Self-driving may be overhyped right now, but some remarkable ADAS features are already on the road, with more about to ship.
Judging from the news of recent times, you might think that the era of human-controlled automobiles and other vehicles is rapidly drawing to a close. Take a look, for example, at this sampling of headlines from just the past month (in no particular order save for how I came across them):
And speaking of testing, Ford and Domino’s Pizza are trying out “autonomous” (not really) delivery, while Ford and Virginia Tech are analyzing others’ reactions to self-driving (not really) roadway neighbors.
Here’s the thing though: As anyone in engineering already knows well from personal experience, while getting something to work sometimes as a single-unit prototype under controlled laboratory conditions is one thing, getting it to work consistently in high volumes under real world conditions is a far different and more difficult matter. And since we’re talking about vehicles carrying human beings (and potentially colliding with other human beings), getting them to work consistently is rather important.
Don’t get me wrong: no matter the near-term skepticism of some customers (and passengers), full vehicle autonomy is a matter of when, not if. But when won’t be nearly as soon as some advocates are trumpeting. And it’ll come in stages (again, remember, the links that follow are just from the last month’s news!):
Take, for example, the elderly. Short, repeated trips dominate their needs. They are no longer capable of driving themselves, due to degraded vision, reactions, etc. but they still yearn for independence.
Whether the concept will take off first in urban or rural environs is not entirely clear to me, although if I was a betting man I’d put my chips on the former. City routes tend to be shorter and better mapped out, but the higher density of other vehicles, pedestrians, bikes and motorcycles and the like also makes them more hazardous.
And even in the absence of full autonomy, vehicles have already made tremendous beneficial strides when it comes to ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems). SAE International Standard J3016 describes six levels of autonomy. Here they are, in summary form:
0: No Automation
1: Driver Assistance
2: Partial Automation
3: Conditional Automation
4: High Automation
5: Full Automation
Tesla’s Autopilot system, for example, is generally considered to be a Level 2 system, although its manufacturer claims that latest-generation vehicles contain hardware capable of Level 5 full automation (software capability is a different story). The Level 1 ADAS that I’m talking about, and that’s commonly found to varying degrees today even with mainstream and even some entry-level manufacturers and models, consists of features such as the following:
Front and rear collision avoidance, which not only warns you of an impending impact but also if necessary overrides the brake and/or accelerator and steering to prevent a crash
Lane departure warning, which alerts you when you’re drifting into the lane next to you and, if there’s something already there, also takes over to make evasive maneuvers
Road sign monitoring, which alerts you to speed limit changes, upcoming construction and other warning notifications, and the like, and
Driver monitoring, which warns you if you’re dozing off, say, or you’re spending too much time checking Facebook or Twitter on your smartphone instead of keeping your eyes on the road as you should.
Yeah, that last one’s particularly creepy from a personal privacy standpoint, I admit. But just as with Apple’s new FaceID biometrics-based login scheme, I suspect folks will quickly grow accustomed to it. And the first time your car shakes your steering wheel or seat to lift you out of your hot sun- or late night-induced slumber, you’ll wonder how you ever drove without it.
Take a look, for example, at this promo video for Chrysler’s upcoming CT6 with Super Cruise, scheduled to begin shipping this fall: