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With the aim of offering motorists vehicles equipped with cutting-edge driver assistance systems for convenience and safety in the future, the engineers at BMW Group Forschung und Technik, the company’s research and technology arm, have been working on an electronic co-pilot for highly automated driving on the highway. A prototype vehicle from BMW Group Forschung und Technik already drove along the A9 motorway from Munich towards Nuremberg with no driver intervention back in 2011. The research work has now reached the stage where highly automated changes between motorways are possible at motorway intersections. This is a further key step towards the universal handling of highway and interstate networks, something that will in future allow customers to enjoy a continuous highly automated driving experience. The principal technologies required for highly automated driving were developed by the BMW Group Forschung und Technik engineers over the course of the preceding BMW TrackTrainer and Emergency Stop Assistant research projects. The BMW TrackTrainer is capable of lapping race tracks in highly automated driving mode while following the racing line in order to provide some very targeted driver training. The BMW Emergency Stop Assistant performs a highly automated maneuver to bring the vehicle safely to a stop if the driver is suddenly incapacitated by illness. The research prototype for highly automated driving is able to brake, accelerate and overtake all by itself, but always in accordance with the prevailing traffic situation and while adhering to all traffic regulations. The team of specialists has already logged around 6,200 test miles (10,000 kilometers). In order for this highly automated research vehicle to operate fluidly in traffic without attracting attention, its operating strategies must be clearly defined. One of the fundamental components from which these strategies are derived, apart from accurate positioning of the vehicle in its own traffic lane, is the unfailing detection of all vehicles and objects in the immediate vicinity. This is achieved by fusing the data from diverse and complementary sensor technologies, including LIDAR, radar, ultrasound and camera scanning on all sides of the vehicle. Despite this 360° sensing capability, there is little on the outside to tell the vehicle apart from a standard production model.
It is of particular importance to the researchers that the technology study’s level of intelligence is constantly enhanced. At motorway slip roads, for example, the research prototype behaves cooperatively by leaving enough space to allow road users on an on-ramp to filter onto the highway. The latest advance is the vehicle’s capability to negotiate highway intersections without intervention from the driver, enabling it to change from one highway to another. At the “München - Nord” motorway intersection, for instance, the car is already able to switch automatically from the A9 to the A92 heading towards the airport, and back again. The main challenges to be successfully overcome by the research team included the very fine lateral control in tight corners, as well as the clarity of points on the high-precision digital map in places where several roads converge. The BMW Group’s next big target is highly automated driving on European motorways with all of the accompanying challenges – in other words, travelling through tollgates, roadwork and beyond national borders. That prompted the BMW Group to enter into a research partnership with international automotive supplier Continental in January 2013. The collaborative project between the BMW Group and Continental is set to run until the end of 2014, by which time several test prototypes fitted with near-production technology should have been built.