Technology and People: A Balancing Act

There is almost no area of our modern lives that has not been influenced by the trends of digitalization and automation. The world of mobility is no exception, as both are playing an increasing role here as well. Everyone is talking about terms such as “highly automated driving” or “autonomous driving,” and these concepts are purportedly the silver bullet we have been waiting for to solve fundamental traffic problems. The purpose of this report is to detail the challenges associated with these developments and set out the role that people play in this context.

“We hurtled away without anyone holding the steering wheel, whipped around corners, dodged around other equally fine vehicles, but nobody honked their horn. […] Instead of a steering wheel, I discovered a metal plate into which an intricate but clear map of the city had been etched. A pointer working with pinpoint accuracy was positioned above it. I’d barely moved it at all before the vehicle started up and shot down streets I didn’t know. It stopped just as suddenly. […] The best thing was that the vehicle dodged out of the way of others, suddenly stopped in front of busy intersections, let other cars pass, and behaved as if it knew the ins and outs of every conceivable traffic rule.”
These lines, translated freely here, are taken from a science fiction novel called “Utopolis” written by Werner Illing in 1930. When you read them, it’s hard to believe how all those years ago, the German author managed to accurately predict the types of things that vehicle manufacturers are now focusing heavily on. In fact, in the course of his novel, he also touched on the topic of connectivity when he described how the “mysterious self-steering cars” worked. At the front of every vehicle was “a small prism eye” that acted on light-sensitive electric cells and communicated with electric eyes that had been “discreetly recessed into the walls of the houses.” “These mechanical eyes regulate the speed and steering using alternating mirror reflections.”
93 years later, in an era where road traffic is becoming increasingly digitalized, our society finds itself on the cusp of arguably the biggest revolution in mobility since the invention of the car. Software and electronics are taking over more and more tasks from drivers, turning cars into rolling high-tech machines. All renowned volume manufacturers now offer assisted and semi-automated driving, with the number of vehicles equipped with automated driving features set to increase markedly in the coming years.