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Far and away the most dangerous part of any car is the pink squishy thing sitting behind the steering wheel. Human error is the cause of almost all vehicle crashes, which according to the World Health Organisation claim the lives of approximately 1.3 million people every year.

To help improve safety on our roads, the world’s automotive manufacturers have developed – and continue to develop – a range of advanced driver-assist technologies that are designed to prevent or correct driver errors and, in some cases, take the human factor out of the equation altogether.

 

Adaptive cruise control

Adaptive cruise control (ACC) uses forward-looking radars to detect vehicles travelling in the same lane and automatically adjusts the car’s speed to maintain an appropriate distance between it and the vehicle in front. If the vehicle in front slows down, the ACC will trigger the engine and/or brakes to decelerate. When the lead vehicle comes to a complete stop and takes off again, ACC will resume following at a safe distance either automatically or after a tap of the accelerator from the driver.

 

Autonomous emergency braking

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) employs forward-facing sensors to monitor the objects in the vehicle’s path and measure their relative speed and distance from it for the purpose of detecting if a collision is imminent. In such situations, emergency braking can be applied automatically to avoid a crash or at least reduce its severity if the driver fails to react sufficiently. Volvo’s City Safety is one of the most prominent AEB systems on the market. The Volvo V40, due in Australia in the first quarter of 2013, will expand the City Safety’s range of operation from 0-30km/h to 0-50km/h.

 

Blind spot monitoring

Blind spot monitoring detects vehicles in adjacent lanes not visible in either the rear-view or side mirrors and alerts the driver of their presence with a visual and/or audible warning. Some systems use radar to scan the area beside and at the rear of the vehicle while others rely on a camera system. Drivers are typically alerted to a vehicle in their blind spot by a warning light in their side mirrors. Some manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, offer ‘active’ blind spot systems, which counteract a possible collision by applying brake force to one side of the vehicle to attempt to keep it in its original lane if the driver does not react to the warning.

 

Electronic stability control

Electronic stability control (ESC) uses a number of sensors to detect a loss of steering control and automatically applies braking force to help steer the vehicle back onto its intended path. The sensors measure the vehicle’s steering wheel angle, yaw rate, lateral acceleration and wheel speed and send the data to the on-board electronic control unit (ECU), which compares driver input to vehicle response and, if necessary, applies corrective brake force to the appropriate wheels. ESC relies on anti-lock brakes (ABS) to brake individual wheels, while the majority of ESC systems also collaborate with the vehicle’s traction control system, which senses slip from the drive wheels.

 

Lane support systems (lane departure warning/lane keep assist)

Lane support systems recognise lane markings and alert drivers if they believe you have or are about to unintentionally cross a line on the road, often triggered by a lack of indicating. Typically using cameras or laser sensors, the systems rely on having a clearly marked lane marking on one side of the vehicle, or on both sides in some cases. There are two main forms of lane support systems. The first, lane departure warning, is designed to make the driver aware that the vehicle is in danger of crossing a lane marking, and usually does this via an audible warning or a light vibration of the steering wheel to simulate the feeling of driving over a rumble strip. The second, lane keep assist, is a more advanced system, and automatically steers the vehicle back into its lane by applying appropriate braking force and/or corrective steering input if the driver fails to react to warnings.

 

Low-speed camera support

Reversing cameras are becoming increasing widespread as more manufacturers add large screens into their vehicles that also facilitate systems like satellite navigation. The technology features a wide-angle camera mounted on the rear of the car to relay a mirror image of real-time footage back into the cabin to be displayed either on a screen or in the rear view mirror, giving drivers an uninterrupted view of the area behind their vehicle. Some manufacturers, including Nissan with its Around View Monitor system, integrate additional cameras to provide views from the front and sides of the vehicle. This footage can be used to provide a ‘bird’s-eye view’ perspective of the car, which is designed to aid the driver position the vehicle in relation to other parking bay lines, kerbs and other cars.

 

Night vision enhancement

Night vision enhancement relies on forward-facing cameras and/or infrared light sources to illuminate the road ahead and enhance driver vision. Real-time footage is visible to the driver either in the instrument cluster or through the central display screen. Night vision systems are designed to identify pedestrians and give audible and/or visual alerts to the driver. ‘Active’ night vision systems project infrared light (which is invisible to humans) to illuminate the road ahead in the relayed images, while ‘passive’ systems capture thermal radiation already emitted by the objects using thermographic cameras. Active systems provide a higher resolution image but passive ones typically have a longer range.

 

Parking assist system

The most mainstream form of parking assistance systems are proximity sensors, which most commonly use ultrasonic detectors in the rear and/or front bumpers to calculate the vehicle’s distance from nearby objects by measuring the time taken for sound pulses to be reflected back to a receiver. Most proximity sensor systems produce an audible warning (a beep) that increases in frequency as the distance between the vehicle and the object decreases, and others incorporate a visual aid on a display screen.

