ANTISKID brakes, a multitude of airbags, traction and stability controls – get all those in a car and you’re well-sorted to survive in event of an accident, right?
Statistically-speaking, yes, all those assists – plus, of course, the good old seatbelt – are going to make a difference.
Yet, if rating a vehicle for safety first and foremost, those features are just the starter pack. Today carmakers are presenting a host of further features, ready to take over the instant there’s danger, even when a driver might still feel in full control.
We’re talking about tech whose full benefits won’t become clear until we enter the age of autonomous driving.
Even though the first self-drive fare is still at least three years away from international introduction, and assuredly won’t become part of your daily driving regime for perhaps decades after that, the basic ingredients to making it work are already being implemented into cars. Admittedly, mainly high-end fare, because this stuff is complex and thus, unavoidably costly.
Still, it’s time you got up to speed with it.
So, today, a look at the features that, when combined all together in one vehicle, will – the industry attests - essentially make it crashproof.
Adaptive Cruise Control: Adaptive cruise control, which is already available on many new cars, uses radar and sometimes other sensors to detect vehicles on the road ahead. You set a maximum speed and then your car maintains a safe following distance on its own, operating the gas and the brakes for you. Some systems like this only work at highway cruising speeds, but many can work even in stop-and-go traffic.
Auto lane keeping assist: Cameras detect lane lines and road edges, and the car steers itself to stay in its lane.
Collision avoidance: Radar, cameras or other sensors detect obstacles ahead and warn the driver. If the driver still doesn't react, the car can apply the brakes automatically to avoid, or at least reduce, the impact of a crash. In the United States, auto safety regulators have found this technology particularly effective in reducing crashes.
Pedestrian detection: Cameras, including ones that can see in the dark, are programmed to detect human forms that might wander into the path of the car. Drivers can be alerted and again, the car can brake automatically.
Large animal detection: Hitting a horse, deer or cow (or, overseas, a moose or elk) is definitely bad for the animal but it's also very bad for a car's passengers. Volvo has created a system that can detect when a big animal is walking in front of your car, saving both you and the absent-minded animal.
Driver alert systems: Volvo is an early adopter, having introduced Driver Alert Control a decade ago. Others have followed: Ford has Driver Alert, BMW touts Active Driving Assistant, Mercedes-Benz has Attention Assist, Toyota uses Driver Monitoring System and VW employs a Fatigue Detection System.
All are much of a muchness. Driver fatigue systems typically work by monitoring driver behaviour, noting any erratic steering wheel movements, lane departures or changing speeds for no reason. As these elements tend to suggest a drowsy driver, most solutions involve trying to grab the driver's attention via a flashing/blinking dashboard display and/or audible warning.
That’s the state of play in respect to implemented systems. But are under development, notably in respect to detection of driver awareness. So, expect to find in the future ….
Eye tracking technologies: The industry believes that when cars are finally on the road in a highly-automated mode, driver monitoring will become even more significant. Camera-based facial recognition technology has therefore become a particular focus of development.
The common approach is to detect the driver's eye gaze and measures levels of drowsiness and distraction. The very latest systems, which are still in Beta form, use hidden infrared cameras to track eye movement to detect what a driver is looking at and will trigger warnings if it determines attention is drifting. If those alerts re ignored, the system will self-enact, bringing the vehicle to a standstill.
Occupant stress level detection: The seat is embedded with piezoelectric sensors to measure the driver's heart rate and breathing rhythms. If it detects the driver's stress levels, counter-measures will enact.
As one example, Audi is working on Fit Driver system, which "focuses on the well-being and health of the driver."
It works by the driver wearing fitness wristband or smartwatch that monitors important vital parameters such as heart rate and skin temperature. Vehicle sensors supplement this data with information on driving style, breathing rate and relevant environmental data such as weather or traffic conditions. The current state of the driver, such as elevated stress or fatigue, is deduced from the collected data.
As a result, various vehicle systems act to relax, vitalise, or even protect the driver.