Everyone has heard of self-driving cars and how they’re just around the corner – but that corner still seems to be just around another corner. They’ll get here eventually, but before fully automated self-driving systems become a reality, driver-assist cars are going to become more and more common. The general definition of driver-assist systems is that they are systems that help drivers during the driving process, and that are intended to improve car and road safety. Many driver assist features already exist, but what kinds of new features can we expect to see in the future?
Assisting the Driver
Cruise control has been standard in many types of vehicles for decades, but now it’s getting smarter. Active cruise control can help to regulate the speed of your vehicle based on the speed of the vehicles in front of it, using radar to detect vehicles and other obstacles on the road ahead. Night vision systems can also help to improve driver safety when driving after dark, as infrared sensors and cameras can help to project a view of the road in front of the vehicle, highlighting important features like pedestrians and other road obstacles on a screen. Self-parking systems use sensors to identify and measure spaces that cars can fit into, and once the space is selected, the driver can allow the system to automatically back the car into the spot.
Such features lead to safer and more accessible driving. For example, collision avoidance and mitigation systems use the same hardware as that used in cruise control systems but constantly monitor the environment for obstacles. They may also boost brake sensitivity, tighten seat belts and sound alarms to help reduce the effects of or prevent collisions. Lane-keeping assists are similar: many accidents occur every year from drivers drifting out of their lanes because of distraction or fatigue, so lane-keeping-assist options can alert drivers when they are drifting out of their lane and potentially into other vehicles, or off the road entirely.
Many brand new trends in technology have been integrated into new driver-assist systems, and some familiar features that we are all used to have become more prominent as well. For example, touch screen technology is becoming ubiquitous in new vehicles, with the ability to pinch-to-zoom during navigation as well as other Smartphone-like capabilities. Aside from being assisted while driving, fully integrated infotainment systems are also being rolled out as standard – like Ford’s Sync 3 system, which allows for remote locking and unlocking, starting the engine, and checking of fuel levels.
Safety features based on driver-assist technology are becoming a huge selling point right now. Cars like the Saturn Astra, for example, feature under steer control technology that increases break pressure on the inner rear wheel where necessary. The Mazda CX-5, which is getting a full redesign in 2017, will move more upscale with a high trim line and updated driver assists. And the 2017 Ford Focus comes with a plethora of features including a reverse sensing system, a lane-keeping system, and active parking assistance.
What can we expect to see in the future? The current research trends hint that the next big thing will be ‘vehicle-to-x’ technology – that is, detecting obstacles before they are seen and hazards before they are a threat, based on the electronic networking of vehicles and infrastructure. This will make coordinated driving by multiple vehicles possible, which will be the next step on the long pathway toward self-driving vehicles. Vehicles that can, for example, determine whether a traffic light is red or green – or when it is going to change – by communicating with the light, will be able to adjust their speed accordingly. They will also be able to make use of road construction information, as well as information about emergency vehicles.
All of these innovations go toward taking away some of the most stressful, irritating and dangerous parts of driving and giving them over to computer control. With driver assist technologies, drivers will be able to concentrate on enjoying the ride and getting to where they’re going, all the while knowing that their safety when on the road is more assured than ever. And, before self-driving cars arrive and take over for us, these technologies are only going to become more common.