ADAS, or advanced driver-assistance systems, is front-and-center in today’s automotive technology and is the precursor to fully autonomous driving vehicles. Featured in futuristic automotive advertising, ADAS is touted as cutting-edge technology. However, the concept has been around longer than most people realize.
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One of the oldest driver assist systems is automatic braking systems (ABS) that was developed for 1920s era aircraft. Having an airplane skidding uncontrollably after touching down on a runway was to be avoided and ABS braking systems help prevent accidents during landing of heavy airplanes and eventually jet aircraft. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Robert Bosch patents, in joint development with Mercedes-Benz, that ABS was widely used on automobiles. Chrysler and the Bendix Corporation developed an ABS system called “Sure Brake” for the 1971 Chrysler Imperial. Ford had “Sure-Track” on Lincoln Continentals and General Motors marketed “Trackmaster,” a rear-wheel-only system on Cadillac and the Oldsmobile Toronado. Nissan had an early electronic ABS system developed by Denso fitted to their Nissan President sedan in the 1970s. BMW even applied ABS technology to the K100 motorcycle in the 1980s.
Another driver assist technology was the load sensing proportioning valve used in the mid-1960s. Proportioning valves were installed on pickup trucks to minimize vehicle spin (swapping ends) during hard braking on wet roads. The load sensing valve was located in the hydraulic system for the rear brakes. A metal rod attached to the pickup bed and the valve provided a rough indication of how much weight the truck is caring during braking. It functions to control the brake fluid pressure from the master cylinder in response to vehicle load and prevents early locking of the rear wheels.
Since the 1950s speed warning systems have helped drivers to ease off the gas pedal to reduce speed. The 1962 Buick Wildcat’s speedometer had a speed indicator that could be set by the driver. When that speed was exceeded a buzzer sounded as a warning to slow down. Other driver assists innovations include: automotive cruise control that was new in 1947, but is common on vehicles today and the neutral safety switch (or inhibitor switch) for both automatic and manual transmissions—a form of driver assist that prevents drivers from starting the engine with the transmission in gear. Even some vintage radios had an automatic volume control that would increase volume with vehicle speed allowing the driver to pay attention to driving. All of these systems, while not labeled as true ADAS technology, provided early forms of driver assist functionality.
Current ADAS systems
Not everyone in the automotive industry uses the term “automatic assist” precisely resulting in accidents caused by a misinformed driving public. This has happened with Tesla and other luxury cars when sales people tout the benefits of their brand’s offerings and over-state ADAS capabilities. For example, a sales person might say to a customer, “Just press this button and the car almost drives itself.” After purchasing the car the new owner gets on the Interstate, engages the ADAS system and starts playing a game on their phone. This lack of understanding of ADAS limitations has resulted in accidents with some fatalities.
Because OEMs, software companies and the aftermarket are all developing autonomous cars and the components that supports them, a common language is necessary to describe the technology to avoid confusion. In 2016 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) adopted descriptions of automated driving functionality, developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International, of five levels of ADAS technology. It’s based on “Who Does What, When.”
Level 0 - The human driver does everything.
Level 1 - Automated system(s) on the vehicle can sometimes assist the human driver to conduct some parts of driving tasks.
Level 2 - Automated system(s) on the vehicle can actually conduct some parts of the driving task, while the human continues to monitor the driving environment and performs the rest of the driving tasks.
Level 3 - Automated system(s) can both conduct some parts of the driving task and monitor the driving environment in some instances, but the human driver must be ready to take back control when the automated system requests.
Level 4 - Automated system(s) can conduct the driving task and monitor the driving environment, and the human need not take back control, but the automated system can operate only in certain environments and under certain conditions.
Level 5 - The automated system can perform all driving tasks, under all conditions.
The use of ADAS that help drivers with steering, braking, monitoring and warning tasks is expected to increase over the next 10 years. In part this usage will be driven by consumer and government interest in safety applications that protect drivers and reduces accidents. For example, the United States and European Union are mandating that all vehicles be equipped with autonomous emergency braking systems and forward-collision warning systems by 2022. The increased usage of ADAS will have a significant impact on the auto repair industry as well. Even a simple job like replacing a windshield is complicated by the presence of ADAS sensors that need to be calibrated. Businesses like The Windscreen Company (www.thewindscreenco.co.uk), located in the United Kingdom are having to educate consumers regarding increased costs for windshield replacement. Consumer surveys show that the car-buying public is increasingly becoming more interested in ADAS applications that offer driver comfort and convenience, like blind spot monitoring and parking assist. The following are some highlights of ADAS in current use.