In the early 1800s, engineers and entrepreneurs worked to construct the first horseless carriage. In 1885, Carl Benz was the first to produce and patent a gasoline-powered automobile. Thirty years later the one-millionth Model T rolled off of Henry Ford’s production line. In 1959, Volvo introduced the modern three-point safety harness; and in 1968 it became a requirement by the US Department of Transportation. Airbag development began in the '60s and were fit to some GM vehicles as early as 1974. Mercedes-Benz pioneered the modern airbag with their release in 1981. Legislation for all new vehicles to have airbags, for both front seats, occurred in 1998.
Safety technology hasn’t been the only development since 1885. Before the year 2000, the throttle cable was replaced by servos and wires and with the advent of hybrid cars came the need for brake-by-wire technology. Between 2000 and 2005, more technology was introduced; Toyota took brake-by-wire a step further with radar cruise control; Volvo pioneered blind-spot monitoring; and Honda introduced Lane Keeping Assist. In 2009, Google got into the autonomous car game and in 2011 Nevada was the first state to license an autonomous vehicle. Tesla had a car with level 3 autonomous capability in 2015, the same year Google gave the first driverless car ride. This year Google is giving free autonomous car rides in the Phoenix area and Congress passed the first — of what is expected to be many — laws around autonomous vehicles with the “Self-Drive Act.”
It is said that electronic technology doubles every 18 months. Looking at the progression of ideas to reality, it becomes apparent automobile technology is no different. Any idea to make our lives easier or safer ultimately becomes reality. Another component to the evolution of the automobile is that any time those advancements are proven to be safer they become law. In 2016, the first causality occurred in a vehicle driving itself in a Tesla Model S. At that point Tesla stated, “The first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated.” Compare that to the average fatality rate of 1.25 deaths per 100 million miles of a regular vehicle driving, according to the NHTSA. Autopilot is therefore 25 percent safer and is continuously and rapidly evolving. Google has stated that their vehicles have driven 3 million miles and have only reported one crash where they were at fault. The autonomous vehicle is coming and when lawmakers decide it is safer, it will come even faster. Do not be surprised when autonomous vehicle technology is a requirement.
The technology required for autonomous driving is here today and components are equipped to more cars than you may think. This technology takes precision for all vehicle systems to work flawlessly together. Cameras and sensors must read conditions with pinpoint accuracy in milliseconds. Throttle body servos slow the engine speed, hydraulic systems apply the brakes, electric motors adjust the steering wheel all simultaneously as the three or more cameras signal the reason for action. All these systems must work together exactly as designed, a task difficult under perfect undisrupted conditions made even more challenging after an accident. How can body shops ensure that this technology works after a collision? How can body shops prepare for the inevitable responsibility imposed by legislation to ensure these safety items work as designed?
This technology takes huge investment in training, equipment and shop space, more so than any other new technology has ever required. Training from I-CAR with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) includes 8 specific courses since 2015 representing nearly 25 percent of all new classes, with the majority of the other 75 percent mentioning ADAS but not specifically being an ADAS class. The body industry has never experienced a larger need for investment in equipment and training. Pre- and post-repair scanning is the first small step to ensuring proper repair of any ADAS, but there is so much more.
Becoming familiar with items like dynamic calibration, static calibration and the correct way to road test is imperative. In short, dynamic calibration is done when the vehicle is being operated under strict conditions. A static calibration is done inside a controlled environment usually with exactly positioned targets. Road tests are another new hurdle — gone are the days of grabbing the keys, getting to freeway speed and checking for an air leak and a level steering wheel, and then five minutes later parking the car and having it ready for customer pick-up. Take the Ford F-150 for example, the No. 1 sold vehicle in America in 2016. When an F-150, or any other Ford vehicle, repair procedure requires a drive cycle, it is a minimum 30-minute task. It consists of driving the vehicle between 48-65 mph for at least 10 minutes; driving in stop-and-go traffic, including five cruising speeds ranging from 25-45 mph over a 10-minute span; accelerating from a stop to 45 mph 8-10 times; accelerating to 65 mph then coasting to 45 mph; and finally accelerating to 45 mph, then to 65 mph, then decelerating to 45 mph while holding throttle steady for 5 seconds in between. Calibrating these systems make delivering this complicated road test seem ever so simple.