Autonomous cars: Transport Minister does not believe in a quick breakthrough


For some the idea may be eerie, for others it may be fascinating: Get in the car, key in your destination and then sit back and read, work or just doze off until you arrive. The vehicle steers itself, it regulates the speed, brakes when there are obstacles and maneuvers itself into the parking space.

Autonomous driving promises climate efficiency, comfort and safety – and is no longer a utopia. Car manufacturers and suppliers invest billions in the development of systems that go beyond pure driver assistance. At the last “car summit” in September, the federal government and the industry rushed forward: Germany should take on an international pioneering role in autonomous driving. Regular operation should be possible as early as 2022.

According to the state government, Baden-Württemberg companies have been applying for the most patents relating to autonomous driving worldwide for years. There are several projects in the country. Bosch and Daimler, for example, want to have state-of-the-art cars drive to the parking space and park independently in the parking garage at Stuttgart Airport. In the so-called test field for autonomous driving in the Karlsruhe area, companies and research institutions are testing networked and autonomous driving in normal road traffic. The test field includes all types of public roads: Tempo 30 zones as well as motorway sections.

Baden-Württemberg’s transport minister, Winfried Hermann, strongly doubts that autonomous cars, buses and taxis will be driving us across the board in the next one or two decades. There are not only many unsolved technical problems, but also questions of acceptance. “It’s not like that people long to be driven around in an autonomous car or bus,” said the Green politician of the German press agency. “There is a natural aversion and a natural fear.”

The self-image of the German driver is that of a driver, says Hermann. Anyone who buys an Audi, Daimler or BMW is buying the car in order to drive it. “I think that will be the obstacle in people’s minds when it comes to autonomous driving,” says Hermann. “That many don’t even want that.” The idea that everyone wants to drive autonomously is naive. The industry is countering its previous business model with automation: “Namely, to make everyone the driver of a wonderful car in order to experience driving pleasure.” In addition, it would have taken the Germans about 50 years to accept the automatic transmission instead of the manual transmission. The initial euphoric speeches from the industry were pretty much silent, says Hermann.

At the car manufacturer Daimler you see things a little differently. A Mercedes will always have a steering wheel, says Daimler spokesman Koert Groeneveld. But automation technology offers the freedom to only drive yourself when you want to – and no longer have to drive. “From our point of view this is an ideal world.” But when this ideal world will be accessible to the masses, Daimler does not want to be pinned down. Too many legal and technical questions remain open.

One thing is certain, however: Automated and more and more autonomous driving will come, as Transport Minister Hermann emphasizes. The technical possibilities would have to be used for the traffic turnaround. He hopes that autonomous driving will provide opportunities for climate protection and road safety. “This could improve public transport. These include autonomous shuttle buses in rural areas or commuter buses.” He also sees the potential of the new technology in rail freight transport – but not in the city. “My wish is that automated driving doesn’t make cities car-friendly for the second time.”

From Hermann’s point of view, this also harbors the great danger of traffic being conquered by robot cars – that traffic will not be relieved, as the auto industry once predicted, but would be an additional burden. “Autonomous driving does not automatically reduce traffic on the road,” says Hermann. In his opinion, self-driving vehicles could clog the roads in the country even more. “Your children can then practically drive a car to daycare. And then the car drives back empty. ”


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