Monday, January 24, 2005

Computers At The Wheel, II

by Tom Bozzo

Responding to this post on research into the effectiveness of electronic stability control system for accident reduction, "Oscar" at Columnist Manifesto suggests that the systems need to be more proactive about cell phone-talking SUV drivers.

Meanwhile, Ann Althouse wrecked her car (an actual car, not an SUV) in a mishap that stability control wouldn't have done anything to prevent.

Never fear, the auto industry is about to field the first wave of predictive collision avoidance systems. And I'd wager that cheap computing will put some sort of collision avoidance system on practically every upscale car before the "Zilches" are out.

The baby steps have already been taken in the form of "brake assist" systems — which correct a common driver error by detecting panic braking and applying maximum brake force regardless of the driver's actual brake input (even available on the '05 New Beetle as part of a $280 stability control option) — and cruise control systems that use radar or lidar sensors to let large luxury sedans automatically maintain following distances.

Put them together and you get this Detroit Auto Show announcement of a new feature for Honda's top-of-the-line sedan:
This fall, the 2006 Acura RL will be equipped with Collision Mitigation Brake System (CMBS) + E-Pretensioners... CMBS uses millimeter wave radar to detect a collision before it happens and alerts the driver with audible and visual signals and by pre-tensioning of the seatbelt. If an accident appears unavoidable, the system applies braking force to reduce the severity of the collision. [Emphasis added.]

But wait, there's more! Many fatal accidents are caused by "lane departures" — i.e., driving off the road or into oncoming traffic — and there's a solution to that, too, in the form of a lane departure warning system to be available on some 2006 Infinitis.
The Infiniti Lane Departure System recognizes lane markings through the use of a small camera mounted behind the rearview mirror... A judgment is then made as to whether the vehicle is moving out of the lane (depending on the distance and lateral velocity to the lane).

If it is determined that the vehicle is leaving the lane, both visual (indicator light located on the instrument panel) and audible (buzzer) warning signals are generated, alerting the driver to take corrective action...

"Some of the typical scenarios where the Lane Departure Warning system will warn the drivers when they are not giving 100% of their attention to driving and drift out of their lanes of travel are, for example, adjusting the audio system, looking at other occupants, searching for addresses or landmarks when driving on unfamiliar roads, or when concentrating on conversations rather than driving," said [Nissan product safety director Robert] Yakushi. [Emphasis added.]

It is not that big of a step to add the additional feature of generating a steering input to relieve the driver of the need to actually notice the lane departure warning.

I expect that many legal minds will be occupied with the disclaimers and shrink-wrap contracts to try to keep people from suing over the accidents not prevented by these latest safety systems. (For instance, see here [Flash] for what Mercedes says in a Web demo of its "Distronic" cruise control system.)
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