Five specially equipped e-Golfs drive around a circuit with real-life traffic, without driver intervention.
The city circuit in Hamburg for testing autonomous driving has its first “users”: five rather unusual Volkswagen e-Golfs. Their modifications indeed allow them to achieve level 4 autonomous driving and it is the first time that the Volkswagen Group has applied these technologies in real traffic conditions in a busy, complex city such as Hamburg.
Sensors and software
The e-Golfs used in the test are equipped with 11 laser scanners, 7 radar sensors and 14 cameras, as well as GPS sensors with precision maps. The data exchange between all the devices runs to 5 GB per minute and managing it requires a computer housed in the e-Golf’s boot with computing capacity equivalent to around 15 laptops.
This ensures that everything happening around the car – pedestrians moving, bikes, other cars, junctions, priorities, car parks – is recorded within milliseconds. The artificial intelligence used in the vehicle’s software is programmed to react appropriately without issuing any false alarms.
Searching and optimising
Autonomous driving in the city is a huge challenge in terms of diversity and complexity. The data gathered in this experiment will contribute to the evolution of research on driverless vehicles, on services dedicated to clients, and more generally, to optimisation of private transport. The city of Hamburg, on the other hand, will enjoy a preview of the effects of autonomous driving and of what will be necessary to support it. The testing focuses both on the technical and infrastructural aspects. In order to achieve the highest levels of safety, the cars will need to be able to interact with a digital ecosystem in which the vehicles communicate not only with one another, but also with the traffic lights and other key elements of the urban areas.
The project works with different approaches to AI: deep learning, neural networks, pattern recognition methods. The combination of various sensors and software modules in the real road environment yields important insights. Some modules are easy to test in the lab or in a simulation. But the key is the interaction of all components. Collecting new data, testing how the algorithms perform on the road, and then readjusting: this is how the project team is continuously inching its way toward the highest levels of autonomous driving.
The more “open” a situation is, the more that happens and can happen, the greater the demands on the artificial intelligence that is controlling the vehicle. During the test drives, there is always a specially trained test driver on board, ready to take the wheel to ensure maximum safety. Their job is to constantly monitor that all driving functions are working perfectly. Besides, legislation currently does not allow fully autonomous vehicles without a driver to circulate in public traffic.
The traffic flows
The Hamburg city circuit for autonomous driving is nine kilometres long and available to anyone requesting it. It incorporates 37 traffic lights and a radio bridge to send information to the vehicles via Wi-Fi.
Currently, six connected traffic lights that communicate with the vehicles are in operation: the goal is to improve traffic flows and safety, also through development of the V2X infrastructure – Vehicle to everything –, which is at the basis of the autonomous mobility of the future.