While self-driving cars grab headlines, semi-autonomous features are quietly working their way into production vehicles and boosting safety today.
The most common of those features fall into three overlapping categories: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, and collision avoidance systems. All three use sensors to watch the road ahead. Increasingly, however, the sensors are being augmented by systems that grab control of the steering or brakes, enabling the vehicle to actively prevent an imminent collision. Beyond that, automakers are also developing systems that will enable cars to communicate with each other and prevent potential accidents.
We've collected photos and graphics of various semi-autonomous systems that vigilantly stand watch and protect vehicle occupants. Following are a few already employed in vehicles, along with others that are coming soon.
Click on the photo below to start the slideshow.
A lanekeeping system from Ford Motor Co. can recognize drowsy drivers and help them stay alert and in their lanes. When the lanekeeping system detects the vehicle drifting close to lane markings, it notifies the driver through a vibration to the steering wheel or by providing steering torque to move the car back toward the center of the lane. (Source: Ford Motor Co.)
Great slideshow, Chuck. I had no idea about some of these new features because, as you mentioned, it's the self-driving cars that are getting all the attention. But I have far more interest in things that you show here--like alerts for drifting into another lane and the cameras to help drivers pay better attention to obstacles and the road ahead--which I think are a much better investment at this time. I also really like all the collision-avoiding features, as I am one of those people who tends to bump into standing obstacles and cause minor dings in my car (which is actually a mini-bus). It's too late for my vehicle but good to know these helpful features are on the horizon!
Chuck, this is an iteresting review of some of the technologies out there. It is interesting to see some of what I would consider to be exotic sensors used. I know that millimeter-wave radar has become less expensive with new computing technology, but I have to wonder if more vision based systems would not be just as good.
Image 4 of the presentation shows a driver sitting behind the wheel of a presumably moving vehicle, arms crossed, in a watchful manner.
This looks very much like the position I've seen commercial air transport pilots take when in the long cruise portion of a flight. Autopilot is on; the pilot need only monitor instruments and watch ahead.
I hope Cadillac's technology is as robust as the image would have us think. It would be nice to keep one's arms more relaxed for long hauls. I hope even more that this will extend into stop-and-go commuter traffic.
You wouldn''t guess from all this technology, but some of us actually enjoy driving and don't want a robot to the job for us. Some of us (OK, at least one of us...) design robots for a living, are personally aquainted with the operation/quality/purchasing VPs' and wouldn't trust our lives with the product.
The liability aspects of technical faults could keep a few law firms in steak and gravy for years.
What happens when a potential accident situation arises and the various sensors disagree on the action? Majority vote? Sensor priority? (The others might drop off the bus in protest). General confusion? (most likely). Back to the lawyers (one for each sub-contractor) and the liability issues again.
Battar has it right. The picture of the man with his arms crossed paying close attention is not how it will play out (even with responsible drivers). Everyone (at some point) will relinquish driving responsibility to the car (even with just the adaptive cruise control), and then text/read the paper, eat breakfast, or even sleep. When these drivers kill other people, there will be an argument between the vehicle manufacturer and the driver over liability (and, as we've seen with Toyota and their unintended acceleration debacle, the manufacturer will continue to get a free pass from the government).
This doesn't even include the problems with safety critical hardware and software (which these systems are) not having ANY government mandated performance standards, coding requirements, reliability standards, or sensor/computing redundancy requirements. Any system good enough to field will NOT be affordable (at least anytime soon).
Also, I noticed in two of the pictures that LED's obstructed or obfuscated or even distracted the drivers view to warn them of impending danger. When a few ms count, perhaps sound and haptic feedback would be better suited to helping drivers react well (especially at night).
This is certainly in our future, but perhaps not just yet.
In so far as putting you life in the hand of robots (or at least robotic systems, the root of operation) we do that all the time. The last time you flew was likely in an airplane that is equiped with a fly by wire system. And as for the decision part of the robot, I would tend to trust the decisions of the robots more than many of the so-called drivers I encounter on the road, at least I can trust the robot will do a better job of keeping an eye on its surroundings and not creating a hazardous situation. The robot won't get drunk, distracted by texting and phone calls, fall asleep at the wheel or deem itself "owner of the road".
As for the desire to drive and the freedom to drive, I read an article recently that I think had that right too, once autonomous driving takes over and its reliability is proven, you will likely find that the insurance premimums for a non-autonomouns (you drive it) vehicle will become prohibitively high.
