While Austria’s alpine roads have long been famous for hairpin turns and spectacular views, its tamer streets are now in the spotlight, too, thanks to autonomous cars.
Last month, Virtual Vehicle — an R&D center working on vehicles of the future — became the first organization to test an autonomous car on public roads in the central European country. Its car, powered by NVIDIA DRIVE PX, hit the streets for testing and validation — a vital step before taking on the twists and turns of mountain passes.
“In addition to testing in simulated environments, it’s also critical to test on real roads,” said Daniel Watzenig, head of the electronics department at Virtual Vehicle. “Simulation gives you answers to the questions you’ve asked. The real world gives you answers to questions you never thought to ask.”
Open Research Platform
The goal of Virtual Vehicle’s autonomous driving project is to create an open platform for partners, who can add their own sensors and driving algorithms to customize a vehicle’s capabilities.
To integrate the newest research into its platform, Virtual Vehicle works as a bridge between academia and the automotive industry. It employs Ph.D. students, who work with professors and other staff members, to advance autonomous driving research, focusing on sensing and planning.
With these aspects of autonomous driving addressed, automakers can bring self-driving solutions to market faster. Close collaboration with partners is essential to the development process.
“The traditional value chain in the automotive industry has shifted to a digital value chain. It is important for us to work closely with our partners, like NVIDIA, to ensure we collectively build this new value chain in the best possible way,” said Watzenig.
Testing On and Off the Track
Partnerships also help establish robust testing opportunities for autonomous driving. Virtual Vehicle is a shareholder in ALP.Lab — Austrian Light Vehicle Proving Region for Automated Driving — Europe’s most diverse test environment for self-driving cars. A broad consortium of members, including NVIDIA, are participating in this effort.
ALP.Lab features varied test environments for autonomous vehicles, from simulated driving to test tracks to public roads. Highway testing is already underway. Next year, Virtual Vehicle and other ALP.Lab participants will complete test drives through the city of Graz, the second largest city in Austria.
Testing will take full advantage of the country’s unique driving conditions. Planned routes include mountain roads, tunnels and toll stations. The climate also offers varied testing opportunities, with snow in the winter and high temperatures in the summer.
By bringing academic, industry and government partners together, Virtual Vehicle is expediting autonomous vehicle development. Their open platform offers partners a solid foundation for customized development. And their investment in robust testing environments benefits the entire self-driving industry.
Join us at the GPU Technology Conference in Munich, Oct. 10 to 12, to see the Virtual Vehicle autonomous car and meet the team.
Photos courtesy of Virtual Vehicle.