Hanover, Germany – The first fully autonomous vehicles able to handle all conditions on public roads – and potentially replacing private car ownership, will probably not appear until after 2030, according to Continental's head of self-driving car projects, Andree Hohm.
Driverless vehicle are already on the road for a very specific application area, for example like a private road, and want to travel at low velocity., noted Hohm during Continental's Tech Show held 1-4 July in Hanover.
However, early forecasts that driverless mobility would first appear on highways have shifted with the realisation of the difficulties of trying to bring a vehicle traveling at high speeds to a safe stop in case of a malfunction.
Now, Hohm said, the feeling is, at least at Continental, that low-speed, urban settings will be ground zero for autonomous driving.
Urban situations may be more complex than highways, he said, "but they have one key advantage: Slower speeds give you more opportunities when systems fail, or you get erroneous readings from sensors."
According to Hohm, autonomous vehicle technology has three hurdles to overcome before it becomes viable for widespread use: technology, regulatory approval and consumer acceptance.
The key technology challenge will be combining a variety of sensors inside the vehicle (radar, lidar and cameras) to create a safe environment.
"This foundation has to be very solid," he said. "You have to cover all situations because there's no driver as a fallback option."
One of Continental's solutions is to incorporate external sensors on street signs and roadways – for example, in a "smart intersection" that can detect situations well ahead of the vehicle.
Breakdowns, accidents and erratic pedestrians "can be better perceived from the viewpoint of the intersection compared to the viewpoint of an approaching car," he said.
On regulations, the main problem is the lack of a unified framework for testing and implementation of autonomous vehicles, he said.
"Lots of pilot projects are pushing forward, but in a very heterogeneous way," he said. "This is a very challenging scenario, because if we're going to invest a lot of money we have to be sure that the solutions we create fit a wide variety of countries."
Finally, he noted, many consumers are sceptical about driverless cars, and studies have found that worries are increasing, at least in Germany and in the US, although Chinese respondents are become more receptive.
"It still sounds a little bit creepy, if you think about it - going into a car where there is no one at the steering wheel," he said.
"This is for us a clear signal that we have to introduce those functionalities step by step....We need to involve people in pilot projects, so they can actually experience how exciting the technology is," he concluded.