Software puts cars in control

A communications network that links cars travelling close to each other could help prevent accidents by taking control from drivers and letting the vehicles synchronise their own response, say German researchers.

The system is based on so-called 'cognitive automobiles' that are able to form ad hoc networks with their neighbours. The vehicles are equipped with car to car communication and integrated sensors such as cameras, GPS and radar systems so that they can autonomously recognise their surroundings and avoid any potential obstacles.

Engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing IITB in Karlsruhe and at Karlsruhe University's chair for interactive real-time systems have taken the approach a step further by creating software that lets the vehicles travelling in the same direction and in radio range of one another from cooperative groups that can act in unison.

Since their speeds and destinations vary, they are constantly re-grouped. Every vehicle in a group automatically transmits its current position and driving situation to a car that has been designated as the group coordinator. This car gathers the information from all the other cars in its group and draws up a common relevant picture of the group's situation.

If there's a sudden danger, such as a child running onto the road, it's recognised not only by the car directly affected but also by the group coordinator. If the car in question can neither brake nor swerve because there is another car on the lane to the right, the group coordinator steps in. It orders both vehicles to swerve to the right in a coordinated manoeuvre in order to avoid an accident with the child and a collision with one another. Unlike in current driver assistance systems, such as the anti-lock braking system, control of the car is taken over automatically.

"In dangerous situations, the cars can independently perform coordinated manoeuvres without their drivers having to intervene. In this way, they can quickly and safely avoid one another," explains researcher Thomas Batz.

The group formation function has already been implemented, and the researchers are now improving its ability to recognise and assess dangerous situations and to choose an appropriate response.

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