Volkswagen on June 23 showcased several automated driver assistance technologies as part of a demonstration by participants in Germany’s “AKTIV” road safety and traffic management project. Volkswagen primarily performed research within sub-projects focused on pedestrian and cyclist safety, integrated lateral assistance, driver awareness and safety, and situation-responsive driving.
The AKTIV research initiative, now in its fourth and final year, was chartered to develop technologies and systems that could enhance active road safety, relieve drivers, and harmonize traffic flows. The four-year collaboration among 28 transport-oriented companies and institutions had an overall budget of 60 million Euros, mostly funded by the Initiative’s participants.
VW described its AKTIV sub-project contributions as follows:
- Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety (“AKTIV-SFR”) — In this sub-project, Volkswagen helped develop a system to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
In past decades, a great deal of engineering has gone into making new vehicles safer for pedestrians. Specially designed soft bumpers, which significantly reduce injuries, are one particularly noteworthy passive protection measure.
In addition to these passive measures, Volkswagen has also researched active systems providing extra safety. Using cameras and radar sensors installed on the vehicle, the vehicle constantly monitors its surroundings, paying particular attention to pedestrians and cyclists. The sensors enable unprotected road users and their direction of travel to be detected several meters in front of the vehicle. The installed software then analyses the situation, determining whether it is serious or could even result in a collision.
If a critical traffic situation like this is recognized, the vehicle will brake automatically. The objective is to reduce the vehicle’s speed as much as possible to minimize the consequences of the accident or, ideally, to prevent the accident from happening in the first place.
This Volkswagen-developed vehicle goes beyond automatic braking to provide an additional protection system. If the sensor system detects that one of the front corners of the vehicle is about to collide with a pedestrian, a driver steering recommendation will be activated to avoid the collision. In this case, the driver will feel the steering wheel gently turn to swerve around the pedestrian. Although the driver can override the steering recommendation, following the recommendation will ideally prevent the collision.
- Integrated Lateral Assistance (“AKTIV-IQF”) — “Lane Assist” is an active lane-keeping assistance system now installed in production vehicles which reduces the number of accidents caused by unintended lane departure. If the vehicle appears to stray from its lane, Lane Assist will gently counter-steer the vehicle back onto course. However, since the system is an assistance system only, the driver can override the steering recommendation at all times.
As part of the Integrated Lateral Assistance sub-project, Volkswagen Group Research developed an assistance system that continuously supports the driver in terms of longitudinal and lateral vehicle control. In addition to providing the driver with continuous support, the system’s particular feature is that longitudinal and lateral vehicle control do not work independently of each other. The shared control concept for this system enables the vehicle’s speed to be adapted to the road’s path and the driving situation. GPS tracking and digital map information are applied to generate a predictive vehicle-speed strategy that also takes into account tight bends beyond the surround sensors’ range.
Always looking ahead and continuously working, this assistance system supports drivers at all speeds when driving on motorways and roads in good condition. Since the lateral assistance system takes into account objects in the vehicle’s immediate surroundings, it is also available in traffic congestion or when driving through roadworks.
- Driver Awareness and Safety (“AKTIV-FSA”) — The technical elements in a driver assistance system — sensors, actuators, algorithms — are one part of development. The other part is the driver interface. Is the driver capable of understanding and anticipating intervention by the system? Will the driver lose control of the vehicle if the system does not react correctly?
Volkswagen Group Research tackled these questions in the Driver Awareness and Safety sub-project. Based on the Integrated Lateral Assistance system described above, it was analyzed how the development of safety-relevant driver assistance systems can be systematically supported. Research focused on the system’s user-friendliness and controllability as well as potential long-term changes in driver behavior. Relevant scenarios and their influencing factors were compiled and analyzed in order to determine which systems — for example, driving simulator, vehicle in the loop, or real vehicle — would be most suitable for the testing phase. When analyzing the potential of the new assistance systems with regard to gains in safety, it is vital to take a comprehensive view and make sure that the results can be applied to real traffic situations. An empirical study investigating Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) showed that driver assistance systems provide increased convenience and safety even after they have been used for a long period of time.
- Situation-Responsive Driving (“AKTIV-STAF”) — The Volkswagen Roadworks Pilot is a traffic assistance and information system. It expands the ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) system currently available for production vehicles to include an additional function from the area of Traffic Management.
More than 30 percent of all congestion on the German Autobahn is caused by roadworks. However, research shows that driving behavior that keeps traffic flowing as smoothly as possible can prevent congestion; for example, this would mean quickly driving through narrow sections of road. Road capacity could generally be increased by about three percent if ten percent of drivers would exhibit a driving style that allows traffic to flow. This in turn would reduce waiting time, fuel consumption, and CO2 emissions.
In order to promote smooth traffic flow through roadworks, up-to-date information about the route and an appropriate driving strategy are required. The driver is shown information pertaining to the roadworks ahead in a “traffic horizon”, which contains a map preview with traffic information. In order to receive up-to-date traffic information for the area around the roadworks, onboard systems track the vehicle’s route. Using vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication, this information is transmitted to communication installations known as roadside units, which are set up at various points along the road and collect data from passing vehicles. Roadside units analyze vehicle data using an algorithm developed by Volkswagen in order to generate information such as the number of road lanes, their paths, and the precise traffic situation. This information is then transmitted to vehicles following behind in the form of a dynamic local map.
At the same time, the “Roadworks Pilot” implements the driving strategy in the vehicle, providing driving recommendations or automatically controlling distance and speed. What makes this system innovative is the following: depending on the traffic situation, the vehicle approaches potential traffic congestion with the appropriate caution. It then passes through the narrowed section of road at constant speed, without changing lanes and at a safe distance from the vehicle ahead to prevent waves of congestion from forming. Finally, the vehicle quickly accelerates back to normal speed at the end of the roadworks. This enables any congestion present to clear up better.
Volkswagen thus shows that driver assistance systems can not only enhance safety and convenience, but also can help prevent congestion and reduce CO2 emissions.
Summing up VW’s participation in the AKTIV program, Dr. Jürgen Leohold, head of Volkswagen Group Research, stated: “Volkswagen has set the goal of developing innovative driver assistance systems for safer and more sustainable mobility. Volkswagen Group Research thus views AKTIV as one of its flagship projects and is striving to transform the project results into production-ready products as quickly as possible.”
AKTIV stands for “Adaptive und Kooperative Technologien für den Intelligenten Verkehr,” which translates to “adaptive and cooperative technologies for intelligent transport.” The AKTIV partnership’s 28 members include automobile manufacturers and suppliers, electronics, telecommunications and software companies, research institutes, and highway and traffic administrations. Further details are on the AKTIV initiative’s website.