Containing some of the few stretches of public road with no speed limits, Germany's network of autobahns has always been a magical place for enthusiastic drivers. Now, they'll also be a testing ground for technology that could make driving obsolete.
The German government is planning a pilot program to test autonomous cars, according to reports out of Europe. Testing will take place on a portion of the A9 autobahn, which connects Munich and Berlin, if the plan goes ahead.
Test vehicles will communicate with each other and the infrastructure, in a way that sounds similar to the "vehicle-to-vehicle" (V2V) technology currently being tested on public roads around Ann Arbor, Michigan, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Sensors and other equipment for that system will be tested first. A specific start date for autonomous car testing wasn't discussed, but the first cars aren't expected to roll down the autobahn until at least 2016.
This won't be the first time a self-driving car is tested on German roads. Back in 2013, the Mercedes-Benz S500 Intelligent Drive prototype traveled between Mannheim and Pforzheim—a distance of about 60 miles—with some human assistance.
At CES earlier this month, Mercedes also showed off its F015 Luxury In Motion concept, with an interior featuring inward-facing seats and other features based around anticipated self-driving systems. Also at CES, rival Audi demonstrated the mettle of an autonomous A7 prototype by having it drive there from California. It covered over 550 miles with some input from journalists and engineers riding along.
Clearly, German manufacturers are interested in self-driving cars, and the autobahn pilot program should provide a useful outlet for that interest. It will also allow them to keep up with the likes of Google, which plans to start testing its own self-driving car very soon.