There is a lot of hype around currently about self- driving cars. In reality this technology is still a way off, especially for everyday mainstream use. However what we have already is a level of semi-autonomous control and driver assistance technology that is starting to become available even in mainstream fleet vehicles – here and today. Each new launch just seems to enhance the amount of this technology and lower the price point of models that incorporate it.
Some of the first waves of autonomy were seen three to four years ago when self-parking, active cruise control and basic heads up displays started filtering into moderately priced vehicles. These systems are becoming more sophisticated by the year and now we have autonomous emergency braking (AEB) (the car brakes before you hit a car or object in front of you), cross traffic alert (when reversing), blind spot detection, lane assist or lane departure warning and more. The basic parallel self-parking now also covers angle parking and unparking – the driver still has to operate the accelerator and brake at the moment but it is a no-hands operation. The Hyundai Ioniq EV tested in this issue had lane assist that would actually steer you around bends on the motorway with no steering input (but was quick to warn you to put your hands on the wheel as it is not full self-drive).
At the recent Ford Escape launch one of the technical team did a walk around of a Titanium model, this has 12 ultrasonic parking sensors (1.5m range), two rear corner radars (30m range) and front mounted Lidar (10m) and radar (200m) plus a front camera – so 17 sensors and this is on a $53,000 vehicle – not a luxury level model.
Manufacturers like Subaru are already discussing enhancements to their Eye-Sight system to go to twin stereoscopic cameras which will further enhance some of these semi-autonomous systems at this level.
This all helps make driving safer – especially in heavy traffic conditions which most fleet vehicles operate in. For instance, AEB has been shown to reduce real world rear end crashes by 38 percent and up to 75 percent in metro areas. Sometimes the systems can be a bit too smart and be disconcerting for the driver – for instance lane keeping can oppose a deliberate move by the driver and the emergency braking can be a bit aggressive risking you being rear ended but again this technology and more importantly the software behind it is developing rapidly – just think how much traction control has advanced from quite obtrusive to pretty much unseen over the last five years.
So let’s all look forward to safer and more relaxed driving as technology develops even though being able to sit back and read a book while commuting in your car is still quite a way off.
Be safe out there.