Plans of pioneers: how students see the future of driverless cars
Technology and Business
Kempten has become a hub for budding car engineers. The university’s ADAS masters is the only of its kind in the world. Six of its students tell us why they are fascinated by automated driving, what they expect of future employers and how the fun of cruising will change with autonomous cars.
- The students are driven by (a) technological curiosity and the desire for a challenge to (b) improve the life of others by making car journeys more efficient, more convenient and safer. And they are (c) keen to express themselves and make a difference, moving mobility into a new era to be able to say one day: “I helped build this car and contributed to a tech-revolution.”
- Even in fully autonomous cars the students would still like to have a steering wheel and pedals. Driving would be even more fun if people could choose between driving themselves on attractive routes and being driven when they get tired or stuck in traffic.
- In their future jobs the students hope to work on a broad range of topics in open-minded, friendly teams with a mix of experts from different fields. This range of activities should extend to flexibility in working hours and diversity of work environments, including computer based tasks in the office, hands-on implementation in the labs and data-collection on the test track.
- Besides secure and well-paid contracts, the students are also looking for employment that offers additional opportunities for development and perks for diversion. These range from the possibility of international assignments, to arrangements for employees to take-out test cars over the weekend (collecting data at the same time) or use a gym at the office as well as internal child-care services.
- Despite their enthusiasm the students see numerous challenges ahead for self-driving cars. These include legal issues of liability, cyber-attacks to manipulate traffic data, deficient road infrastructure and the complexity of the driving-decisions an AI would have to make, particularly in unusual situations.
2025AD: You chose a master’s degree program that is unique in the world. What fascinates you about autonomous driving?
Kaan: For me it’s the technological revolution under way. It would be great to be able to say one day: „I contributed to this historic development.“
Markus: I am not a typical car enthusiast, who tinkers with his car. But I am interested in the software and the technology behind it. I would like to bring these new systems on the roads and help to make driving safer – especially for older people.
Marco: I love cars, there is nothing greater than a car! So it is great to study automotive technologies. Our generation is generally dominated by electronics and digitization and these same technologies are relevant for many different areas where we could work.
Michael: What motivates me is a childlike curiosity to find out what is going on behind the dashboard. There is this three-part system that consists of sensors that detect objects, software that develops models and actuators that control car. I would find it interesting to work out such a system in any field – and it is good to know that there is high demand for our skills. But I would love to start working with cars, since they are part of our every-day life.
Robert: In my first years in school I started collecting model cars and drew them. Later I became keen to learn how new technology found its ways into cars: sound systems, sat navs and finally advanced driver-assistance systems. I would like to help shape that development and make driving more time-efficient and more enjoyable.
2025AD: What makes driving enjoyable for you today – and how will that change if cars increasingly take over?
Robert: I commute from Kempten to Constance. The first half through the hills of Allgäu is fun. But when traffic builds up, I would love to have an autonomous car. So people should have the options of driving or being driven – and it would be a mistake to remove steering wheels and pedals. In 30 or 40 years driving could be a past-time like flying airplanes: People will look for a nice route and drive there for pleasure.
Kaan: For me it would be ideal too only to drive where and when I feel like it. But I am not sure if that is true for everybody. Especially older people, who are used to driving, might be reluctant to pass responsibility on to a car.
Michael: This transition will be similar to the introduction of sat navs: My parents, for example, still use maps. I don’t have a map in my car! If my sat nav fails, I have to use signposts. Similarly, I think future generations will be ready to be driven by their cars.
Patrick: On a nice mountain pass or the empty Autobahn I would never let my car take over – it is too much fun to drive myself. But when I go home on the weekends, 350 kilometers past Stuttgart with heavy traffic, I would prefer to have an autonomous car. To convince drivers of the advantages of self-driving cars will be one of the challenges for us at our future jobs.
2025AD: What do you expect of these jobs and of your future employers?
Marco: My job should be diverse with work both in an office and hands-on tasks on a car. Ideally, I could start in the morning developing software, and implement that in the afternoon on the test track. And it would be a bonus, if my employer offered opportunities for quick diversion, like a room with a TV or a gym.
Markus: Something that I would like is the option to work abroad for a certain time.
Kaan: I am not keen to work abroad. But I would like an employer in an attractive city in Germany, like Stuttgart. And I would love to rotate during the work cycle: In the development stage I would be in the office; when we reach „hardware in the loop“, I would go to the lab, and finally for „vehicle in the loop“ I would work on the test track. Plus, our masters not only allows us to go into the automotive industry. We could also join an IT giant with a start-up atmosphere like Google...
Patrick: ...or just combine the two! IT companies are pushing into autonomous driving. And car manufacturers are opening offices in California to learn from the tech-companies. That mix would be ideal: Work for Daimler but in the United States in one of their offices on the West Coast.
Robert: I already did part of my studies abroad. Now I also dream of going to Silicon Valley. Most importantly though, my work should be interesting and engaging. Then I would be happy to forgo the perks of working for a large company, like regular working hours and high salaries. However, large car manufacturers or suppliers with an international presence would make it easier for me to transfer to one of their offices in the US. And these large companies are now forming spin-offs to create a start-up atmosphere. That would be very attractive.
Michael: My experience is that big employers can be compartmentalized. Each department only focuses on a specific aspect. I would like to work in a team with experts from various departments where you learn more. Equally important for me are career opportunities within a company. At our age we want to see: How high can I go? That might be a reason for me to join a big company. Personally, I’d prefer to work for an OEM rather than a supplier. No matter how many parts a supplier produces, in the end the car has BMW’s blue-and-white roundel or Mercedes’ three-pointed star. That’s what makes the prestige.
Kaan: I wouldn’t be fussed about that. If you work for a supplier and build a system for a serial model, you can still say: “That part was developed by us.” But I would look for other aspects in a job: How flexible and how long are my office hours? How does the employer pay? Do I get a company car? And how family-friendly is the employer? Things like day-care centers could be an important service for us in a few years.
2025AD: Speaking of the future, what do you see as the main obstacle that autonomous cars will have to overcome?
Marco: I think legal and political questions: Who is liable for accidents of a self-driving car? And how does a car decide between two bad alternatives like running into a group of people or just into one person?
Michael: I am not worried about political issues. In the end technological progress prevails. But it will depend on how quickly drivers embrace the technology and demand legal changes. I am more troubled by cyber-attacks against the data in vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
Patrick: It will also be crucial how user-friendly the technology is. So drivers should know how it works so that they understand the car’s decisions. Plus, infrastructure will become even more important: How can a car follow a lane if there are no lane markings or large potholes? That will be a challenge in markets like China or India.
Markus: On a German Autobahn it won’t be hard for a car to follow road markings. But unpredictable situations still arise: If a lorry-driver gets stuck in a narrow road and wants to reverse, how does an autonomous car recognize that? Or if people are injured on the side of the road after a car accident, will the autonomous car understand that they might need help – or simply cruise past? There is a lot of work ahead of us to get cars to understand such complex situations.
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