Self-driving cars, the newest 5G advancements and the test track in Zalaegerszeg. HVG.hu interviewed Dr Zsolt Szalay, who is the director of Department of Automobiles and Vehicle Manufacturing at Budapest University of Technology and Economics.
Automatization is becoming more and more important in vehicle development. Google and Tesla have been paying much effort into this branch, but Vovlo is also working on an automatic following mechanism. As it is a new and rapidly changing field, Hungary intends to be in the forefront of the competition. That is why a test track for self-driving cars is being constructed in Zalaegerszeg.
According to Dr Zsolt Szalay, we often use the expression “self-driving” car on vehicles that are only partly automatized. There are five levels: the first one is the “zero” type when the person controls the vehicle. The next one is when the vehicle is responsible for controlling speed or steering, but is not able for both at the same time. It is level two in which these both are available at the same time — these are the new Teslas. The responsibility still belongs to the driver in these cases. Level three is when the vehicle has its own responsibilities, but it is aware of its limits and warns the driver occasionally to intervene. Level four is when the driver does not have to intervene at all on the highway. And finally the ultimate level is the autonomous car, which solves everything without human intervention. These are not the same as agricultural technologies, like the self-propelled tractors. These use satellite connection. They just follow paths, but do not detect the environment. “If they encounter an obstacle, they run over it, whether it is a pole or a person”, Dr Szalay states.
The test track in Zala might be a huge step forward in vehicle development. Though the great car producing companies have their own test tracks, they are different in function than the 260 hectares wide Hungarian construction. Hungarian developers added extras that are firsts of their kind. Though we might imagine a test track like, for example, Hungaroring, but these tracks are quite different.
These tracks include wavy roads, cobblestone, slopes, pits and rough terrains. This way the cars can be tested in among wet, slippery and snowy circumstances. But these are just the basics. Smart Test City in Zalaegerszeg will include artificial industrial, residential and office areas. The city itself has also become a test city for the sake of a realistic testing environment. The innovation of the Hungarian track includes a highway track with ramps. Convoys can be tested, where only the leading vehicle has a human driver. A van can be tested in cases when it slides or loses control. A tunnel will also be included, in which the cars’ reaction to changing light conditions can be examined. There will be an area without any cell or satellite connections to test the offline status.
A basic test track is mostly made up from the most simple roads. In opposition to this, the track in Zalaegerszeg contains roads built according to EU standards. It can also be useful for traffic development. Highway R76, for instance, will be a smart highway, which is a novelty right now. These highways will have customizable electronic signs and built-in sensors.
And what if an autonomous car hits you? Lawyers, engineers and researchers are working on the regulations worldwide. The question of responsibility is a critical one. These issues have to be made clear before these cars hit the market. For example, what if a smart car decides to risk the safety of its passengers in order to save a school bus full of children. Was it the right choice? Who is responsible? These questions have to be settled before we use these vehicles.