Cutting gas and curb rash: Testing tomorrow's auto safety systems
We visit Continental's headquarters in Germany to try the latest driver-assist systems coming in the next five years.
No matter how well you drive, someday you or someone else will make a mistake and cause an accident. Maybe you won’t notice a car that suddenly stopped in front of you. Perhaps a pedestrian will dart out from behind a parked car. Or maybe you’ll become tired, lose focus and careen off the road from fatigue.
Automakers are beginning to guard against such accidents -- and reduce the deaths and injuries that result -- by using technology known as “driver assist.” We’re already seeing the first salvo, including blind-spot detection and lane-departure warnings that alert drivers of potential mishaps, and collision-prevention and pedestrian-detection systems that take full control of the car.
While visiting automotive supplier Continental in Frankfurt, Germany, last week, I found this technology wasn't simply programmed to reduce serious accidents, but to protect drivers from nearly every possible road hazard.
One of the many prototype features Continental wants to integrate is Curbstone Detection, which can automatically steer a car away from a curb to prevent expensive wheels from getting scraped (see video below). Another, Safe Exit, uses a camera to warn drivers of oncoming traffic when leaving the car after parallel parking.
Other features may be able to integrate with a car's navigation system. Construction Area Assist is designed to alert drivers to lane closures and work zones and to slow them down automatically when the vehicle enters the actual construction area (as is the law in most states). Another is Traffic Jam Assist, which can take control of steering and braking in heavy stop-and-go traffic to prevent fender-benders. While accidents like that may not cause a significant number of deaths and injuries, they certainly contribute to traffic congestion and waste everyone's precious time and fuel.
While Continental couldn't confirm when we'll see these latest driver-assist technologies, the company said they could start to appear in vehicles within the next three to five years. Since Continental supplies driver-assist technologies to most major automakers in the U.S., the company wants to introduce these features on moderately priced cars, rather than simply dedicating its business to the luxury segment. During my trip, I saw some technologies, such as single camera forward-collision warning systems (versus the more precise stereo camera systems), that bring a considerable safety benefit and would be relatively inexpensive. Friedrich Angerbuaer, executive vice president of the company's Advanced Driver Assistance Systems division, said he expects business to grow 40 percent over the next five years.
I also got a demonstration of connected-car technology that lets vehicles talk with each other and with a "smart" roadway infrastructure. Through open networks such as Wi-Fi Direct, this technology could prevent accidents, manage traffic flow, reduce congestion and cut fuel consumption. In one demo, a vehicle “talked” with a traffic light so that its speed could be adjusted in time with the light’s cycle to avoid rapid acceleration and braking. As the vehicle approached the light, a graphic showing the car's speed popped up on a center-dash display (see photo below). If the speed was higher than about 25 mph, the car would be slowed automatically so that it wouldn’t have to stop at the light. But it could also be overridden if the driver pressed the accelerator with enough force.
Of course, car enthusiasts may worry that the slow creep of driver-assist technology will take the fun out of driving and eventually lead to fully autonomous cars -- indeed, Continental said it expects self-driving cars to become common by 2025. The enthusiasts are partly correct. Most companies supplying this technology say that it’s mainly for city and highway driving, so driving for pleasure, especially on more rural roads, likely won’t change.
More importantly, Continental’s overall goal is help build cars that can’t crash -- and in which people can’t die or get injured -- in a plan it calls “Vision Zero.” That’s an objective everyone on the road can support.
Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.
EXPLORE NEW CARS
MORE ON MSN AUTOS
ABOUT EXHAUST NOTES
Cars are cool, and here at MSN Autos we love everything about them, but we also know they're more than simply speed and style: a car is an essential tool, a much-needed accessory to help you get through your day-to-day life. What you drive is also one of the most important investments you can make, so we'll help you navigate your way through the car buying and ownership experiences. We strive to be your daily destination for news, notes, tips and tricks from across the automotive world. So whether it's through original content from our world-class journalists or the latest buzz from the far corners of the Web, Exhaust Notes helps you make sense of your automotive world.
Have a story idea? Tip us off at email@example.com.