Expert: German cars will be driving themselves in 5 years

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Expert: German cars will be driving themselves in 5 years
An Audi test of autopilot features. Photo: Audi/DPA.

A leading artificial intelligence expert predicts that within the next five years, German cars will only require their drivers to take the wheel occasionally.


German carmakers will soon be entering the market of self-driving vehicles led by the likes of American automaker Tesla, according to Wolfgang Wahlster, director of the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI).

The research centre leader told news agency DPA on Tuesday that German-made cars will be programmed with intelligent autopilot functions that only need a human to steer in certain situations.

With nearly 500 scientists, the DFKI is one of the world’s largest research institutes in artificial intelligence, and has worked with Volkswagen, BMW and Google.

But it will take German car producers a bit longer to offer fully automated cars that require no homo sapien assistance, Wahlster said.

“That will take at least another ten years to gain official approval and acceptance here,” the expert explained.

This is partially because although German research in automated driving is relatively advanced compared to the rest of the world, German licensing authorities are often more strict than American ones, Wahlster said.

And German manufacturers also don’t want to endanger their reputations by too quickly marketing a nascent technology - especially one that continues to make headlines for its occasional flaws.

Last month, a Tesla car on autopilot driving along the Autobahn in northern Germany rammed into the back of a tourist bus.

Der Spiegel reported shortly after that an internal Transport Ministry report found Tesla’s autopilot function to be “a considerable danger for traffic”.

The self-driving feature, introduced by Tesla last October, has also been implicated in a number of other crashes worldwide.

The first fatal crash involving the self-driving system occurred in May in Florida, when a Tesla Model S collided with a semi-truck. The autopilot system did not brake because Tesla said the system did not notice the white side of the larger vehicle against the bright sky.

Consumer activists have demanded that Tesla, founded by PayPal billionaire Elon Musk, disable the self-driving feature until the cars can detect if a driver's hands are on the steering wheel, which the company says should be the case at all times.

Germany has been testing out self-driving technology itself, reserving a section of the Autobahn in Bavaria to experiment with fully-automated cars.


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