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German auto firms face roadblock in testing driverless car software

Thu 26 Mar 2015

As nations compete to build the first operational autonomous car, German auto-manufacturers fear that current domestic laws limit their efforts to test the appropriate software for self-driving vehicles on public roads.

German carmakers are concerned that these roadblocks are allowing U.S. competitors, such as Google, to race ahead in their development of software designed to react effectively when placed in real-life traffic scenarios.

Advancements in technological acumen and support from leading tech giants have recently pushed the driverless car concept closer to reality. In December last year, Google unveiled a fully-functioning prototype of its Self-Driving Car which it plans to start testing in California this year.

Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen CEO said: “We are currently testing at our research facilities, some of them in the United States. The question is: do we only test these cars on public roads in the United States or can we also do it in Germany. Not enough has been done.”

Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all revealed prototype driverless vehicles which can be tested on German roads – however currently they are not legally allowed to test the cars with a distracted driver, i.e. emailing or texting in a moving car on public roads.

“How much warning does a driver need to take back control of a vehicle after they were e-mailing? Is five seconds enough, or do they need 20? These are just some of the issues that need to be resolved,” explained Daimler spokesperson Katharina Becker.

Car software developers are also struggling to deal with the ethical challenges often raised on the road. For example when faced with the decision to crash into a pedestrian or another vehicle carrying a family, it would be a challenge for a self-driving car to follow the same moral reasoning a human would in the situation.

“Technologically we can do fully automated self-driving, but the ethical framework is missing,” said Winterkorn.


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