Protecting Roadside Workers with Autonomous Cars

The Technical University of Brunswick is researching how roadside workers can be protected with the help of autonomous vehicles. Andreas Reschka, a researcher at the TU Brunswick and Stanford University, presented last week an approach to that problem in a talk at a Meetup hosted by the Nissan Innovation Outpost in Sunnyvale in Silicon Valley.

For maintenance work at German highways, orange vehicles may be driving on the emergency lane to clean, cut down vegetation, and do repairs. Maintenance vehicles are followed by safety vehicles with large warning signs.

Despite the warnings, accidents happen regularly, and due to the large speed differences (German highways have no speed limits in many parts of highway systems), those accidents are often fatal. Not only the driver of the vehicle causing the accident often dies, but also the driver of the safety vehicle suffers heavy injuries or even dies, because the vehicles often crash into them without braking.

A research group from the TU Brunswick demonstrated a prototype, where the safety vehicle drives autonomously behind the maintenance car. It is started by the driver of the upfront maintenance car, and keeps its distance through radar and ultrasonic sensors. Cameras and GPS help to keep the car on the right side of lane markings. Due to legal reasons in Germany, maintenance vehicles have to stay on the right side of the lane markings.

Currently, construction zone still pose a challenge for driverless cars, because they are not standardized and invalid and temporary lane markings, traffic cones, and signs make recognition of the proper driving behavior difficult to detect for robot cars. As a (temporary) solution companies such as Nissan are considering offering support agents to control driverless cars remotely in such complex driving situations.

This article was also published in German.

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