing its own self-driving technology across is brands, with Audi leading the development. The German auto giant is also working with partners such as America’s Aurora Innovation and Israel’s Mobileye, which is owned by Intel. There’s also the possibility of a partnership between VW Group and Ford. VW Group has previously said that its first trial services will be up and running by 2021.

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