The good news first: Europe’s roads are getting safer and safer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of road traffic fatalities decreased by more than 55 percent between 2000 and 2015. One reason for such a significant improvement in safety in many areas is stricter laws and intensified traffic checks, plus optimal infrastructure. Another is new assistance systems and further progress in automotive technology that makes protection for drivers, passengers and pedestrians ever more reliable.
The bad news is that there are still around 1.3 million road traffic fatalities per year worldwide, 90% of them caused by human error. But if carmakers managed to make their vehicles even safer, using digital technology to design displays and other infotainment sources that distract the driver as little as possible from what is happening on the road, then the number of accidents could fall even further in the future.
The pillars of Vision Zero
Volkswagen Group Research has embraced the goals of the Vision Zero international initiative, which aims to reduce accidents resulting in death or serious injury to zero. For Vision Zero, then, the further development of autonomous driving functions is particularly promising – because if cars are capable of driving and braking autonomously, and can communicate with one another, then the mistakes that people make when driving will become less and less relevant. It will still take some time to arrive at that stage, but the technology is making rapid progress. The Volkswagen Group is concentrating on various different approaches: improved user interfaces, real-time customer service, advanced driver assistance systems, and autonomous driving functions. Vision Zero is getting closer – step by step.
The smart rear-view mirror
Cars are becoming increasingly connected, accessing loads of information for the journey from the Internet in real time. Digital interfaces must be designed to be as intuitive as possible so that they do not distract the driver’s attention from the road. One solution for vehicles that are not already equipped with a networked infotainment system is Ticmirror, which Volkswagen Group China is currently developing further under a joint venture with the Chinese technology company Mobvoi. The smart rear-view mirror has an online navigation function, it can stream music, search for destinations in the vicinity using intuitive voice controls, and be upgraded to a comprehensive virtual assistance system.
Truck convoys represent the perfect situation for testing out autonomous driving technology. Scania brought an experimental truck platooning project to the roads in 2017. Once the trials have been completed, convoys of four trucks will transport containers between port terminals – for example, at the Port of Singapore. Only the lead truck has a driver, while the following three are driven autonomously. The project also aims to fully automate the processes for the precise docking and unloading of cargo. That not only enhances productivity, but also contributes to increased road safety.
At the Ehra-Lessien proving ground in Lower Saxony, a group of researchers are testing out Race Trainer: this is a visionary assistant that gives an insight into the interaction between autonomous driving, augmented reality, and road safety. The system tells drivers when to brake and accelerate, and the best way to take a corner on a predetermined circuit, giving them braking and steering assistance, audible warnings and augmented reality lines overlaid on the asphalt in front of the vehicle. The findings from the research project will be used in the next generation of driving assistance systems.
Source: Volkswagen AG