What we are seeing today is the proving ground for the eventual takeover of the road by robotic systems and I beleive that such a takeover will ultimately lead to a near zero collision and fatality transportation system (there will inevitiably be situations that even you or I could not possibly avoid). Each of these systems is getting the opportunity to grow and learn, be improved and perfected, and hopefully always in a positive direction (saving life and limb rather than costing it); however, growing and learning are never without peril. I won't claim that the designers can foresee everything that will ever happen, I believe it was airbus that had a plane go down on its demonstration flight several years back, due to a conflict between what the pilot wanted to do and the fly-by-wire safety systems deemed appropriate. It was a costly learning curve both in life and equipment. Hopefully the designers of these systems are taking events like that into consideration.
Yes, fly by wire systems are commonplace in planes today. Their cost is high since they must meet safety-critical requirements. When the plane costs tens if not 100's of millions, a few million for an adequate robotic control system is reasonable.
I would think a robotic control system's tasks are much simpler in a plane than it would be in an automobile (fewer things to hit, fewer things to do, more predictable surroundings, more predictable scenarios, and in a sense the time scale is longer). The pilot's are also trained and paid (and for the most part expected) to be at constant attention so if anything does go wrong, they can take over from the robot. Which is why, when that transfer doesn't go well (as in the Airbus flight from South America to France a few years back) so many people die (even with well trained personnel and expensive, fairly safe, systems).
But automobiles are commodity items. Every dollar counts, so cost cutting down to the bone WILL be done (and aggresively so). This means one of two outcomes. Either normal people will not be able to afford to drive these very expensive (but safe) cars (or as mattd pointed out, wont be able to afford the very expensive insurance on non-automated cars). Or, the government will figure the cost-benefit ratio of what's good enough and our cars will be automated but only mostly safe (30K deaths a year on the road is OK? But perhaps 50K is not? or perhaps 100k?) The latter is more in line with the fed's track record.
3dRob has quite a few valid points, no doubt. My concern is what happens when an exception arises, which happens to many of us a few times a year. Just think about what would happen when the lane-holding system would see the instance of a damaged center line wandering off to the shoulder. I have seen that twice, it was probably caused by some vehicle moving quickly to the sholder to avoid hitting the line of cars behind the lane painting truck. Rare indeed, but it happens and I have seen the results.
And what would the system do about a large cement bag that suddenly becomes airborn in front of the vehicle when it is lifted up by the wind from a truck in the next lane. Hitting it puts a small skuff in the paint on the leading edge of the hood, but at 55MPH there is no maneuver to escape it when it happens only 50 feet ahead. Anything that the system could do would make things worse, if it was done in heavy traffic, which is when it happened to me, once in 2 years, and once about six years back. And I am sure that quite a few of us have had the wind blow an empty trash can into the road just ahead.
Besides those concerns we need to remember that every included response will be vetted by lawyers to assure that the provider could not be held liable in the event of a lawsuit. That in turn means that all of the logic would make such a vehicle a real impediment to the normal flow of traffic. That fact is inescapable, and should not be ignored.
I'm not convinced that these "improvements" will result in better safety in the short term. I can agree that a robotic system would likely outperform (safety-wise) many of the drivers that cause most of the accidents. However, prior to turning complete control over to robotic systems, these systems will all encourage LESS driver attention to the task at hand. The result will be drivers that will devote less and less attention to driving. It's called risk compensation, and it occurrs when something is made more safe, and the operators increase their risky behavior to compensate. Humans will operate to a certain level of perceived risk, and when the activity becomes "too safe to fail", humans will compensate with more risky behavior. When they get behind the wheel of vehicles not so equiped with these great features, the roads will be even more dangerous. I already see this in the behavior of drivers in cars with ABS, traction control, air bags, 5 star crash ratings, etc. Drivers have become more aggressive because their vehicles have allowed them to while keeping the risk to themselves the same. However, the risk to those outside their vehicles has increased. I'm a cyclist and motorcyclist, and I'm considering giving up both due to the increase in driving aggressiveness I've seen over the last decade or so. I agree that any dangerous activity needs to be made as safe as possible, but not at the expense of everyone else.
BillyMoore, I would attribute the problems that you mention far more to driver inattention and just plain poor judgement, (aka stupidity), rather than drivers becoming more agressive. They don't understy\and thgat ABS just means that you slide straight into the wall instead of spinning into it.
