Automakers and technology companies, such as Internet search giant Google Inc., have kickstarted an amazing race to become the first in producing the upcoming driverless cars.
But, as with any new and untouched segment, the exploration quest has been hindered by unexpected snags. For example, the German automakers that entered the race have found it difficult to test the vehicles – their country’s laws currently impose limits on testing self-driving cars on public roads. And that comes in an effort to develop automobiles that are at least 10 times more complex than a fighter jet when it comes to onboard software. The automakers are now growing impatient, seeing how this could allow US rival Google to jump ahead in software development, especially the area that governs the needed reflexes to deal with real-life traffic situations. We are currently testing at our research facilities, some of them in the United States. The question is: do we only test these cars on public roads in the United States or can we also do it in Germany. Not enough has been done,” comments VW CEO Martin Winterkorn.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi have prototypes of autonomous vehicles undergoing road testing on German streets, but there is no legal frame for one of the most important safety features – giving back control of the car to a distracted driver. Dragging parallels to the aircraft industry, which has had more than four decades of experience when dealing with vehicles that can be ran by computers, shows the importance of having a thorough verification of software. Even today, projects such as Lockheed Martin’s $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, started back in 2001, are held back by software trouble, even as the company has for example no less than 500 software engineers.