Continental engineer Michael Darms with Carnegie Mellon's autonomous car, Boss

Continental engineer Michael Darms with Carnegie Mellon's autonomous car, Boss. Photo by Michael Belfiore.

By Michael Belfiore.

Wired, November 1, 2007.

The question on a lot of people’s minds here at DARPA’s race for driverless cars is “when can I get mine?”

So I went and asked Michael Darms, a Continental Automotive Systems engineer working with Carnegie Mellon’s Tartan Racing team. His answer: A lot sooner than you think.

Robot cars have been Darms’ passion from an early age and his eyes sparkle when he talks about his mission to bring them to the masses. He’s on loan from company headquarters in Germany to work on Tartan Racing’s robot vehicle Boss.

His company is already working on driver assistance systems for next-generation cars. “Imagine you are driving down a highway and the kids scream in the background, and you look back but the sensors continuously monitor the traffic in front of you. The car in front of you slams on the brakes. It’s detected by the sensors and you get a warning. You look forward again. And as soon as you touch the brake, the brakes are applied as hard [as necessary] to avoid the accident or mitigate the accident.”

This so-called extended brake assist and other systems are just around the corner. So far they’re all driver-initiated. “Its not autonomous driving yet,” says Darms. “But with this project we can see that there is much more possible.”

It’s only one step from there to cars that can drive themselves on highways. “Right now it’s not allowed by law to do that,” says Darms. “But in future days we will see that, I’m pretty sure.” And then, says Darms, “You can really relax on your four hour drive.”

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