Automatic steering that avoids accidents is under development
Nissan, Continental show systems that take control of the wheel to prevent frontal collisions.
We may not yet have self-driving vehicles, but cars are already taking over some driving tasks for safety’s sake. In Germany this week, we got a demo of Continental’s Emergency Steer Assist.
Using the same radar sensors as a car’s active cruise-control system and combining them with video images from cameras employed by other active safety systems, ESA can alert the driver with visual and audible warnings about an impending front-end collision, and then apply the brakes and steer around an object. Depending on the situation, the car will prepare for evasive maneuvers by the driver or take control of the steering wheel to avoid an accident.
Nissan showed a similar technology, although it also takes the wheel to avoid hitting a pedestrian.
At Continental’s test track in Frankfurt, engineers drove a prototype BMW 7-Series toward a soft barrier at about 50 mph. Once the system detected the car closing in on the stationary object, it first employed a “safety mode” by preparing vehicle systems for an aggressive obstacle-avoidance maneuver.
The electronic stability control was engaged to keep the vehicle better planted by applying braking pressure to individual wheels. If a car has active roll stabilization or an adaptive chassis system, those can also be automatically adjusted to keep the car steady. If the driver misses what Continental calls the “last point to steer” or the “last point to brake,” the car will automatically control the steering wheel to avoid a collision.
Continental did not specify what automakers were interested, although the company supplies other technology to BMW, Mercedes-Benz and other luxury automakers. The company is also working on Construction Area Assist, which would alert the driver to upcoming lane closures and work zones, and Traffic Jam Assist, which would allow automated driving during heavy traffic.
Nissan’s new system, called Autonomous Emergency Steering, works in much the same way and will also automatically steer the vehicle if its sensors and cameras decide that it’s too late for the driver to avoid a collision. Nissan says its system is advanced enough to not swerve into oncoming traffic or an adjacent vehicle when performing an autonomous maneuver. If swerving to avoid a frontal collision would mean veering into oncoming traffic, the system will keep the car on track regardless, but will attempt to mitigate the collision by applying the brakes beforehand.
While Continental demonstrated Emergency Steer Assist using a stationary object to represent a stalled car, Nissan has filmed its system stopping for a similar object as well as a moving pedestrian dummy (see the video below). Continental did, however, demonstrate several pedestrian-detection systems that stopped the car before striking a similar moving dummy, as well as a system that automatically swerved to avoid a dummy by taking over the steering.
Both Nissan and Continental are calling these new systems part of a “Vision Zero” strategy to reduce fatalities and serious injuries caused by auto accidents to zilch (although Continental confirmed that it’s not supplying Nissan’s Autonomous Emergency Steering System). We’ll be reporting further on Continental’s barrage of driver-assist systems on Monday.
Both companies are also working toward autonomous cars, with Continental predicting that the technology will be available by 2025. Nissan already showed an autonomous vehicle: a self-parking Leaf, which we would like to have right away now that winter’s around the corner.
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