Assistance systems: Quo vadis, car?

Vehicle computers have been connected to the Internet for some time and the sensors in assistance systems are becoming more sensitive with each new generation of car. We take a look at driving in tomorrow’s world.

A look at driving in tomorrow’s world. (Picture: DEKRA)

(Picture: DEKRA)

I’m already late. Quickly I climb into my recently purchased car. A razor-sharp display appears across the entire breadth of the interior showing the following information: “September 15, 2025, 8.24 am, range 287 km.” Over the loudspeakers, my virtual passenger says in a clear voice: “Good morning Mr. Broich. Given the current traffic situation you will unfortunately be 18 minutes late for your appointment at 10.30 at Handwerkstraße 15 in Stuttgart. Should I inform Dr. Neumann by email?” “No, I’d like to try to get there on time,” I reply. “That will only be possible by exceeding the speed limit in certain places,” she says. There’s not even a hint of disapproval in her voice, but I wonder briefly whether my intentions are being stored somewhere on the internet.

At first I drive in pure electric mode, but it soon becomes clear that with my foot so hard on the gas pedal I also need the conventional three-cylinder engine. As I filter onto the A8 freeway, I hand over to the autopilot and say “Freeway speed plus 10 percent.” While I download my first few emails, the digital passenger informs me of my new arrival time. Only six minutes late, so that should be OK.

Support has long been standard

The functions that in 2015 were starting to be available in premium vehicles, ten years later come as standard even in smaller models. Many types of assistance system are
intervening more closely in what happens when cars are being driven, but the basic principle of driving has not changed since the early days of mass transport in the 20th century. Most cars still have diesel or gasoline engines under the hood, but they are often supported by electric motors.

Support for the drivers takes quite a diff erent form: the vehicles are equipped with high-performance sensors and plenty of computer power. They also have voice control systems that are the equivalent of a real conversation. High-precision lasers with multiple beams scan objects at close range, while image-processing video systems detect more distant objects and also help to keep the car in its lane. The car is aware of what is happening around it. In addition, it has a software system that coordinates the data from the many detectors and creates an information base to allow the car to make driving decisions. Our dreams a decade ago about car-to-car and car-to-x communication have become a partial reality. Vehicles share information about traffic problems and, in some cases, receive details directly from the road.

Data appears on my display from an area of road works, telling me that there is a threekilometer- long queue ahead with vehicles traveling at 30 km/h. As well as improving road safety, this also makes life a lot easier for me and other drivers. Over the last few years, it has become possible to let go of the steering wheel on freeways. The driver still has to join the freeway himself, but then the computer takes over responsibility for driving.  Other functions have gradually been added. Now I just need to choose the speed I want and the car will overtake other vehicles independently.

Without help it can also fi nd the exit that will take me into the city. Only a few cars are ready for autonomous driving in towns. Premium sedans can link signals from the car-to-x network with their camera systems and distinguish between green and red traffic lights. Real-time calculations of the traffic density allow cars to identify the best possible departure time within a variable window and to drive 80 percent of the commute to work autonomously.

Five billion euros for a minute

The average driver spends 50 minutes a day in the car. This is valuable time that could be used for other purposes. In 2015, a study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants estimated that one minute of Internet use in the car would result in global revenues of fi ve billion euros for the new media industry. Their instinct was correct.

Even in 2025, fully autonomous driving still seems a long way off . Pulling out into moving traffic from a standstill is not possible and neither is negotiating complex inner city junctions. Narrow streets in the historic parts of town also require a human driver. The partial automation of driving is great. In stop-and-go traffic, I can spend my time doing things that in the past would have given me penalty points on my driver’s license.

At precisely 10.04 am, my virtual passenger says: “You have reached your destination.” I admit that on an open stretch of freeway, I took back control and put my foot down. How nice that autonomous driving is available, but that you aren’t forced to use it.

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