Crash Avoidance Cars - Closer Than You Think
While the idea of an autonomous vehicle, or vehicle that can essentially drive by itself, might seem like science fiction, there are several technologies on the market today that are paving the way for the possibility of a “driverless car”. One grouping of these technologies is called Advanced Driver Assistance Systems or ADAS. Aimed at enhancing safety, ADAS use sensors and software to gather data from the nearby environment of the vehicle to either warn the driver or actively assist in avoiding collisions.
Passive ADAS systems include anything that alerts the driver of the possibility of a collision. Examples include forward collision warning systems, back-up sensors and cameras, lane departure warning and blind spot detection systems. Conversely, an active system is one in which the vehicle takes control to avoid or reduce the chances of a collision.
Forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking
Vehicles with forward collision use sensors to determine if there is potential for a collision when approaching another vehicle. In the case of passive systems, drivers may be alerted by a sound, a display on the dash or infotainment screen or both. An active system would go a step further and actually apply the brakes to avoid or reduce the chances of a collision. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has announced that in order for vehicles to receive 5-star ratings in 2014 and beyond they must be equipped with active emergency braking systems.
Back-up and rear-view assistance
Vehicles with this technology use sensors (such as radar) and cameras to prevent drivers from backing into other vehicles, objects or people. Back-up assistance systems alert the driver with an audio alert. In some cases, the systems are able to vary the alert depending on how close the vehicle is to a collision by increasing the frequency of the “beep”. Backup cameras provide rear-view assistance for the driver, using the screen of the vehicle’s navigation or infotainment screens, or sometimes a portion of the rear view mirror. In 2007 Congress approved legislation requiring standards for rear visibility, with the intent that eventually all vehicles would have to come standard with these systems but to date no mandate has been implemented.
Lane departure warning and lane-keeping assistance
Use of optical sensors (cameras) and advanced software to track vehicle position and proximity to other vehicles. If the system detects the vehicle drifting out of its lane or crossing in to another lane without its turn signal, it will warn the driver with an audible alert. In the case of lane keeping assistance, the system will actually “nudge” the vehicle back into its lane.
Adaptive cruise control
The adaptive cruise control system uses sensors to gauge the speed and distance of a lead vehicle and automatically adjusts the speed to maintain an appropriate distance. For example, you are driving on the freeway and have your cruise control set to 70 mph. A vehicle merges in to your lane, traveling at 60 mph. Although your vehicle is set to 70, it will automatically adjust to 60 mph to avoid colliding with that vehicle and will maintain that speed unless that lead vehicle speeds up or moves into another lane of traffic. The Automotive Research Center recently tested some of these systems, and while most of them worked properly, the implementation and information relayed to the driver varies greatly from one auto manufacturer to the next.
Blind spot and pedestrian detection
As with other ADAS systems, blind spot detection systems vary from passive to active. Some systems will provide an audible alert and or a visible warning if there is another vehicle in its blind spot. One example includes side mirrors that have an icon that will light up if it detects the presence of another vehicle. Active systems will start with an alert if there is a vehicle in the blind spot. However, if the driver turns on his or her signal the alerts will become more dramatic and may include steering wheel vibrations. Pedestrian detection systems are able to differentiate between a human and another object. The driver may simply be warned that there is a pedestrian present or the vehicle might automatically apply the brakes.
Parking assistance and automated parking
These systems have been an option on some high-end vehicles for several years, beginning with Lexus in 2006. Currently available systems take over the steering, but the driver must still work the brakes. Future systems may be capable of parking the vehicle without any human interaction at all.
Adaptive headlights and adaptive high beams
Adaptive headlights are headlights that will actually shift direction as the driver steers, turning beams along with curves in the road. If equipped with adaptive high beams, the headlights will not only adjust to movement of the vehicle but can adjust the range of high-beam lighting if an oncoming vehicle is detected. Some advanced systems are able to adjust the headlights in response to the presence of other vehicles by dipping or shading the headlights to reduce glare for other drivers.
ADAS systems can help to drastically reduce the number of collisions, accidents and pedestrians hit in crosswalks. But it is important to remember that not all of the systems work in the same way and you therefore cannot assume that every vehicle equipped with such systems will react in the same way. Furthermore, not all vehicles are equipped with these systems, so there is added risk when moving from vehicle to vehicle. And most importantly, the driver must always be alert, paying attention to his or her surroundings and driving defensively. ADAS does not replace human interaction in the vehicle.