 

Self-driving vehicle

The ultimate driver-assist technology, the autonomous or ‘driverless’ car is designed to take complete control of the vehicle’s acceleration, braking and steering functions. Combining radar, GPS and other sensory systems, autonomous vehicles use advanced computers to interpret the road ahead to find appropriate navigation paths, maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles and obstacles and obeying street signs and other road rules in the process. Mercedes-Benz appears set to become the first manufacturer to offer a vehicle with an autonomous driving mode. The next-generation S-Class, due to launch in 2013, is expected to feature a driverless mode that allows it to follow traffic without any input from the driver at speeds up to 40km/h.

 

 

Driver-assist technologies will undeniably play an enormous role in reducing the road toll and improving vehicle safety over the coming years. Question marks hang over some of the systems, however, with an independent review of blind spot monitoring, lane support and parking assist systems by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety in the US finding either no change or an increase in the number of claims submitted by owners of vehicles equipped with these technologies, suggesting more work needs to ensure the systems are actually useful and are working as effectively as possible. Driver-assist technologies are an unstoppable force in the automotive world, although at this stage they should not be seen as an alternative to driver education and training.


  • F1orce

    I drive a car with a manual transmission, manual steering and with absolutely no driver assist technology.

    Yet I’ve never been involved in a problem (knock on wood)

    People should be taught how to drive perfectly if they’re to be behind the wheel

    -Driving in Sydney means that you get used to stupidity and pure dumbness on a regular basis.

    • Guest

      No one is perfect and the alternatives to driving such as public transport is usually not a viable option for all sorts of reasons even if we want to use it.

    • Sumpguard

      There’s no such thing as perfect F1orce. Not even you ;) 

        Just varying degrees of ability from pathetic (most local taxi drivers)  to competent (increasingly rare it seems).

        If we were all perfect drivers we wouldn’t need seatbelts, airbags , crumple zones ,crash scene investigators or speeding fines (OK the last one was BS . All the while we have politicians we’ll have fines).

    • Frostie

      Well, maybe the driver can learn good driving habits by observing the driving style of the  auto pilot system.

      The automatic reverse parking system is something that personifies that. If the driver sees when the computer turns the wheel throughout the parallel parking manoeuvre they can learn to do it properly.

      The message: get the onboard computer / autopilot to teach the driver how to drive properly.

    • Dave W

      Yeap. Sydney… where you get to see someone drive his large SUV into the back of a stationary bus unloading passengers. I’m not kidding, I saw it several years on Epping Rd.

      It’s too bad really. You can see a lot of people don’t like and/or want to drive. Unfortunately public transport in Sydney is so unreliable, inefficient and too expensive. In some area, it’s actually cheaper to buy a week worth of petrol than to pay for a weekly bus ticket.

  • Mad Max

    These systems are all great in theory but what happens when the driver(s) get used to them and then they stop working. Cars are made by humans and humans make mistakes when driving and when assembling the cars or the systems that go in the cars. Then you take it to the dealer for a service and the first year apprentice sterts messing with it. A work collegue has a HSV that went in for a small crash repair to the rear. The car came back with a small electrical gremlin that developed into a $2’000 electrical repair that included a BCM replacement. Naturally the crash repairer claims its not his fault but the car was perfect when it went in. These things happen and if your used to having some electronic aid that suddenly stops working…

  • Wertjeadflg

    The driver controls the computer. The computer then controls the car. 

    But what happens when the computer fails, goes haywire or has the BSOD? It’s the one that’s actually controlling the throttle, brakes and on some cars the steering wheel (advanced ESC on some cars that help the driver to steer to “avoid” troubles) too.

  • BP

    Sorry but if you need a car to help you brake, then why are you driving in the first place. As a 19 year old, I don’t appreciate the large amounts of technology forced into new cars sold these days.

    On top of that the amount of technology in a car these days can’t always be praised. Just look at new car reviews and many will mention a gremlin here or there. I’ll use my own body to control, brake and manouvre around obstacles should they happen while i’m driving, not technology with all these claims of safer driving.

    Before I go, I should mention that not all technology actually works out in the end. I remember last year that there was a new Volvo car that was introducing technology that would stop it colliding into the car in front of it. So the final result ended up being the Volvo’ technology failing while amusing the media and onlookers watching. Yes!!! So much for technology actually helping us in the end :/

    • Guest

      Do you use a calculator? or do you know how to do trigonometry with a pen and a piece of paper?

      Not hating but just saying….

  • Wertjeadflg

    When it comes to a collectible car and the owner intends to keep the car for a long time say 20 years, the more complex the car, the more there are to go wrong. “Less is more” applies in this case. Not only it’s not repairable with a screw driver and a spanner, most of the garages wouldn’t know how to fix it. What they do is just replace the whole computer module which could cost a few grand and hope that it works. If not they just then go and replace the sensors and transducers.