Conti CEO Degenhart: In future, drivers can watch a movie while sitting behind the wheel(Photo: Arjen Bongard

BOCHUM -- Partially automated driving will be possible in three years, Continental CEO Elmar Degenhart said Tuesday.

The head of the major German automotive supplier said that by 2016 some form of automated driving could start at limited speeds on highways where complexity is limited. Top speed for this form of driving could be 30 kilometers per hour.

In a second phase, which would start in 2020, that top speed would be increased to 60 km/h and more automation would kick in.

Real automated driving on longer stretches of highway could then start around 2025, Degenhart said. "That means the driver could check his email or watch a move, " he told the CAR Symposium here.

Degenhart's comments add to growing expectations that semi-autonomous driving isn't far away. Audi earlier this month showed journalists live tests of its "piloted driving" function and officials said they expected it to be in production cars before the end of the decade.

Such a development would require legal changes, Degenhart said. The US is ahead in this area, but Europe will catch up, he said. "From a technology point of view, it can be done."

Degenhart's views were confirmed by Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson, who said Volvo will offer an enhanced adaptive cruise control system designed to let a car drive indepedently in stop and go traffic. That option would be available next year already.

Volvo, together with Volvo Trucks and other car companies and research institutes has been actively testing road trains, where vehicles follow a lead car autonomously.

"Some people spend one hour a day in traffic jams and such a traffic-jam assistant is a real start," Samuelsson told the CAR Symposium.

The annual conference, which is held for the 13th time in 2013, is hosted by Professor Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, who heads the Center Automotive Research (CAR) of Duisburg-Essen University in western Germany.