The automotive industry faces up to the new challenges brought about by the rapid development of various new technologies. Industry 4.0 asks for Logistics 4.0 and they together need Transport 4.0 represented by electric drive and intelligent autonomous cars. For several years now, they are not just hot designers’ ideas but more and more they become tasks for current production. Last week, journalists in the Czech Republic could hear about these trends from Johannes Reifenrath, Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Product Strategy and Planning.
“Intelligence and connectivity are important elements of new vehicles,” stressed Johannes Reifenrath in his speech. According to his word, autonomous vehicles of the near future will not only plan a trip or stop in the driver’s favourite refreshment, but the sensors on the steering wheel will especially diagnose driver’s current state of health and adjust the itinerary so that the ride is safer and more comfortable. For example, if the vehicle finds out that the driver is tired, it will suggest how to solve such situation by relaxing at the nearest suitable location. Of course, the vehicle will communicate with the driver – and the driver with the vehicle – in the most natural way, i.e. the human language.
However, the development of autonomous driving systems must address some rather difficult problems. People can distinguish what’s important and not important in particular situation, they can predict the development of complex traffic events on the road. They can monitor traffic and watch what is happening on the sidewalk and how it will be related to driving the vehicle in the next few seconds. The machine needs to learn these difficult, complex tasks as well.
“The autonomous vehicle must be able to interconnect the information in order to to drive safely even under the most difficult conditions. For example in cities with many vehicles of varying sizes, pedestrian crossings, light signals, people moving on the road, and even crossing to red lights and many other things. Can autonomous driving system solve such situations better than a human? – But if the human mind is really better in driving, why are there so many traffic accidents?” asked Johannes Reifenrath.
A big today’s topic is electromobility. Many manufacturers already announced that they are going in that direction. The electric motor has a number of advantages over the combustion engine, but the problem remains with the battery, especially its capacity, charging speed and also considerable weight. Charging requires a special system and takes some time. Therefore, the due infrastructure needs to be built up, and this will lead to the dramatic development of electromobility.
“They say the combustion engines are on the run. Nevertheless, I do not think so; these engines will be with us in the future. There are also hybrid propulsion systems combining the benefits of an internal combustion engine and an electric drive. With the hybrid car, people will not have to solve if where they are allowed to drive with a particular vehicle. Because in the city centres the combustion engines will be forbidden soon, so they will simply switch to electric drive while on the highway the internal combustion engine will show its advantages,” said Johannes Reifenrath.
He stressed that there are also legal and ethical problems. Autonomous vehicles cannot violate traffic regulations. But how will they coexist in the same space with standard vehicles, will they need reserved lanes? “There are a number of questions and we are only gradually looking for answers,” Johannes Reifenrath said at the end of his lecture.
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