50 years of driverless vehicles

50 years of driverless vehicles


Autonomous driving… in 2018 this dream is within reach. A dream that began 50 years ago… Here, at the Contidrom in the southern heath of Lower Saxony. On September 11th, 1968, Continental presented a driverless world premiere: The first electronically controlled car. They were there at the time: Former Continental engineers Herbert Ulsamer, Hans-Jürgen Meyer and Klaus Weber. 50 years later, there’s more than just a reunion with the legendary “Strich 8″… Just like old times! The Cruising Chauffeur also offers an exciting look into the future of mobility. Back then, we never even dreamed of this! But, back to the beginning. Tire test, test series R60, K5. Task: Abrasion testing. In the 60s, nobody was thinking about autonomous driving. Rather, Continental was looking for a way to improve its tire tests. The challenge: Inaccuracies of human drivers could easily falsify the measurement results. The aim: Make the driver superfluous… That was the first thing people got to see: A car is driving and nobody’s in it. As if it was on rails. In this case, the “rails” are a wire fixed in the middle of the lane. When charged with electricity, it generates a magnetic field. Measuring coils on the car registered when the vehicle moved away from the wire, for example, due to a sudden crosswind. Then, a servo motor moved the steering wheel to keep the car on track. You had to drive it onto the wire, then you got out, maybe waved. Then, it could start. And then it released the brake it was an automatic – and it drove away. This was made possible by powerful electronics in the boot. The compressor went there. Did it fit underneath? – Yes, it was under it. Well, the box was already this big. The control station could control accelerator and brake pedals, lights and horn remotely. At the time, one of the tasks of Hans-Jürgen Meyer. Every boy used to have a train set, which was also operated from a control panel. And that’s how it was with the car. For the guests who came here it was a great thing. They were amazed, some shrieked with delight and it was photographed endlessly. But not everything worked right away… Especially at the beginning, the young engineers still needed a lot of inventive spirit… I put the car on the wire and let it go and whoops… it went off course. The car didn’t play along. So, there I was. But, in the boot was the electronics, a big box with loads of buttons and we also know a bit about the control technology, PID controllers and and and… with several buttons… So, I went and really empirically turned the buttons until the car drove along the circuit and didn’t go off course. The press and television were enthusiastic about the driverless “ghost car”, as it was often called. More than 400 media, including the Tagesschau, reported on this ground-breaking project. Half a century later: At Continental’s invitation, a meeting of the generations takes place. A meeting not only of old and new vehicle technology, but also the know-how of then and now. Dennis Scholl is – like Herbert Ulsamer before him a test engineer at Continental and has been involved in the development of the Cruising Chauffeur right from the start. Naturally, the exciting thing is: We’re doing something completely new. This has never before been mass-produced in the automotive industry. They’re all in the race right now, who gets it first, who does it, how do you do it. While the 1968 electronically controlled car could only drive automatically along a wire on the test track, the Cruising Chauffeur as a test vehicle is now able to drive highly automated on motorways, including lane changes and overtaking maneuvers. Prior to series production it is always supervised by a test engineer The 8-series was already in a class of its own and with the electronic control via the wire it was phenomenal. But what this vehicle has shown me over the last few kilometers really is impressive. This is a development that we could not have imagined at that time. The Cruising Chauffeur is equipped with numerous sensors, with whose help it can perceive its environment. But that alone is not enough to replace the driver. The hard part is, of course: A person learns. We all went to driving school and we continued practicing for a long time after. In principle, we are currently going through this learning process with the vehicle. We are teaching the vehicle more and more exactly how it has to behave. And this is how the Cruising Chauffeur is being continuously developed further. In the near future, it should also be able to find its way on country roads and in city traffic. Another big step on the way to autonomous driving… As a technician, I always see this as a challenge. That you don’t stop at the one point where you are right now. You always try to optimize something. Otherwise, we would not have landed on the moon if the technicians hadn’t continued developing and had visions of the future. The meeting of the generations at the Contidrom an exciting look back at the 50-year history of driverless motoring and into the future Thanks very much! – You’re welcome!

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