Driving in heavy stop-start traffic is not only frustrating for those behind the wheel. It can increase driver fatigue, decrease fuel efficiency and increase accident rates too.
It’s no surprise then that automakers are looking to self-driving technologies in an attempt to reduce the monotony and boredom of traffic jams — and luxury German automaker Audi is no exception.
Last week, it became the first automaker in the world to conduct a full-scale public highway test of a traffic jam assistance technology designed to make stop-start traffic less of a chore.
Called the Audi Congestion Pilot system, Audi’s technology is designed to work in heavy traffic at speeds below 60 kph (37.5 mph) and integrates with Audi’s larger Piloted Driving autonomous drive technology. Upon entering a congested traffic area, the system can take over from the driver, moving the car forward in traffic, anticipating manoeuvres from other cars, accelerating, steering and braking as required.
When the traffic clears or its average speed rises above 60 kph, the system alerts the driver to take control of the vehicle again. If ignored, the car will safely stop until the driver regains control.
Unlike the vast computer systems shoehorned into previous autonomous vehicles from the days of the DARPA grand challenge and Google’s early days of self-driving cars, Audi’s autonomous driving system is powered by a unit called the Central Driver Assistance Control Unit (zFAS) which is about the same size as a tablet computer. It receives data from a total of twenty-two different sensors located around the car, including a laser scanner and individual wheel sensors.
Audi says its recent test, on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway near Tampa, Florida, was a complete success. Packaged inside an Audi A7 Sportback, the Congestion Pilot behaved as expected and showed itself to be competent and ready for production. Alongside other ‘piloted driving’ technologies, the Congestion Pilot will be making its way to a production Audi some time soon, says Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, Audi’s Board Member for Technical Development.
It seems that the challenge for commuters in the congested city of the near future may not be keeping track of busy, complicated traffic patterns in traffic jams, but keeping an eye out for when the traffic finally clears. Here at Transport Evolved, we wonder how long it will be until we hear of the first commuter to nod off in traffic while their car efficiently carries on driving for them.
Place your bets now, please.
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