Innovative car maker Volkswagen has just brought us that much closer to a driving experience in which we don’t actually have to drive. Their “Temporary Auto Pilot” (TAP) semi-autonomously controls the car up to 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph). TAP combines two driver assistance systems already in use into a single comprehensive function: adaptive cruise control, which automatically adjusts car speed to maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you, and lane assist which uses sensors to keep you from veering from your lane.
TAP’s “Pilot Mode” will drive at a speed specified by the driver. In addition to changing speeds to avoid fender-benders, TAP slows down before bends in the road and even pays attention to speed limits and passing rules. City slickers will be especially appreciative of the automated stop and start maneuvers during traffic jams. TAP’s sensor system is based on a platform that includes camera-, radar-, and ultrasonic-based sensors augmented with a laser scanner and an electronic horizon.
Volkswagen unveiled their TAP technology at the HAVEit (“Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport”) Final Event last month at the Volvo Proving Ground in Hällered, Sweden. Dr. Jürgen Leohold, Executive Director of Volkswagen Group Research, presented the technology. Quoted in Volkswagen’s press release, Dr. Leohold stressed, “Above all, what we achieved today is an important milestone on the path towards accident-free car driving.” TAP isn’t meant to allow the driver to kick back, watch a movie or take a nap (we will have those cars someday, but TAP’s not it). It’s meant to prevent accidents caused by inattentive drivers. Of course, that guy who sends text messages while driving is going to be even more likely to do so once he gets behind the wheel of a TAP car. But for the rest of us responsible drivers, TAP will not only make driving safer but more energy-efficient as well.
TAP’s semi-automatic systems link today’s assistance systems with Volkswagen’s larger vision of fully automated driving. In collaboration with Stanford University, the car giant established the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Lab (VAIL) to develop driverless vehicle technology. You’ve probably heard of Stanley’s race to Pike’s Peak or Junior’s parking theatrics. Although not fully-automated, TAP will probably do more to get robotic cars on the road than the growing number of driverless demonstrations. As we’ve emphasized in the past, the technological barriers to getting robotic cars on the road pale in comparison to the political barriers. People aren’t going to let go of the steering wheel and put their lives in the hands of a machine that easily. TAP provides an opportunity for people to adjust gradually to the idea, to get used to sitting back and realizing that the car will turn and slow down and brake when it’s supposed to.
Volkswagon doesn’t mention when TAP cars will be made available or how much they’ll cost. For those lucky enough to have one, the TAP cars are already going to feel fully-automated. Not that I can afford even a TAP-less Audi at the moment, but I’d love to sit back on the Jersey Pike, put on some tunes, and watch the world go by without a lane-changing care in the world.