Electric pilots make narrow construction sites safer
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The fast lane is always narrowed in construction sites. Anyone who gets between the boundary and a truck there can work up a sweat.
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An ultrasonic sensor is installed in the rear fender of a BMW, which calculates the lateral distance.
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A laser scanner works in a forward-facing direction in the BMW, the data of which enables the events to be calculated in advance in real time. A warning then appears in the head-up display.
L.Inks the guardrail, on the right it’s only a hair’s breadth past a truck and from behind a nudger who absolutely wants to overtake: Everyday life in Germany’s motorway construction sites. Car drivers are wedged between trucks and concrete. Fear goes with you, because any wrong steering movement in the narrow lanes can cause a serious accident.
There are currently around 1000 such danger zones in the German trunk road network. On the A1 alone, drivers have to squeeze through the bottleneck of a construction site every 5.5 kilometers on average. The risk of accidents here is twice as high as on the open road, says the ADAC.
The car manufacturers want to change that: Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW are working on electronic systems that should guide drivers safely through construction site areas. In Stuttgart the invention is called 6D-Vision. Behind this is the next generation of driver assistance systems, which are already observing what is happening in front of the car with radar and cameras.
But while today’s assistants only recognize that a car is driving ahead, 6D-Vision also records its movements and can even calculate in advance where it will be in the next few seconds. This is intended to make dangerous situations predictable. “The central idea is to look longer and follow interesting objects over a certain period of time,” says Daimler researcher Uwe Franke, explaining the principle of spatio-temporal image analysis.
For example, the system locates a truck in the right-hand lane on a motorway construction site and uses its movement behavior to calculate how it will drive in the next few seconds. If the driver slowly drifts towards the center of the lane and is on a collision course, the system warns the driver of overtaking.
But even when there is no truck in sight, 6D-Vision supports the driver in narrow construction site areas and helps him to stay in the lane. Because, unlike previous lane keeping assistants, which only use the markings on the road surface for orientation, the Daimler system also recognizes red and white beacons, pylons and warning signs as delimitations of the lanes. In the future, predictive lane warning should be possible because the technology recognizes earlier than before when the driver is steering the car offside. Some automotive researchers even believe that "semi-autonomous lane keeping" can be achieved with motion analysis. Then the driver could let go of the steering wheel while his car is automatically steered through the construction site.
For the new system, the Daimler engineers are using everything that is currently known in the automotive sector as sensors: cameras, radar and lasers. Two video cameras on the inside of the windshield observe the traffic situation in stereo mode so that your images can be spatially analyzed.
In this way, the imaging system takes a bearing on the truck in front, for example, and detects it as a large number of individual pixels, each of which is in motion. Then the image points are tracked over a certain period of time and the probable direction of movement of the truck is calculated in advance.
The Stuttgart-based company does not yet want to reveal when the construction site assistant based on 6D Vision will go into series production. But Uwe Franke leaves no doubt that this technology is on the advance: "We are convinced that the principle of stereo vision will prevail in the intelligent vehicles of the future."
At BMW, too, the researchers are working on a “bottleneck assistant”. However, it cannot look into the future and calculate the movement behavior of other cars in advance, but rather relies on real-time data from a forward-facing laser scanner. Together with ultrasonic sensors that calculate the lateral distance, the system generates an overall picture of the situation around the BMW and shows the driver, for example, in construction site areas, whether it is safe to drive past a truck. The assistant remains active even while overtaking and warns if it suddenly becomes too tight. The driver receives the information via a head-up display, which is projected onto the windshield.
“Construction sites are traffic jams,” they say at Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, which is why they are developing an electronic guide to guide motorists safely through the construction areas without congestion. The system is networked with cruise control and radar distance control, but the VW researchers are not satisfied with the sensors in the front of the car to look ahead.
They want to know how many lanes are available three to four kilometers from a construction site, what the lane looks like and at what speed the traffic is flowing. To do this, they use modern radio technology with which all new cars should be equipped in the future: vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The whole thing works like a relay race: If there is a risk of traffic jams or an accident, one car sends the warning, another receives it, evaluates the data and forwards it to other vehicles – "silent mail" by electronic means.
Volkswagen also wants to integrate radio stations into this network, which are specially set up on construction sites and monitor the flow of traffic. Every motorway construction site has its own transmitter that continuously broadcasts information about what is happening on the road. Cars use this data, brake in good time before the construction site and adjust their speed to the flow of traffic. Drivers can see on a three-dimensional image in the cockpit display what to expect when they reach the construction site and which lane is the best for them to use. “In this way we can increase the capacity of the streets and avoid traffic jams in front of the construction sites,” says VW researcher Florian Kranke, naming the most important advantages of the system.
Motorway construction sites without traffic jams – if that succeeds, the VW pilot would be an invention of national importance and could help save a lot of money. Because currently the construction site traffic jams cost the economy according to ADAC calculation around 37 billion euros – annually.
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