Tablet brings the driver back into the loop

July 23, 2015 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Automated driving promises a more relaxed mobility: Drivers could watch a video, surf the Internet or write e-mails while the sensors and algorithms move the car. But what if a situation occurs that exceeds the capabilities of the electronic chauffeur? Across the industry, the problem of a safe handover from computer to human driver is currently discussed. German aerospace research centre DLR has developed a system that alerts the driver in the case of an emerging problem.

The DLR institute for traffic safety in Braunschweig runs a number of test vehicles and simulators to evaluate and perfect highly automated riving situations. Under the aspects of safety, the driver of an automated vehicle represents the fall-back level. He has the possibility to give up his responsibility temporarily and pursue other activities but he must be able to take the control again. “Though the sensor technology is developing rapidly we must assume for the foreseeable future that there might always occur scenarios in which automated driving hits its limits”, explains professor Karsten Lemmer who leads the institute. Examples for situations the existing technology cannot handle are complex roadworks, snowfall or dense fog. An automated vehicle facing such situations has to return the task of driving timely and comfortably to the person in the driver’s seat.

The DLR researchers investigated the hand-over problem by means of a tablet computer and a driver who surfs the internet during the automated phase of his travel. In this context they focused on the how and when of handing back the control to the driver. “If, for example, the vehicle is approaching roadworks with very narrow lanes, the driver distraction through a mobile device can become a problem”, explains project leader Stephan Lapoehn. In detail, the driver has to stop working with the mobile device and adapt to the situation before he is able to take the control at the steering wheel. Already today, one in four drivers is distracted by using mobile devices while driving. This can have fatal consequences. Therefore, the question is how to bring back the driver into the loop in the fastest and most safe way?

In this context, the researchers connect the mobile device with the vehicle’s driver assistance system. In a simulator study they have developed an interaction strategy that early in a critical situation alerts the driver through an information on the mobile device’s display, blocks