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Who Is Driving Then?

Hermann Winner and Walther Wachenfeld

Prof. Hermann Winner (left) and Walther Wachenfeld with the wheeled motion base driving simulator developed at TU Darmstadt.

Credit: Sandra Junker / TU Darmstadt

In an interview, professors Hermann Winner and Walther Wachenfeld from the Technical University of Darmstadt's Automotive Engineering research group discuss autonomous driving's risks, challenges, and opportunities. Winner thinks highly automated vehicles will be driving on certain routes relatively soon, although he does not envision autonomous cars in regular traffic everywhere at all times for at least 30 years. "The driver will have to take over the steering wheel if necessary, but may also deal with other things, for example process emails without paying attention to traffic — whilst the system prompts acceptance," Wachenfeld says. He stresses that, unlike current driver-intervention protocols, highly automated vehicles must be able to make an emergency stop and then always apply this when required.

Winner believes autonomous driving can lead to a further reduction of accidents, but he cautions "any new system which has an influence on traffic produces new problems. It is, however, important that the end result is positive."

Winner acknowledges there is still uncertainty as to whether there are limits to a machine's reactive ability in comparison to a person's, but he emphasizes "caution will be the main criterion, especially in the infancy of autonomous driving." Winner notes defensive autonomous driving will likely introduce weaknesses, such as the inability to proficiently anticipate traffic.

From Technical University of Darmstadt
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