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Expressway trial for driverless cars

1/30/2015 7:30:45 PM
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That silver blur zipping along the Bavarian autobahn may eventually be piloting itself, under a project to test driverless cars on at least one stretch of Germany's famously unrestricted highways.

Plans call for a driverless-car pilot project on a portion of the A9 autobahn, the north-south artery that connects Munich and Berlin, Transportation Ministry spokesman Ingo Strater has told reporters. Though driverless cars have already been tested in the United States and Germany, the project would be one of the first to equip a stretch of public highway specifically for that purpose.

"The German auto industry has recognised that this field is developing," Mr Strater said. "We want to support that."

The autonomous autobahn comes as carmakers push forward with cars capable of taking the wheel.

Mercedes-Benz showed a self-driving luxury concept this month called the F015, complete with swivel seats to enable driver and passengers to face each other for a chat.

Audi sent an unmanned RS7 down a track at racing speeds last year. And Google's self-piloting cars are clocking miles on California roads.

Within five years, a carmaker will probably start selling a vehicle that can drive itself, Ford Motor's chief executive officer Mark Fields said earlier this month.

The German project would enable cars driving on the test section of the autobahn to communicate with each other as well as with the infrastructure itself, Mr Strater said.

Yet to be announced is exactly where and when the autobahn retrofit will be done and how much it will cost.

"The goal is to network the road and the vehicles to reduce traffic jams and increase road safety," Mr Strater said.

Driverless cars will also be tested in three British cities under a plan announced last year.

The German project will first test sensors and measure systems and vehicle communication, said the Transport Ministry.

A fully autonomous car probably will not hit the autobahn before the end of the year. Meanwhile, the future world of artificial intelligence wowed the Davos elite recently.

Prof Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of California Berkeley, said driverless cars are one of the key trends, allowing an increasing elderly population better mobility.

"There's no need to park your car because your car will just go home and come back when you need it. That changes the situation for public transport because you'll just get taken to the station and then your car will go back home," he said.

"You can even imagine your car going to the supermarket and doing your groceries," he added.

He also painted a futuristic vision for those who hate the chore of washing.

"We have already developed robots who can do the complete laundry cycle. It is able to pick up a big bin of laundry, sort the clothes according to the sort of wash it needs, put them in the washing machine, take them out, sort them again, fold them," he told a bewildered Davos panel.

"The one thing it hasn't figured out is where the missing sock is," he quipped.

 
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