I would have to agree with the concerns about drivers become less cautious as these systems come into play. When the inevitable comes and the machines do take over for us, then we can truly sitback and do as we like, but until then, the driver should still remain as and act as the one responsible for the actions of the vehicle...much as the pilots today are (even though today we have aircraft and systems perfectly capable of take off, flight and landing without intervention).
It should be the responsiblility of the designers of these systems to include such responsiblity. For example, in the lane wandering, if the car has to take over then it should also bring the car to a safe halt and not continue on down the road. Or in the case of the Caddy, where the intention is to continue on down the road, it should periodically require some active input from the driver, maybe in conjuction with a Heads-Up-Display to assure the driver is still focused on what's ahead. I don't know for sure, but the part on the braking makes it sound like this may already be in place, it applies some braking but doesn't completely take over until the crash is imminent, meaning the result of not paying attention will be a low speed or soft crash with you, the driver, being responsible.
These systems cannot account for everything and until they can do better then you or I, they shouldn't be expected to account for everything, they are specific to what they do and only what they do. Don't include cases where you and I couldn't possibly do any better as a reason why these are faulty systems. Reviews of crashes have shown that in the event a deer crosses in front of you, your best bet is to hit the brakes and run into the thing, don't try to swerve to miss it. The problem with swerving to miss a sudden obstruction is that we are more likely to lose control and do more damage to ourselves and others than the damage and injury of hitting the object. Yet put in the position, how many of us would still swerve even though we KNOW that is not the thing to do. A robotic braking and manuevering system has no "fear" reactions and would be able to make a thorough decision of the best course of action and act accordingly.
I think "Smart Cars" are about to get to smart. I once almost had a accident on Interstate 80, in a construction zone.
Somehow a car that was over packed pulled from between some construction equipment, in front of me.
This driver could not see out any window but right in front of him, and he was pulling **across** the interstate traffic, not going with the flow. He could not see out the passenger window, that was facing me.
He shot out from between the construction equipment about twenty feet in front of me, while I was doing 45 MPH, remember it was a construction zone (and this was not construciton equipment, it was stationwagon full of junk).
The correct solutions to the problem was to floor the gas, so that I could get in front of him while there was still space, and get off on the right hand brim of the road.
Any automated system would have applied the brakes guaranteeing a collision between us.
Should automation ever be allowed to override the judgment of the driver?
Any automation system that I can think of would have concluded that I made a mistake in hitting the gas, rather than the brake.
Great point, bpaddock. Your story illustrates one of the big challenges facing autonomous vehicles. As you point out, no autonomous system would have made the decision that you correctly made. But in a world of all autonomous cars, the situation never would have happened in the first place because an autonomous car wouldn't have pulled in front of you under those circumstances. That's why many experts believe that the biggest obstacle to autonomy is in getting autonomous cars to understand the weird decisions that human drivers sometimes make. As one university professor told us, "Autonomus cars are much more predictable than humans."
Sorry to be so long to reply to this...been out for a week, but REALLY? And you have designed or overseen the design of so many control systems that your absolutely confident that no control system could foresee the best place to be and hit the gas rather than the brake.
Yes, today's systems that ONLY have access to the brake would have hit the brake as an only resort. But when you carry the discussion to a self driving car, there are no rules established yet, it is quite possible a system could evaluate the situation and determine, FASTER THAN YOU, that the best place to be is in front of the obstacle!
Back in the 1970s when seatbelts were becoming mandatory, I accepted a ride with a smoking, recently divorced, mom who claimed seatbelts caused people to die in car fires. A familar pattern, every safety advance has come with stories about how the safety system 'would have killed me.' But automating a car is not required as we already have enough inattentive, cell-phone and texting drivers on the road.
An automated autonomous system can watch 360 degrees around the car including from the bumper edges. They don't get intoxicated or run sleep deprived. They don't replay arguments or other distractive day-dreams. Furthermore, passengers don't take the automated systems from the task of driving.
Congress passed laws mandating backup safety systems and audio alarms for hybrids. But neither law can hold a candle to the never blinking, automated systems. We have lots of laws against crime yet we still have crime. But put technology on the problem, something as simple as a door lock, and theft doesn't go away, it just become less common.
Earlier this year paralyzed IndyCar drive Sam Schmidt did the seemingly impossible -- opening the qualifying rounds at Indy by driving a modified Corvette C7 Stingray around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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