All summer, researchers from the city’s Free University have been testing the automobile around the German capital. The vehicle maneuvers through traffic on its own using a sophisticated combination of devices, including a computer, electronics and a precision satellite navigation system in the trunk, a camera in the front, and laser scanners on the roof and around the front and rear bumpers.

“The vehicle can recognize other cars on the road, pedestrians, buildings and trees up to 70 meters (yards) around it and even see if the traffic lights ahead are red or green and react accordingly,” Raul Rojas, the head of the university’s research group for artificial intelligence. “In fact, the car’s recognition and reaction to its environment is much faster than a human being’s reaction.”

The scientists have worked on their research car, a Volkswagen Passat worth euro 400,000 ($551,800) with lots of built-in special technology, for four years.
Several other groups have also been working on such technology recently, notably Google, which has been testing a robotic Toyota Prius in Nevada.
“There’s a big trend for completely computer-controlled cars — many companies and research centers in several countries are working on it and it is hard to say, who’s got the most-developed vehicle at the moment,” Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, a professor for automotive economics at the University of Duisburg-Essen.Dudenhoeffer estimated that with the technology advances, it could only take another decade for the fully automatic cars to start becoming available for consumers. “Even today’s cars are often partially computer-controlled, for example when it comes to parking or emergency brakes.”

A 360 degrees laser scanner on top of the car, a GPS system and other sensors monitor the surrounding traffic. A driver sits only for security reasons behind the steering wheel. The Autonomos team is part of the Artificial Intelligence Group of the Free University Berlin. However, he said, that besides the technological issues, the legal challenges would be another issue that needed to be regulated: “Who will be responsible when there’s an accident — the owner or the passenger of the computer-controlled car or the company that produced it?” However, all in all, one can definitely say that computer-controlled cares will be much safer than human drivers,Especially if you keep in mind that most of today’s accidents are caused by human error.
In Berlin, the university researchers received a special permit from the city’s security and safety controllers in June to use it in regular traffic — under the condition that a safety driver sits behind the steering wheel, even if he doesn’t touch anything — not the steering wheel, gas pedals nor brakes.

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