Automakers may not be ready to sell their first fully autonomous vehicles (AVs), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t at the forefront of groundbreaking developments. Quite the contrary, cars have become the ultimate “mobile” device, with frequent upgrades and new, innovative features that have already begun to transform the way we commute.
Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) have made a notable impact, allowing cars to more accurately stop and remain in lane. With millions of cars already equipped, ADAS has been around long enough for both consumers and researchers to assert its effectiveness.
J.D. Power, for example, revealed that ADAS features can reduce property damage and bodily injury claims. A recent Consumer Reports survey also found that ADAS features prevented at least one accident for the majority (57%) of respondents.
These are the results of R&D, not just from OEMs but from suppliers as well, leading to a multitude of technological innovations involving both high-performance processors and sensors. The results speak for themselves—ADAS is changing the way we drive, and for the better.
In the years to come, existing ADAS features will be joined by a number of other promising technologies that will assist both drivers and passengers, creating a safer and more enjoyable mobility experience.
Pull Over and Stop…Automatically
Drowsy driving has claimed hundreds of lives annually while causing thousands of accidents. The most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that there were 795 fatalities and 91,000 accidents involving drowsy driving in 2017 alone.
To prevent the worst from happening, automobiles will utilize a combination of internal passenger-facing sensors and Level 2/3 driverless technology to safely pull over if a driver falls asleep. The system would start by warning a drowsy or distracted driver that it’s time to take a break. Infrared sensors could be used to detect droopy eyes, triggering the first warning. If a driver fails to take corrective action, the vehicle would then be on high alert, ready for the next sign of sleepiness.
Finally, if the driver actually falls asleep, the vehicle would take over and prepare to stop. It would rely on its external sensors to find a safe parking space (if applicable) or stop on the side of the road, away from traffic.
All of these elements would fuse together for a feature that could reduce road-related injuries and fatalities long before fully autonomous vehicles are deployed. They will do so by drawing upon a great deal of power, requiring a processor that can handle the sensor-fusion demands without skipping a beat.
Keeping Your Eyes on the Road
With smartphones and other devices, drivers have plenty of distractions. The last thing they need is another reason to look away from the road. Automakers have responded to this by experimenting with various ways of displaying key information, on a head-up display (HUD). The idea is to place this information within or closer to the windshield so that drivers can keep their eyes focused on what’s up ahead.
While this tech has come a long way, thanks in part to innovations from startups and suppliers in the space, the next phase is sure to be much more immersive. By utilizing the power of augmented reality (AR), next-generation HUDs could create images inside a driver’s field of view. Those images can point out possible road hazards, highlight hard-to-read road signs, and more. AR could also be used to reveal buildings and landmarks a driver might have missed, or indicate when restaurants, gas stations, or other important locations are in close proximity.
In the interim, AR tech will make driving an easier and more enjoyable experience.
Occupant Safety Like Never Before
Occupant safety is a frequent topic of driverless cars, but there’s still room for change within the existing car market. It’s not just about collision mitigation or occupant protection. There are times when a driver or passenger could be harmed without an accident ever occurring. This is where occupant monitoring could make a significant difference in combating preventable injuries and fatalities.
By using a mix of instruments—such as infrared sensors and/or cameras, as well as temperature and weight sensors—it’s possible for a vehicle to see what’s going on inside. This is particularly important in cases involving a driver who becomes ill and is no longer able to continue driving safely. There might be signs of distress long before the point of no return. By monitoring the driver’s heart rate and other key vitals, the vehicle can sound alerts and rely on its ADAS features to intervene when the driver fails to react.
Occupant safety does not end there, though. In fact, one of the most dangerous scenarios occurs during the warmer months when young children are riding in the backseat. While it’s rare, there are times when hurried parents forget they aren’t alone and leave their kids behind. This can be extremely problematic, as the temperature within a vehicle is several degrees hotter than the outside temperature, even on a cooler day.
By monitoring both the temperature and occupant conditions, the car could automatically respond by turning on the air conditioning, and by sending notifications to let parents know their child (or pet) is still inside.
Numerous Innovations are Still on the Way
Driverless technology gains many headlines, but there are numerous advances coming to automobiles long before AVs are ready to debut. With occupant monitoring, advanced ADAS features, and AR-infused HUDs, many innovations are still out there ready to discover.