The robot cars are coming. But initially not for private customers, says Bosch. The supplier will start a large practical test together with Daimler in the second half of the year.
SP-X / Berlin. Autonomous driving is one of the mega-trends in the mobility sector. The technology is well developed, the first field trials are underway. The German industry giants Bosch and Daimler will soon start the practical phase. In San Jose, California, they are offering a Robotaxi service together this year.
For Dirk Hoheisel, a member of the Bosch management board, the robot car is above all an answer to the traffic problems in the cities - especially in the megacities in Asia. "We need concepts that help prevent and improve traffic." In addition to car sharing and public transport, he sees robotic cars as part of a possible solution. Because they improve the flow of traffic, can be ordered as required and do not require a parking space, since they are 24 hours a day. From the second half of the year, his company plans to gain experience in the new mobility field together with Daimler in the United States. The Swabian alliance will then encounter competition services from Google subsidiary Waymo and General Motors, among others.
A so-called ride-hailing service is planned in the city of San José in Greater San Francisco, as Uber currently already offers with human drivers. The cars are ordered by app, the communication of the destination and the payment is made by mobile phone. Initially, however, this should only be made possible for selected customers; the two companies first want to gain experience with the new technology. During the pilot project, the test drives are only carried out with trained drivers and an additional system engineer on board the vehicle. The driver ensures the safety of the vehicle and can intervene in an emergency, the system engineer - or the so-called operator - starts the system and monitors it. Specially converted Mercedes S-Class models with autonomy technology at level 4 / 5 are used as vehicles.
The technology is not yet ready for series production for the private customer market. "Bosch is currently providing systems for partially automated (Level 2) and soon also for highly automated driving (Level 3)," explains Hoheisel. With these systems, the driver can occasionally take his hands off the handlebars for a short time because the system partially monitors the driving environment. Real robot cars are only spoken at level 4 to 5, i.e. fully automated and driverless driving. The technology required in both cases is very similar, according to Hoheisel: "For fully automated vehicles, significantly more technology is required, for example laser scanners and significantly higher computing power." That would not be a viable option for the mass market - the vehicles would simply be too expensive. However, because such a vehicle can do without a driver and can be used around the clock and seven days a week, the cost-benefit calculation in commercial use looks much better.
But sensor technology, safety systems and drive alone do not provide a functioning robot taxi service. “We want to understand what users want. Is it predominantly older or younger people who use these vehicles and the associated service? How is the service accepted? "Says Hoheisel. Does the new mobility concept work on paper, but also in road traffic? That's another reason why manufacturers are investing in expensive field tests.
The budget for the development of automated driving is gigantic. Around 5.000 people work on this topic at Bosch alone. The company will invest around four billion euros in the robot car by 2022. “Not only people, but also goods can be transported automatically. There will certainly be a lot of interesting business models on this path, ”said Hoheisel. In his opinion, however, we will have to wait a little longer until autonomous driving is a matter of course in road traffic. Even if the technology is now known and partly also available. Because there are also legal hurdles: functions for which the driver no longer has to monitor the system are currently not yet approved for road traffic.
Klaus Lockschen / SP-X