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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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