Advocates for improved auto safety are excited about the potential for self-driving cars in the future. However, some of the most impactful technology may already be possible.
Leading the pack is Tesla, maker of advanced all-electric vehicles. The company has been equipping its Model S with hardware that will allow for the steady introduction of self-driving technology, such as forward-facing radar and cameras, ultrasonic sensors and most notably a digitally-controlled electric assist braking system.
In a fairly short time, that braking system has already had an opportunity to show what it is capable of.
Recently, a video appeared on YouTube that shows a Tesla Model S traveling at night, at a speed just shy of 45 miles per hour. With little warning, a car traveling in the opposite direction attempts to make a u-turn, swerving right in front of the Tesla. The Model S managed to stop on its own, avoiding a potentially disastrous collision. The driver of the Tesla insisted that he did not have to use the brakes.
After analyzing the video, Consumer Reports concluded that of all the autopilot features, it was the set of automatic brakes that prevented the disaster.
"Tesla's Autopilot suite performs an array of safety and convenience functions, pushing this electric car further toward automated driving," Consumer Reports wrote. "However, what saved the day (or night in this case) was the car's ability to sense the closing speed of another vehicle and take action to prevent a collision. This system is referenced in the auto industry as forward-collision warning with autobrake. It has been available on the Tesla for more than a year—well before the recent software updates that included Autopilot."
Self-driving technology may one day revolutionize cars, but it's clear that this won't happen unless it is supported by solid automatic braking systems.