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Germans develop smart garage for self-driving cars

Posted: 25 May 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:cognitive car  CoCar  self-driving cars 

Editor's Note: Engineers in Germany are working on usage cases that will hopefully solve legal impediments to self-driving cars. Continue reading to know how far they have gone with their project.

The key legal obstacles to self-driving cars are the dangers they present to passengers—even if a driver is ready to take over in the case of emergency. Researchers in Germany, however, have found usage cases where that legal hurdle can be surmounted and expect to be doing so by 2016.

That's how long it will take to equip one deck of a downtown parking garage with standardised electric charge outlets, and to finish the algorithms that can be burned into flash of drive-by-wire electric vehicles already on the road.

The work is being done at Forschungszentrum Informatik (FZI, Karlsruhe), a research institute where 22 engineers have been working towards what they call the "cognitive car" (CoCar) for several years. In fact, they entered the Defense Advanced Project Agency's (DARPA's) self-driving vehicle contest and made it to the finals, but their concentration since then has been on usage cases where no passengers need be present in the car as a stepping stone to fully autonomous vehicles.

Their current CoCar prototypes work by finding usage cases where passengers are not present. For instance, next year one level of a Stuttgart parking garage will forbid the presence of humans since each parking place is equipped with an autonomous recharging station. Consumer electric vehicles will be equipped with standardised recharge plug-ins and be left at the entrance by their drivers. The parking garage itself will be equipped with a central "brain" that alerts the vehicle of the location of the nearest empty parking space.

The vehicle—equipped with FZI's algorithms in its flash memory—will drive-by-wire to the parking spot, back in and automatically plug-into the recharging station. When the owner returns, his cars will be "called" and unplug and drive itself to the waiting area at the entrance to the garage where the owner will pick-it-up.

Self driving just a start

FZI is a non-profit that specialises in giving small to medium-sized companies the opportunity to test their algorithms on its growing fleet of experimental drive-by-wire electric vehicles, robots and other automated devices which the companies may borrow to test their concepts.

Their self-driving cars can drive in traffic without collisions, as well as perform strategic moves such as passing other slower vehicles. It also runs in two modes, driver assistance when it takes over only in emergencies. FZI has a licence from the local Stuttgart government to do 150km on regular city streets using GPS as well as stored images of landmarks to find its way. All sensors are fused with the GPS and stored route images for maximum reliability.

A wall mounted home management system is integrated with the autonomous vehicles, allowing drivers to schedule recharging for the middle-of-the-night when rates are low, or even send the vehicle unaccompanied to free state-provided rechargers, then return home charged and ready before he owner gets up in the morning.

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