Autonomous Driving (1998)

What follows is a partial transcript of BBC´s Tomorrow´s World television program, with Peter Snow, dedicated to this subject and broadcasted Fall 1998.

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If you have ever been stuck in a slow-moving tailback, the chances are, you have probably wished you can just take your hands off the wheel, put your feet up and let the car take the strain. Well, a German car manufacturer has developed a system, that claims it can do just that ... and I have been doing a test drive.


It is not just Britain that has traffic problems, Germany has its fair share too. I must say that I find it tiring and very frustrating.

Article on the Chamfer System


Well, I have had enough of this! I am now sitting in front of a special prototype car, which if I click this switch up here, will drive itself. It is now taking control, hands off, feet off, the steering wheel is steering itself, the brakes are operating themselves, the accelerator is deciding whether to go fast or slow in some magic way, deciding whether the road is clear or not ... and I am sitting back here ... sort of relaxing.


It´s extraordinary! The manufacturers are developing this system, which they claim will ease the stress of urban traffic, by allowing you to relax as the car drives itself - a sort of cruise control for the city.


So here is how it actually works. What the car actually does, it locks on to the car in front, and behaves in  exactly same way as the car in front is behaving. So, there is a car in front - it´s actually a grey car, but it registers on my screen as a big red car - and I know when I see that red car on my screen there, I can lock on.

Article on the Chamfer System


I am now locked on, my hands are off, my feet are off, it is driving copying exactly what the car in front is doing, slowing down when the car in front is slowing down, accelerating when it goes faster.


The secret is these cameras attached to the windscreen. They are ordinary cameras, but the images they are receiving are being analyzed by a computer inside the car. The computer can pick out an image in front of the car, enabling the car instantly to lock on any object you choose - it can be another car or, in this case, a poor pedestrian like me. And because the two cameras work in stereo, the computer can calculate how far away the car is from me and will automatically work out how to keep me at a safe distance. So, no matter what I do, I am in no danger of being hit!

Article on the Chamfer System


So how does it actually feel like to drive? First impressions are quite favorable - very relaxing way of driving. I can feel quite comfortable that I can look away from the driving position because the car is driving itself really quite safely.

Now another feature of this remarkable car is that it can give me warnings of what is coming up, for example, there is a traffic light coming up. Traffic light, red, distance 23 meter. Red traffic light, so I stop, yep, traffic light is there. [...] This is one of the extra safety features put in to help keep the driver from relaxing too much.


And a major advance: a system to give drivers an audible warning of any pedestrians that may be in their path, giving them that bit of extra time to brake.

I am feeling pretty brave, so I´ll put the system to the test ...

More on
pedestrian detection.


[Braking sound]

Hmm, seems to work!

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