Many people are interested in cars, but hardly anyone understands them as well as Steffen Müller. The renowned researcher will bring his expertise in suspension control and driver assistance systems to the TU Berlin as an Einstein-Professor. There, the engineering scientist also completed his first degree, then he conducted research at Cambridge University and at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to his appointment to the University of Kaiserslautern, he worked as a project manager at the BMW Research and Innovation Center.
»I want to help make cars safer«
Steffen, do you enjoy driving in your free time?
Yes, but not all the time. The technology fascinates me and mobility is an important asset. But I use public trans- port for the commute to work, because I can then use the time to do other things. That’s one of the major drawbacks of driving, the fact that I have to drive the vehicle constantly, even if the actual road situation is rather monotonous.
I am passionate about cars, but I didn’t grow up thinking that I would build them someday. After studying aerospace engineering, I did some work with railed vehicles which finally brought me to automotive engineering. My pas- sion for motor vehicles really started during my research at BMW. Ever since then I have wanted to make cars safer and more attractive. It’s a very exciting challenge, but I don’t see cars as the ultimate form of transport.
What are you working on currently?
One of my current projects is on how different assistance systems interact. For example, how does a distance control system interact with a lane-keeping system with a side assist function? We want to find out how these systems impact on the driver’s control in road situations. Imagine you are driving and another driver suddenly cuts in front of you. Your distance control system wants to hand over the reins since it detects a dangerous situation with very little distance to the next vehicle. At the same time, you see blinking in the instrument panel showing that someone is overtaking you on your left. Then, to top it all, there’s a bend in the road and the lane assist cuts in. All of these events can place excessive demands on the driver. Those are the scenarios we look at.
When will our cars be able to drive without us?
In the press you often read that we will be there by 2020. I tend to be more cautious, even though Google is al- ready testing self-driving cars and Daimler held a 100-kilometre demo run. The car drove by itself, but there was a driver at the wheel who could have intervened. The move toward self-driving cars will happen gradually. Assistance systems already control the proximity to other objects and make sure that we stay in our lane. They also guide us safely through traffic jams with “stop-and-go” functions. But if you read the instructions for all these systems, you will find that they still require constant monitoring and drivers still need to keep their hands on the steering wheel. We will probably get to the point of parallel activity during driving in the next few years. Maybe we will be able to read or write text messages – but fully self-driving cars are still in the distant future.
Photo: Pablo Castagnola