The high-tech Hungarian proving ground where robot cars get tested


In a driving test on pretend motorway, testers examine how well the emergency brake assistant of the rear car works. — dpa

ZALAEGERSZEG: The Mercedes-Benz is trailing behind a Kia saloon at motorway speed, the distance between the two cars is correct and the atmosphere is relaxed.

The driver and passengers are chatting or listening to music and their thoughts are not on the road ahead.

Suddenly a Ford Fiesta squeezes past into the previously large gap between the two cars and its driver slams on the brakes.

An alarm inside the Mercedes starts beeping and shortly afterwards the car automatically applies the brakes – without the driver having even touched the brake pedal.

The occupants jerk forward but the seat belts arrest the motion and hold their bodies tight. The Mercedes comes to a halt just a few centimetres in front of the Fiesta.

This kind of potentially hazardous unpleasant can happen every day.

Fortunately, the incident was just a test run on a proving ground outside the city of Zalaegerszeg in Hungary. The 265-hectare high-tech test track caters for conventional, electric, and anti-collision tests with automated vehicles.

The “Fiesta” is not what it seems. It is a GST, a “Guided Soft Target” which consists of a white shell in the shape of the small car on a remote-controlled platform with four wheels.

For future tests, a 15-hectare smart city zone will be added to recreate urban scenarios. “Such tests cannot be safely and realistically carried out on public roads; for that we need a closed route,” said Robert Matawa, Head of Testing for Highly Automated Driving at the Tüv Süd testing organisation.

The site is located about 50 kilometres from Lake Balaton and is operated by an Austrian-Hungarian joint venture.

Engineers can carry out dozens of tests using robot cars before the crs venture onto regular roads, said Alexander Kraus.

The head of the technology department at Tüv Süd develops test methods for semi-autonomous Level 3 and Level 4 systems with a team. These include assistance systems that enable cars to drive in fully autonomous mode.

After the emergency stop a gaggle of testers checks the active assistance systems in the Mercedes. Laden with additional monitors, switches and cables in the foot-well, the car is a rolling test laboratory. A computer stores the data on all road incidents.

Engineer Matawa drives off the track, restarts the system and begins another attempt. "We have to make sure that the systems work properly and reliably, so we check them several times over", he said. An emergency brake assistant must not be allowed to fail.

In future, cars in the smart city will simulate everyday traffic, regardless of the weather. Whether it's raining, foggy or snowing, the safety systems must either work reliably or return control of the steering to the driver.

So far, such tests can only be simulated, but not tested practically. although stage is important too. "Results from the simulation can be processed more quickly", said Alexander Kraus.

This data can then be transferred directly to cars via software updates and double-checked. "That way, the road test can be started more quickly and the systems released," he said.

Mercedes-Benz showed a few months ago that things can move more quickly.

The Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) in the United States has granted the manufacturer system approval for Germany and certain routes. With the so-called traffic jam assistant, such cars then follow a vehicle in front up to a speed of 60 km/h and steer and brake independently. – dpa

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