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Continental gets OK to test autonomous vehicles in Nevada

Car will carry a special red license plate for easy recognition.

By Douglas Newcomb Dec 20, 2012 12:00PM

Continental's Google gets all the headlines for its autonomous-driving vehicles, but automakers and suppliers have been working on the technology for decades. Google has also been aggressively lobbying lawmakers to allow autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roads -- and it's been successful in California and Nevada

Google was the first company to get an autonomous-vehicle license in Nevada. Now automotive supplier Continental is the second -- and the first company in the auto industry to do so.


Continental received approval Wednesday from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s public roads, with the testing license for the company’s “highly automated vehicle” to soon follow. The Nevada DMV’s Autonomous Review Committee approved Continental’s safety plans, employee training, system functions and accident reporting mechanisms after the company completed driving demonstrations Dec. 18 in Carson City.


Upon final approval, Continental will receive its testing license -- and a special red license plate with an infinity sign that represents “the car of the future” and is used only for licensed autonomous test vehicles. The unique license plate is “designed to be easily recognized by law enforcement and the public at large,” Continental noted in a press release.


Continental’s autonomous vehicle -- what appears to be a European-spec VW Passat -- is designed to always have a human driver keeping tab on the self-driving technology from behind the wheel. Continental noted that the car’s autonomous-driving technology is “designed as a driver assist system” and that “the automated vehicle can accommodate multiple driving scenarios.”


The car uses four short-range radar sensors -- two at the front, two at the rear -- one long-range radar sensor and a stereo camera and “is capable of cruising down an open freeway as well as negotiating heavy rush-hour traffic,” according to Continental. It also employs Continental’s “sensor fusion technology” to track all objects as they enter a sensor's field of view. Object information is processed and then dispatched to a Motion Domain Controller that manages the vehicle’s longitudinal and lateral motion based on signals sent to the engine, the brakes and the steering system.


Continental said the equipment on its car “differs from the customized sensors and tailor-made actuators in other automated vehicles” (read: Google’s self-driving Toyota and Lexus vehicles). Although Continental’s automated vehicle has logged only 15,000 miles, compared with more than 300,000 miles for Google’s fleet, the company says that it’s built mostly with equipment that’s currently available on production vehicles.


Continental added that although the technology is viable for testing, it’s not yet ready for the consumer market and that its highly automated vehicle is “an intermediate step toward” self-driving cars. The company plans to continue real-world evaluations with the vehicle and predicts that a model like it featuring a traffic-jam assist feature will be available within the next few years.


Continental said in a statement that although its “short term goal is to relieve the driver of tedious and monotonous activities, such as driving on highways with minimal traffic or in low-speed situations like traffic jams,” its highly automated vehicle also “brings us closer to achieving the company’s Vision Zero -- the goal of reaching zero accidents and zero fatalities on the roadways.”


[Source: Wired Autopia]

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