Four years and some Euro 60 million invested into the AKTIV project have resulted in technologies that not only enhance driver safety and convenience, but could also go a long way to improving traffic congestion and CO2 emissions
One of Germany’s most important road safety projects has reached its conclusion. Launched back in September 2006, the declared aim of AKTIV, a four-year research initiative, was to further enhance active road safety, relieve drivers and harmonize traffic flows. Volkswagen was a key partner in the project – sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology – having been involved in many of the initiative’s subprojects.
“Volkswagen has set the goal of developing innovative driver assistance systems for safer and more sustainable mobility,” explains Dr Jürgen Leohold, head of Volkswagen Group Research. “Volkswagen Group Research views AKTIV as one of its flagship projects and we’re striving to transform the project results into production-ready products as quickly as possible.”
Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety (AKTIV-SFR)
In the ‘Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety’ subproject, Volkswagen worked on a system to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Over the past few decades, a great deal of engineering has gone into making new vehicles safer for pedestrians. Specially designed soft bumpers that significantly reduce injuries are one particularly noteworthy passive protection measure.
In addition to these passive measures, Volkswagen has also researched active systems. Using cameras and radar sensors installed on the vehicle, the vehicle constantly monitors its surroundings, paying particular attention to pedestrians and cyclists. The sensors enable unprotected road users and their direction of travel to be detected several meters in front of the vehicle. The installed software then analyzes the situation, determining whether it is serious or could even result in a collision.
If a critical traffic situation such as this is recognized, the vehicle will brake automatically. The objective is to reduce the vehicle’s speed as much as possible to minimize the consequences of the accident or, ideally, to prevent the accident from happening in the first place.
This Volkswagen-developed vehicle goes beyond automatic braking to provide an additional protection system however. If the sensor system detects that one of the front corners of the vehicle is about to collide with a pedestrian, a driver steering recommendation will be activated to avoid the collision. In this case, the driver will feel the steering wheel gently turn to swerve around the pedestrian. Although the driver can override the steering recommendation, following the recommendation will ideally prevent the collision.
Integrated Lateral Assistance (AKTIV-IQF)
Lane Assist is an active lane-keeping assistance system now installed in production vehicles, which reduces the number of accidents caused by unintended lane departure. If the vehicle appears to stray from its lane, Lane Assist will gently counter-steer the vehicle back on course. However, since the system is an assistance system only, the driver can override the steering recommendation at all times.
As part of the Integrated Lateral Assistance subproject, Volkswagen Group Research developed an assistance system that continuously supports the driver in terms of longitudinal and lateral vehicle control. In addition to providing the driver with continuous support, the system’s particular feature is that longitudinal and lateral vehicle control does not work independently of each other. The shared control concept for this system enables the vehicle’s speed to be adapted to the road’s path and the driving situation. GPS tracking and digital map information are applied to generate a predictive vehicle-speed strategy that also takes into account tight bends beyond the surround sensors’ range.
Always looking ahead and continuously working, this assistance system supports drivers at all speeds when driving on motorways and roads in good condition. As the lateral assistance system takes into account objects in the vehicle’s immediate surroundings, it is also available in traffic congestion or when driving through road works.
Driver Awareness and Safety (AKTIV-FSA)
The technical elements in a driver assistance system – sensors, actuators, algorithms – are one part of development. The other part is the driver interface. Is the driver capable of understanding and anticipating intervention by the system? Will the driver lose control of the vehicle if the system does not react correctly?
Volkswagen Group Research tackled these questions in the Driver Awareness and Safety subproject. Based on the Integrated Lateral Assistance system described above, it was analyzed how the development of safety-relevant driver assistance systems can be systematically supported. Research focused on the system’s user-friendliness and controllability as well as potential long-term changes in driver behavior. Relevant scenarios and their influencing factors were compiled and analyzed in order to determine which systems – for example, driving simulator, vehicle in the loop, or real vehicle – would be most suitable for the testing phase. When analyzing the potential of the new assistance systems with regard to gains in safety, it is vital to take a comprehensive view and make sure that the results can be applied to real traffic situations. An empirical study investigating Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) showed that driver assistance systems provide increased convenience and safety even after they have been used for a long period of time.
Situation-Responsive Driving (AKTIV-STAF)
More than 30% of all congestion on the German Autobahn is caused by road works. However, research shows that driving behavior that keeps traffic flowing as smoothly as possible can prevent congestion; for example, this would mean quickly driving through narrow sections of road. Road capacity could generally be increased by about 3% percent if 10% of drivers would exhibit a driving style that allows traffic to flow. This, in turn, would reduce waiting time, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Volkswagen’s Roadworks Pilot is a traffic assistance and information system. It expands the ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) system currently available for production vehicles to include an additional function from the area of traffic management. In order to promote smooth traffic flow through road works, up-to-date information about the route and an appropriate driving strategy are required. The driver is shown information pertaining to the road works ahead in a ‘traffic horizon’, which contains a map preview with traffic information. In order to receive up-to-date traffic information for the area around the road works, onboard systems track the vehicle’s route. Using vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, this information is transmitted to communication installations known as roadside units, which are set up at various points along the road and collect data from passing vehicles. Roadside units analyze vehicle data using an algorithm developed by Volkswagen in order to generate information such as the number of road lanes, their paths, and the precise traffic situation. This information is then transmitted to vehicles following behind in the form of a dynamic local map. At the same time, the Roadworks Pilot implements the driving strategy in the vehicle, providing driving recommendations or automatically controlling distance and speed. There are a number of aspects that make this system particularly innovative. Depending on the traffic situation, the vehicle approaches potential traffic congestion with the appropriate caution. It then passes through the narrowed section of road at constant speed, without changing lanes and at a safe distance from the vehicle ahead to prevent waves of congestion from forming. Finally, the vehicle quickly accelerates back to normal speed at the end of the road works. This enables any congestion present to clear up better.
Overall, what was demonstrated was that driver assistance systems not only enhance safety and convenience, but also help prevent congestion and reduce CO2 emissions.
More on AKTIV
AKTIV stands for ‘Adaptive and cooperative technologies for intelligent transport’ and had an overall budget of Euro 60 million, the majority of which was provided by the research partners. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology contributed Euro 25 million, while the Federal Ministry of Education and Research provided Euro 2.1 million. The research initiative itself was divided into two main projects in which Volkswagen was heavily involved – ‘Assistance Systems/Active Safety’ (AS) and ‘Traffic Management’ (VM). In addition to these main areas, the initiative also includes the project ‘Cooperative Cars’ (CoCar).
With an investment volume of Euro 37.5 million, AS was the largest project within this research initiative. Besides ‘Integrated Lateral Assistance’ (IQF), this project also investigates the four topics of ‘Active Hazard Braking’ (AGB), ‘Intersection Assistance’ (KAS), ‘Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety’ (SFR) and Driver Awareness and Safety (FSA). About Euro 18 million are available in the ‘Traffic Management’ project. In addition to other topics, Situation-Responsive Driving (STAF) was the focus of intensive research in this project.
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