Until truly autonomous vehicles hit the road in droves, advanced safety technologies in new cars are leading the way to neutralize driver negligence when it comes to split-second decisions in braking, lane changing and even inclement weather conditions. But do these systems really work at preventing accidents and saving lives?
Advances in radar technology are helping to make self-driving cars a reality. Electronics manufacturers such as Delphi have created multiple sensors so radar is able to perform well in almost all driving conditions.
Delphi, in fact, became the first company to pilot a self-driving car from coast to coast. This pioneering road trip last April tested the car’s ability to drive in complex driving situations (e.g. traffic circles, tunnels and bridges) and not-so-optimal weather conditions. Along the way on this nine-day drive, the Delphi car and its team collected nearly three terabytes of data and logged more than 3,400 miles from San Francisco to New York.
What did Delphi’s engineers learn from this pioneering experiment? The autonomous car is not quite ready for the road. However, this first-of-its-kind road trip uncovered four important takeaways, including the need to:
- Further develop camera databases to detect diverse lane markings and signage
- Improve camera performance in bright sunlight and dim nighttime situations
- Improve radar and camera capabilities in harsh weather conditions, such as snow and rain
- Optimize the car’s “algorithm behavior” to create a more natural driver experience, especially when it comes to acceleration and deceleration.
What about cars on the road today that are or can be equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communication? V2V communication actually has the best potential to address the inattentive driver problem, which causes most injuries and accidents.
“If a vehicle can transmit what it is doing regardless of what the driver is doing, it can alert other drivers,” says Navigant Research’s senior research analyst Sam Abuelsamid. “For example, if the vehicle is drifting out of the lane without a turn signal, it can beam out a message.”
Abuelsamid says eventually V2V will be tied into functions like automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. “If someone is following too close to the vehicle, the car can automatically slow down.”
For now, OEMs are steadily adding more and more advanced safety systems to their new cars as well as tinkering with V2V communications. “The problem of how human- and computer-driven vehicles can safely coexist on the road has been among the most vexing,” says Abuelsamid in a report titled, A Scenario for Managing the Transition to Autonomous Vehicles.
The path to full automation, however, is still unclear. In-car vehicle communications are not only changing the way we drive, but also the way emergencies and even criminal investigations are handled. Yahoo! recently reported that a Florida woman’s car “snitched” on her after she “allegedly rear-ended two vehicles and left the scene without reporting the accident to the authorities.”
That’s when local police used Ford’s emergency safety technology to track her down after the system was activated by sensors, which not only noticed the sudden speed change, but also pinpointed the accident location via the vehicle’s GPS for emergency responders.
Often overlooked is how aftermarket vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communications can and will be used to decrease driver negligence. “There will be a huge aftermarket opportunity over the next 10 years to enable existing vehicles to get safety messages,” explains Abuelsamid.
This explosion of in-vehicle aftermarket connection devices was made abundantly clear at this year’s Connected Car Expo. Only in its second year, CCE highlights the best in connected auto tech and the big buzz on the floor came from companies supplying consumers with small V2V devices, which plug easily into their 1996 model-year and newer cars.
One such company is Mojio. For just $150 (with a complimentary one-year AT&T subscription), Mojio plugs right into your car and connects it to the cloud. For car owners, Mojio can provide real-time engine diagnostic information, GPS location and may even lower your insurance costs by tracking daily driving habits. But Mojio’s open source platform and always-connected communications means app developers have the ability to create products that can help consumers drive more safely, including by providing real-time traffic alerts and, potentially, alert drivers to emergencies or even messages, like if another car is swerving into the driver’s lane.
Connected cars are fast becoming the norm not the exception. Although this technology is still being developed for the more than one billion cars on the planet today, it is fast coming of age and changing the way we drive and do business in the transportation industry.