February 18, 2012

Self-Driving Technology for Mid-Range Cars

Technology Review - Fully autonomous self-driving cars are still far from the market, but a wide range of features—including sensor systems that warn of lane departures and imminent crashes, and can even apply the brakes if you don't—are rapidly showing up in midmarket cars.

The 2013 Ford Taurus and Fusion have a radar rear end collision warning system. It flashes red warning LEDs in the windshield, and even preprimes the brakes, building up pressure so that when you do tap the brakes, you'll get full stopping power.

Beyond crash warnings and the related technology of adaptive cruise-control—which keeps you locked at a fixed distance behind the car in front of you when you've got cruise control switched on—there are ultrasonic systems that allow the car to sense a parking space and park itself, and cameras that keep track of lane markings, keep an eye on blind spots, and warn if you are about to bump into something while backing up.


Blind spotting: This wing-mirror-mounted camera is part of a system that warns when you are veering from the lane, or about to crash. GM




The 2013 Honda Accord, for example, will get forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems and blind-spot detection systems. The Toyota Camry got blind-spot detection in 2012. GM's Chevy Equinox, Buick Encore, and GMC Terrain, along with the Dodge Charger and other Chrysler models, are among the models that started getting forward-looking collision-warning systems in 2012.

Automakers are combining sensor data, too. GM, for example, is touting sensor fusion in its 2013 Cadillac XTS. While a front-mounted radar unit has an 18-degree field of view, allowing you to see another car cutting into your lane only after it's partway there, adding a camera with a 45-degree view angle and fusing the data provides earlier warning and smoother automated deceleration if necessary. "Camera and radar systems talking to each other are starting to show up on the marketplace, and this progression will go on," Capp added.

Some models are moving to electrified steering—eliminating the clunky hydraulic system for an electrically actuated system. Electrified steering not only increases fuel efficiency but allows for things like automated parallel parking. With a few ultrasonic sensors on the bumper, the driver only has to keep his foot on the brakes to control the speed, and the car takes over the steering for parallel parking.

As more models become saturated with sensing technologies, the next big shift could see cars transmit data between each other. When cars network with one another, they can broadcast data about rapid slowdowns or a wheel-slippage possibly caused by icing. Such information will hop among cars—including ones coming in the other direction—to notify drivers approaching the problem areas. "As we advance, there will be a much bigger need to connect those two systems [data collection and data transfer]," says Boyadjis.

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