Making self-driving cars is one thing, but allowing them on the roads in large numbers is something else.
TU Delft has two automatic vehicles. One is in the 3mE faculty and the other in Civil Engineering and Geosciences (CEG). It is the latter faculty is where Professor Bart van Arem works. In addition to being Director of the TU Delft Transport Institute, he is co-founder of the Dutch Automated Vehicle Initiative (DAVI). DAVI aims to promote automatic driving on the road, in order to learn from it.
TU Delft is currently in the process of developing the sensors for its two automatic vehicles, two Toyota Priuses, Van Arem explains. They will take to the road later this year. “Initially, they will have drivers, in order to test whether the vehicles can effectively recognise the world around them. We can then go on to test automatic acceleration, braking and steering.”
The problem is not the automatic driving itself, since the software for that is built in. The problem is that robot vehicles need to anticipate the unexpected. That requires very accurate positioning. The car also has to know what traffic regulations apply and which users and conditions there are on the road. “We will be driving through a digital cloud”, Van Arem predicts.
In order to gain insight into other road users, he and his colleagues are conducting a range of practical tests: When is it necessary to switch to manual steering? How do drivers behave when following other vehicles or changing lanes? How do pedestrians and cyclists respond to a robot vehicle? “I expect that cyclists and pedestrians will get used to them and anticipate accordingly.”
Van Arem is in charge of a major research project on the spatial and mobility impact of self-driving cars. They will bring about a complete change to how the Netherlands is organised spatially, the professor argues. “People will be more likely to buy a house in Limburg, because they can work in their car while on their way to the Randstad.” Van Arem expects this to be possible in ten to fifteen years, on specially protected roads.”