European automotive executives are bullish about the future of automated driving but they say it will take time for regulations to catch up with technology. They also say that no one wants to remove the fun of being behind the wheel.
Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche stressed the second point during the world premiere of the Mercedes-Benz S class in May. He said the automaker's flagship sedan "marks the start of the era of partially autonomous driving." With its six "eyes" (cameras) and six "ears" (radar sensors), the S class can see and hear enough to drive itself at speeds up to 60kph (37mph), Zetsche said.
According to the CEO, the ultimate goal is to remove the boring parts of driving but keep the fun. "We will never automate the cool part of driving … the uncool part, though, we can do without," he said during the car's launch.
Wolf-Henning Scheider, who oversees Robert Bosch's chassis systems unit, agrees with Zetsche's assessment. "There are many situations where you have real fun driving and you want to drive. But there are also driving situations where you think you could use this time for other topics," he said in an interview. "And if you take day-to-day commuting and traffic jam situations, we are convinced there is a market for automated driving functions."
Although many of the pieces to achieve automated driving such as sensors that can control braking, steering, speed and the distance between vehicles are in place in models like the S class, BMW 7 series and Volvo XC60, Scheider says self-driving cars will not be a reality until they are proved "100 percent safe 100 percent of the time."
He said to have fully automatic driving, the car needs redundant sensors. "We need at least two sensors to measure the same thing and then check between them. And there is certainly still some development necessary to have both in place; they are not ready."
Another obstacle to overcome is making sure the system works flawlessly even when rain, snow or other elements reduce the car's ability to see and hear. Scheider said that by using cloud computing, car-to-car infrastructure and different sensor principles, it is possible to overcome the hurdles created by weather and other factors. "But there are many other questions to be answered to bring a fully automatic driving car on the road," he added.