The ecosystem of cars is ever-evolving and in the last few decades, the industry has been trying to move towards autonomous vehicles. Imagine a world where cars are no longer driven by humans.
Research — including the 1979 Tri-Level Study of the Causes of Traffic Accidents and the 2015 National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey — claims that self-driving cars can eliminate human error, which causes an estimated 94 percent of crashes. Affirming this is Uber, which contends that driverless cars will “help save millions of lives as well as cut congestion in our cities”.
All around the world, companies the likes of Daimler, Ford, Nvidia, Intel, Uber, Google and Apple are investing more into the creation of such cars. Even on Singapore shores, efforts have been stepped up to steer things in this direction. In January, local media reported that driverless trucks will be put to the test on Jurong Island, while MIT spin-off technology start-up company nuTonomy has already started doing so with cars at a facility in one-north.
But while the arena is a long way from full autonomy status, experts predict more automated cars will hit our roads by 2020. Many brands are already on the bandwagon, introducing semi-autonomous features and functions into their latest cars. Some can manoeuvre themselves into tight parking spots. Others cruise at a speed set by the driver and maintain a safe following distance. And those that will even apply brakes when a collision is imminent.
Here are some of the latest developments in the market.
An automaker associated with high-performance sports cars, Porsche has pushed the barriers by entering the saloon and SUV markets. And it continues to do so with the Panamera. Its sports saloon was recently revamped to include several smart assistance systems to facilitate its becoming driverless. One of them is the Porsche InnoDrive. Though not available locally, this system enhances adaptive cruise control, predictively optimising the driver’s speed through the car’s radar/video sensor system and navigation data. It helps increase vehicle efficiency by monitoring speed limits and topographical features along the route, modifying the car’s speed accordingly, and controlling engine management system. To accompany this is a Traffic Jam Assist function to incorporate gentle steering inputs to keep the car within its lane and regulate distance from vehicles in front, while improving ride comfort. Other assistance technology systems include ParkAssist, Lane Change Assist, and a Night Vision Assist that uses a thermal imaging camera at night to detect people or animals up to 300m away.
Bimmer has long been known for the advanced technology it bestows on its vehicles. So it’s no surprise the German automaker is also innovating in the self-driving aspect. Its BMW Vision Next 100 embodies the brand’s vision. By end of this year, the company also plans to release 40 automated BMW 7 Series cars, and the BMW iNext, its first highly automated vehicle, by 2021. Existing ranges are already equipped with semi-autonomous features. The brand-new BMW 5 Series, for instance, comes with optional level 2 assistance systems. In addition to Adaptive Cruise Control, a Steering and Lane Control also assists with distance-keeping, acceleration, braking and lane control at up to speeds of 210km/h for increased driving comfort especially in slow-moving traffic. Other driving aids in the car include Speed Limit Assist, Evasion Assist and Lane Change Assist.
In June, Brit manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover demonstrated its prototype autonomous technology called Autonomous Urban Drive, which enables a vehicle to obey traffic lights and even negotiate T-junctions and roundabouts by itself, putting the company’s vehicles closer to achieving level 4 autonomy. Land Rover has started introducing various semi-autonomous features into its current line-up, including the new Discovery and Range Rover Velar. With the latter, a midsized SUV, you can look forward to standard and optional systems, such as an Adaptive Cruise Control with Intelligent Emergency Braking to maintain a preset speed and automatically stop the car when necessary; and a Driver Condition Monitor that keeps track of driver behaviour to detect signs of tiredness. It also offers usual assistance functions such as Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Monitor and Blind Spot Assist. While the car comes with an Autonomous Emergency Braking system, Traffic Sign Recognition and Intelligent Speed Limiter, these are not available for units in Singapore.
At the Auto Shanghai show in April, Volkswagen showcased Sedric, the group’s first-ever self-driving concept vehicle, as part of its vision for the future. Developed from scratch, the adorable-looking ride is designed for level 5 autonomous driving, which means no human driver is required. Volkswagen has also expanded its offerings with the new Arteon at this year’s Geneva International Motor Show. Not fully autonomous yet, this five-door gran turismo comes with the latest-generation Adaptive Cruise Control with a predictive cruise control that lets the car react to other vehicles and bends on the road. It also allows speed to be automatically adjusted — if the car was set to cruise at 90km/h but enters a street with a lower speed limit, it reduces the driving speed automatically. Upon returning onto a highway, the speed reverts to that set previously. Other assistance systems include the Emergency Assist, Lane Assist, Side Assist and Sign Assist.
Japanese automaker Infiniti has also been stepping up efforts in the driverless quest. Its Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 is a twin-turbocharged thriller with the Infiniti Safety Shield. Cameras in this top-of-the-line performance car can help detect other road users and obstacles in the surroundings. It spans a host of systems, including Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Blind Spot Warning, Blind Spot Intervention, Forward Emergency Braking, Predictive Forward Collision Warning, Distance Control Assist and Back-up Collision Intervention. Try steering it out of lane without checking your blind spots, and the car “fights” with you to maintain safety and lane discipline.
It’s hard to talk about car safety without mentioning Volvo. After all, the Swede automaker has built a solid reputation on producing some of the world’s safest cars. If it fulfils its widely touted brand vision, “By 2020, no one would be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car”. Released only this year is the V90 Cross Country, an off-roader engineered with the IntelliSafe Assist as a standard, along with various innovative technology safety systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert and Pilot Assist. The latter is an advanced semi-autonomous drive feature that keeps the car properly aligned within lane markings at speeds of up to 130km/h, thereby preventing unintentional road departure through evasive steering manoeuvres and braking. The car also comes with the intuitive City Safety Auto-braking collision avoidance system to help avert collision with another vehicle, or a pedestrian or cyclist.
At January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Audi presented its piloted driving car, the Audi Q7 deep learning concept, which is a collaboration with Nvidia. A camera at the front communicates with a Nvidia processing unit for more accurate control over the steering, enabling the vehicle to become familiar with the route and surroundings, as well as to respond to traffic signals. Audi is also working with Mobileye, which supplies cameras, in models such as Q7, A4 and A5, and Q5. In the just-revealed Audi A8, meanwhile, is a Traffic Jam Pilot function that enables the driver to give the vehicle full control during a congestion.
For its Giulia line-up, Italian automaker Alfa Romeo has included the Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Brake systems as a standard. How they work: A radar sensor and built-in camera on the front windscreen detects obstacles or vehicles, and warns the driver of the risk of collision. If the driver fails to react, the warning system kicks in to avoid impact. The feature also comes with a pedestrian recognition function that stops the car autonomously at up to 65km/h, if a pedestrian is detected in front. Other assistance functions include Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Monitoring.
The 10th-generation of the much-loved Mercedes-Benz E-Class was launched with a slew of technical innovations last year, many of which were making their global premiere. Dubbed the “most intelligent executive saloon”, the E-Class includes Active Brake Assist as a factory standard — to warn a driver of impending collisions and apply brakes if necessary — while the optional Driving Assistance package is encouraged for an even safer and more comfortable experience. Of note is the Drive Pilot system, which keeps the car at the safe following distance (for the first time at speeds up to 210km/h) while taking its surroundings into account to help the driver keep to his lane. Also in the pack is Active Emergency Stop Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and Traffic Sign Assist.