What’s been the hardest thing to overcome? Not the actual driving per se, says Herrtwich. “What’s hard is the environment perception - it’s amazingly difficult to read traffic lights, to figure out which one among many is the one that actually applies to you. Also proper positioning of the car in the road. We thought GPS would be able to do more than it can. Also the system is bad at social interaction. If it detects a pedestrian near a crossing it stops. If the pedestrian waves it on, it just stands there.”
Surely the software struggles to predict other drivers’ paths? “Well, our system has the advantage of sometimes detecting a vehicle before we humans see it. The system has a predictive algorithm on top and a separate set of underlying emergency reactions.”
Herrtwich says autonomous driving is allowed in the legal framework we now have, the 1968 Vienna Convention. It says the driver must be “in control”, and since there’s a driver at the wheel one could argue he or she is in control, even if asleep or surfing the web. But an unambiguous amendment is due in two or three years, he says.