Germany Testing Driverless Cars on a Stretch of the Autobahn
Germany has decided to authorize self-driving car tests on the Autobahn A9, which connects Berlin to Munich. While the cars won’t be completely driverless — a human will sit behind the wheel to take control when needed — this is still an important step toward empowering German autonomous-vehicle manufacturers to test drive their creations.
German Traffic Minister Alexander Dobrindt says his nation wants to be a leader in digital vehicle manufacturing, according to NBC News.
“We have to achieve a digital sovereignty, independent from America and Asia,” he told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, according to the source.
Last year, The Guardian reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel told autonomous-car manufacturers to start drawing up a wish list and a timetable. Although the government hasn’t set a launch date for driverless-vehicle testing on the A9, Merkel’s statements suggest policymakers support not only autonomous-vehicle development but also electric-car incentives.
Driverless Cars Hit the Road
Germany, a leader in automobile manufacturing, is home to Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Audi. According to Car Magazine U.K., an Audi RS7 autonomous car nicknamed Bobby finished a high-speed lap at Hockenheimring in 2014, accurate to within centimeters.
The next year, Bobby’s successor Robby, weighing in 400 kilograms lighter than its cousin, completed a 2.5-mile lap around the Sonoma Raceway in California in just over two minutes. The model Audi is currently testing, an A7 code-named Jack, can drive along the Autobahn at 80 miles per hour.
In an internal memo obtained by NBC News, the German traffic ministry says it expects driverless cars to increase road safety, reduce pollution and ease congestion. According to The Guardian, Audi’s Jack has been programmed with algorithms for a range of scenarios — from avoiding a deer dashing across the road to operating in smog and heat hazes.
As more autonomous vehicles take to the streets, these connected vehicles will not only honor their own programming but also communicate with one another. As a result, they’ll develop swarm intelligence, enabling them to react both individually and as a group to safety issues.
Coming to a Road Near You in 2020
Autonomous vehicles are expected to come into mass production around 2020, roughly the same time as the 5G network standard is expected to roll out. When this happens, in addition to changing the way people commute, it could spell major disruptions for the transportation industry.
Driverless cars have even caught the interest of Warren Buffett, who addressed the new technology at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting in early May. The Sage of Omaha identified another industry that would be disrupted by autonomous cars: auto insurance.
“If driverless cars became pervasive, it would only be because they were safer,” Buffett told investors, according to Business Insider. “That would mean that the overall economic cost of auto-related losses had gone down, and that would drive down the premiums.” In other words, driverless cars are good news for safer travels, but not-so-good news for auto insurers.