VW TAP.automotiveIT

VW’s automatic pilot can perform all functions, but a human driver can take over any time (Photo: VW)

Volkswagen has developed technology that allows hands-free driving at speeds of 130 kilometers/hour.

The German carmaker, which showed the technology in final presentations for a European research project, said it represents a link between today's assistance systems and fully automatic driving.

It also said the system is built on components that are similar to those used in cars today. These include a sensor platform with production-level radar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors as well as laser scanners and elecronic horizons.

"What we have achieved today is an important milestone on the path towards accident-free car driving," said Juergen Leohold, head of VW group research. He presented the technology at a meeting of HAVEit, a European-Union sponsored research project aimed at developing Highly Automoted Vehicles for Intelligent Transport.

In VW's system, a temporary auto pilot (TAP) takes over the car and carries out all functions otherwise performed by a driver. These include slowing down before turns, maintaining a safe distance to a vehicle ahead and abiding by speed limits. VW said the system shows how technology can contribute to safer driving.

But even when TAP is activated, it continues to be monitored by the driver at all times. "The driver always retains driving responsibility and is always in control," Leohold said in a press release. He added that drivers can override or deactivate the system at any time.

The industry is debating whether and when autonomous driving will become a standard feature. Bernd Bohr, head of automotive operations at German supplier Robert Bosch said earlier this month that "over the next 20 years, technical advances will lead to autonomous driving.”

Leohold said VW's technology could find a purpose in monotonous driving situations such as traffic jams or on roads that have speed limits for longer stretches.

HAVEit was set up in February 2008 to develop research concepts and technologies for highly automated driving. It has 17 European partners from the auto industry and the scientific community. The industry has contributed 11 million euros, while an EU grant provided 17 million euros.

Participating automotive companies are Continental, Volvo Technology AB, Volkswagen AG, EFKON AG, Sick AG, Haldex Brake Products AB, Knowllence and Explinovo GmbH.