“Self-driving vehicles to revolutionize our mobility by 2030”

News - 15 June 2017

The expectations concerning automated driving are running high. Some 95 percent of the technology is ready but ‘the last percentages are the hardest’, Professor Dariu Gavrila is to state on Friday 23 June in his inaugural address at TU Delft. Most of the scientific challenges lie in the complexities of urban traffic and in dealing with cyclists and pedestrians. How to recognize intent of other road users and how to drive in a socially acceptable way in human-inhabited environments will be the key research problems that TU Delft’s new Intelligent Vehicles group will address.

‘Every year, about 1.2 million people die in traffic accidents worldwide. More than 90 per cent of these deaths are attributable to driver error. Introducing self-driving vehicles can prevent these errors,’ Professor Dariu Gavrila of the TU Delft 3mE faculty will claim in his inaugural address. ‘In addition, you will be able to make better use of the time you currently spend driving your car – being productive, communicating, or indeed just relaxing. Sharing driver-less cars could also result in greater traffic efficiency, with fewer vehicles. This means that the space which is now used for parking could be redesignated in order to make towns and cities more liveable.’

Last few percentage points

The technology for self-driving vehicles is 95 percent ready, says Professor Gavrila, who spent twenty years working in the R&D division of Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz. ‘As is so often the case, those last few percentage points are the hardest to cover. From a scientific perspective, the highway scenario is largely resolved – the first self-driving cars (with limited functionality) are already on the market. However, urban traffic is a different matter. That scenario is much more complex because of the crossing traffic, unclear street markings, the numerous traffic signs and traffic lights, and the proximity of other road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.’

Interaction and anticipation

An area where present-day self-driving vehicles have difficulty is their interaction with other – conventional – road users. Vehicles have to be able to anticipate – to recognise the intentions of others in time in order to be able to respond accordingly. Otherwise, vehicles will have to operate excessively cautiously. ‘In principle, you could allow a self-driving car to move in Amsterdam without a driver, but it would have to drive at 5 km/h and stop for everything,’ says Gavrila. ‘That would not be a driving style that is socially acceptable.’

Machine learning techniques using big data can figure out what road users look like and how they generally behave, and thus can help to better assess traffic situations. Conversely, driverless cars would have to indicate their intentions to those around them in an intuitive way. Furthermore, self-driving vehicles will have to operate in a way that is comfortable for their occupants. ‘These are precisely the issues that our new Intelligent Vehicles group at TU Delft is working on,’ explains Gavrila.

View from inside the Intelligent Vehicle demonstrator of TU Delft - Intention recognition of other road users is key

Market introduction

There is no simple answer to the question “when will we see self-driving cars?” First of all, it depends on the interpretation of ‘self-driving’. For example, will people have the role of ‘back-up’ driver in the event of emergencies? How versatile is the area in which self-driving functionality is being offered? Under what conditions will the system work (weather, day/night)? What driving conditions will be possible (speed, free or only behind a lead vehicle) and what support will be needed from the infrastructure? As well as technological issues, there are still unresolved matters regarding amendments to and harmonisation of legislation. ‘Ultimately, it will be customer acceptance and trust that will be the deciding factor,’ says Gavrila. ‘The introduction of self-driving vehicles will therefore be a phased process.’

Professor Gavrila expects that by 2020 self-driving vehicles on highways will enable drivers to keep their eyes off the road for prolonged periods of time, at speeds of 100 km/h and higher. This would allow drivers to use their smartphones, for example. There are currently already hundreds of Waymo (Google) and Uber cars operating as ‘robot taxis’ in the streets of Pittsburgh and Phoenix in the US – although they still require back-up drivers. The first large-scale tests without back-up drivers will be take place within the next 2-3 years in simplified conditions. Gavrila expects that it will take at least till 2030 before robot taxis – safer than manually driven cars yet with a ‘socially acceptable’ driving style - will be widespread in cities like Amsterdam. ‘By that time, self-driving vehicles will have revolutionized our mobility.’

Opening of the RADD lab with demo

Professor Gavrila’s inaugural address on Friday 23 June will be followed on Tuesday 27 June by another event at TU Delft at which self-driving vehicles will be the centre of attention. This concerns the opening of the Researchlab Automated Driving Delft (RADD) in The Green Village on the TU Delft campus. The lab will offer extensive scope for experiments involving automated driving. The opening of the lab will be performed by Melanie Schultz van Haegen, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment.

More information

Inaugural address by Professor Dariu Gavrila: ‘The Intelligent Vehicles (R)evolution’

Date: Friday 23 June 2017, at 15.00

Venue: TU Delft Aula conference centre

The inaugural address can be followed live or viewed later, via Collegerama TU Delft

More information on the Intelligent Vehicles research group

Contact information:

Ilona van den Brink, TU Delft press office: i.vandenbrink@tudelft, +31 15 2784259