Continental AG Automates VW Passat enroute to Driverless Car Future

By Joel Arellano | March 23, 2012
We all know about Google's self-driving car. The modified Toyota Prius, utilizing an array of cutting edge technologies such as a roof-mounted laser to create a three-dimensional maps of its immediate environment, successfully navigated the streets of Las Vegas well enough to convince the state to legalize autonomous vehicles within its border. Other states, including California, Florida, Hawaii, and Oklahoma, are also consideration such legislation. But the days of self-driving cars are still in the future, right? Well, not quite. Continental AG, known for its tires but also one of the world's largest suppliers of automotive technology, recently revealed a modified Volkswagen Passat that, while not truly self-driving, drove itself over 6,000 miles through Sin City and the Silver state. Continental says the VW Passat will soon break 10,000 miles of highly automated, real-world testing required by Nevada law and be legal to, well, "drive itself" in the state.
Continental AG, or "Conti", takes a decidedly different approach to the self-driving car. The modified VW Passat uses a wide variety of literally off-the-shelf products to drive itself. A stereo camera, for example, is used to examine the Passat's immediate surroundings. Various short and long-range radar systems are used to keep track of obstacles (e.g., other vehicles) around the Passat with electronic steering and braking systems keep it zooming down the road safely. The driver can take over any time, either for driving pleasure or when the Conti systems can't sense lane lines or encounters a too-tight corner. Otherwise, the driver can check their email or, theoretically, read the paper. If they find themselves nodding off, "drowsy-driver" detection systems will alert them. If the driver does not respond, the Conti automated systems will slow the vehicle down and park it. Our colleagues over at Motor Trend had a chance to review Continental AG's various automated automotive technology in Michigan. Conti believes automakers who utilize the technology could have such "driver assisted", or automated, cars on the road within the next three years. The advantages are many. Says Matthias Straub, project engineer in Continental's Chassis & Safety system, "The vehicle is even able to use close-to-production sensors and logic to detect more complex scenarios and, consequently, is able to relieve drivers of the tedium of monotonous activities, such as driving in traffic jams, by automating." Automotive's take: Commuters around here and the world are already stressed as urban freeways and streets continue to get even more crowded and adding to the hour (and more!) commute times. Automated vehicles guided by Continental's technology would help relieve driver stress while keeping said driver firmly in control of unexpected. Sources: Continental/Automotive Group, Motor Trend