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Innovation

The Guardian Angel is Coming Along for a Ride

Guiding and protecting: Marius Spika and his team are researching the next-generation driver experience.

Testing the Guardian Angel assistance system: Marius Spika (from left), Jan Sonnenberg, and Julia Drüke.

The assistance system of the future is currently housed where the ashtray used to be. It’s a tiny switchbox in the central console and it controls half a dozen computers that almost fill the trunk of a Passat Variant¹. Just like an extra pair of eyes, this system will support the driver in future – and step in when necessary. It’s called Guardian Angel. Marius Spika and his team have been working on it in Wolfsburg for around two years.
Live demo at the testing facility in Ehra-Lessien: Spika drives the test Passat towards some tight corners. The Guardian Angel symbol below the speedometer and in the head-up display lights up green. Spika drives carefully and correctly. The Guardian Angel does not step in.

The system warns the driver: "Attention, corner!"


However, when test driver Spika is driving too fast or looking out of the side window rather than at the road ahead, the Guardian Angel will give a warning: “Attention, corner!” The seat will also vibrate slightly. The system interventions escalate if the driver fails to respond. In that case the Guardian Angel will brake, even if the driver still has their foot on the gas. The time window for such an intervention is narrow. When things get hairy, the Guardian Angel has to respond quickly. But at the right moment: “It should only activate when you really need it,” explains the 39-year-old information systems engineer.

For this to work, however, the assistance system must know the driver well. It has to learn when they normally step on the gas, brake before corners, and signal before overtaking. “You can’t lump all drivers together,” adds Spika. It’s a mammoth task for the developers he works with because they need to establish how a given individual drives.

To do so, they use cameras to observe the driver, and log their driving behavior. “Every detail counts until the Guardian Angel is able to evaluate the driving behavior,” says Spika. That requires artificial intelligence (AI), which is packed into the big, powerful computers in the Passat’s trunk. The method is known as “deep learning.” During the journey, the computer develops a picture of the driver’s typical and current driving style, and works out how they are behaving in the current situation.

Back to the test track: when Spika starts driving faster than usual and begins an overtaking maneuver with poor visibility just before a corner, his Guardian Angel warns: “Attention, insufficient visibility.” This advice is based on a huge mass of data from the navigation system and the control units on board. The Spika team combines this data pool with the driver profile – in real time. Their aim is to identify the situation and trigger the correct response at just the right time – both in the driver and in the car.

The Guardian Angel’s time will arrive when highly automated cars are introduced to our roads. That’s because the system is designed for a safe, comfortable, and customized next-generation driving experience. It will then, at the perfect moment, give advice that is tailored precisely to the driver and their driving style.

Spika, who has handed over the project leadership to Jan Sonnenberg, looks to the future with great optimism: “The Guardian Angel will be a reserved, friendly, and assertive assistant you can trust.”

"Every detail counts until the Guardian Angel is able to evaluate the driving behavir."

Marius Spika, information systems engineer

A Guardian Angel watching over you: when things get hairy, the system can respond and tell the driver to brake.