It's important that the development of automated emergency braking is carried out carefully – these systems represent a vital first step in the creation of fully autonomous vehicles, and the safety implications are massive. This means that over the next few years, as automated brakes become more prominent throughout automakers' lines, they will be subjected to intense review and testing both inside those companies walls and in the worlds of government and academia.
The stakes are high for automated braking's development. If it is accepted by every group from regulatory bodies to consumers themselves, the stage will be set for autonomous vehicles to go mainstream. However, if the systems hit stumbling blocks in the months ahead, automakers will have to quickly correct course and retool their designs.
Measuring the effect on drivers
What happens to the human body when a driver's car detects an imminent crash and stops short? This important question is under investigation at the University of Michigan, according to the Detroit Free Press. The early results from the project show that the braking distances employed by automated systems are shorter than those when human drivers press the pedal. People in the tests have leaned as many as 8 inches forward in trials, despite wearing seatbelts.
While passenger movement during braking could have negative safety consequences, there are ways to correct the issue. Discovering the discrepancy this early in testing has allowed researchers to think about new ways to restrain car occupants and keep them safe. Research professor Matthew Reed told the Free Press new developments could include automatic seatbelt adjustment, or an audio warning to indicate that the system is about to activate.
Deciding how to roll features out
While the future of automated braking tech is determined under laboratory conditions, new features are rolling out to production-model cars. Automotive News explained that various automakers are handling this process in different ways, both as it applies to braking and to self-driving features in general. The issue received a spotlight in a direct comparison between the way Nissan and Toyota are handling their respective cars for the Japanese market.
The news source explained that while Toyota has thus far kept its autonomous features to higher-level vehicles and declined to use "self-driving" as a descriptor, Nissan is aggressively rolling the technology out to lower-cost vehicles. Analyst Takaki Nakanishi told the news provider that these different approaches make it appear that Nissan is moving more quickly in tech development, but in reality there are two wholly different strategies at play.
Toyota is more focused on selling safety, according to Automotive News, while Nissan is branding its systems as conveniences. Toyota's upscale Lexus sedans contain an example of a modern intelligent braking system: Sensors can detect pedestrians in front of or behind the car. The front-facing system is designed to swerve the vehicle around a person in the way when there's no time to brake.
Systems already showing their worth
According to USA Today Consumer Watch columnist Bill Moak, there is already evidence that autonomous features on cars have helped drivers avoid crashes in real-world situations. He explained that Consumer Reports asked readers for impressions of their early experiences with modern safety tech, finding that most respondents are pleased and a few thank the systems for protecting them from danger.
Moak noted that the survey's authors concluded that automated emergency braking should be a standard feature on cars of all kinds. While some drivers have noted that forward crash sensors give occasional false positives, warning of an accident risk that doesn't actually exist, there is still ample evidence that crash prevention technology is worth using. The protective systems of today work with live drivers instead of replacing them, but it's obvious that the sensors being developed now will prove critical once autonomous driving becomes common.
A hotbed of testing
With strategies by automakers, the opinion of the public and the consensus of researchers still shifting, it's clear that intensive testing is needed to perfect the current generation of automated braking systems and get ready for the still more ambitious developments to come. Companies at all levels of the auto supply chain are likely wondering what approach to take.
When it's time to work on testing strategies, a complimentary brake testing consultation from Greening can help determine the direction organizations should take.