Future Driver Assist Tech

Cars are coming ever closer to autonomous travel. What driver assist features are coming in the near future to help keep us safe on the road? Let's find out.
How We Got Here
Personal travel by car has come a long way since American Motors produced the first mass-produced automobile that included something called "cruise control" back in 1965. You could set a speed and the car would maintain it until you tapped the brake. It was great for long trips and helped to save gas during the oil crisis in 1978. Today's cars have evolved by leaps and bounds, moving us towards the concept of autonomous travel in which the vehicle can literally drive itself.
Currently, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) use sensors and video cameras to create an invisible bubble around our cars to help keep us safe. And for good reason. Over one million people are killed in traffic accidents each year, and up to 50 million are injured. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that 94 percent of traffic accidents are the result of human error. ADAS works to help reduce such human caused accidents.
Historically, antilock brakes (ABS) began appearing on cars in the 1960s and traction control systems began to appear in the late 80's. ABS is an anti-skid system that modulates hydraulic brakes by pumping them to reduce lockup while traction control works by applying individual wheel braking and throttle to help maintain traction while accelerating.
How Driver Assist Helps
Cars on the roads today have ingenious driver assist features that help to warn us, and in some cases, step in to keep an accident from happening. Adaptive cruise control uses radar sensors to maintain a safe distance between you and the vehicles in front of you. Distance sensors monitor the gap between your car and cars ahead and a speed sensor automatically speeds up or slows down to keep that gap constant.
Lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and blind spot monitoring uses video cameras and sensors to determine where you are on the road and let you know when you are veering off course or when another vehicle or object is getting close to your car. Lane monitoring and lane keep assist relies on painted line markers to let you know when you are leaving the lane. It shows a light on the dashboard as well as produces a beeping sound. Some systems even vibrate your seat or steering wheel to alert you and even take control to nudge your car back into its proper lane.
Blind spot monitoring uses ultrasonic sensors to detect a car in your blind spot and alerts you with a light on your dash or in your side mirrors. It is often packaged with rear cross traffic alert that uses sensors to alert you when cars, people or other objects are near your car while you are backing up. Volvo invented this technology along with Steering Assist which can guide your vehicle out of harm's way.
These various sensors and cameras used in forward collision warning (often including pedestrian warning) and rear cross traffic alert work together with automated emergency braking (AEB) to slow, or in some cases, stop your car from colliding with other vehicles ahead or even behind you when you are in reverse. However, these braking systems do not work as well in the dark. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that of the 23 vehicles tested, the four that functioned best at night were the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Camry, and Toyota Highlander.
The Road Ahead
All of the driver assistance features mentioned above are already having a positive effect on highway safety. Many of these systems were originally only available on high end luxury cars but soon trickled down to standard sedans, SUVs, even pickup trucks. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), after many years of annual increases, highway fatalities dropped 1.8 percent between 2016 and 2017. Fatalities due to automobile accidents had declined by 6 percent by 2018.
Research from the NHTSA points to a continued drop in fatalities thanks to driver assist tech in our cars. However, accidents still happen every day due to distracted or reckless driving, as well as driving under the influence. Thankfully, a lot more technology is coming soon from automakers to help us stay safe on the roads of America.
A company called Jabil out of California provides supply chain and logistic services for everything from last mile delivery robots to autonomous lawnmowers. They are working on providing safer advanced driver assist systems through sensor fusion. The company uses multiple types of sensors for the same application. In other words, a video camera may not recognize objects in low-visibility conditions such as fog or darkness. Sensor fusion incorporates the use of other types of sensors such as ultrasonic or radar combined with cameras for better visibility.
Ultrasonic sensors send out impulses that can see through objects and this sort of sensor is not affected by low-light situations and is useful for parking assist technology. Lidar, which stands for "laser imaging, detection, and ranging" targets an object with a laser and measures the time for the reflected light to return to the vehicle, making it helpful so that a vehicle can better understand its surroundings. The laser pulses create a 3D map of the environment the car is traveling through. The information is combined with other sensor data to ensure safer navigation.
Radar sensors can recognize both moving and stationary objects. When combined with a video camera, the camera finds and locates the preceding vehicle, while a millimeter wave radar uses sound to measure the distance to that vehicle. The combined information is used by the vehicle's computer system to decide if it is necessary to slow down or brake. Radar is not affected by extreme weather conditions and can recognize vehicles, pedestrians, and other objects such as animals or motorcycles.
Jabil combines multiple sensor types to create what it calls a "redundant monitoring system," where different types of sensors are used together to maximize the information being sent to the vehicle. This is particularly helpful in more advanced driver assist features such as BMW's avoidance maneuver assistance that supports the driver by actually having the ability to sense danger ahead and to create an evasive maneuver around the object or objects ahead.
ADAS systems will soon become so sophisticated that vehicles will communicate with each other. Connectivity between cars will allow them to work together to reduce traffic jams and avoid accidents. Such "hive mind" communication will streamline travel, increase traffic awareness, and make driving more efficient for everyone. As future driver assist tech helps to lower the accident rate, car insurance rates will drop as well, and more efficient travel will increase fuel efficiency.
Things to Come
Imagine a world where all cars are smart and working to keep you safe. Some futurists imagine cities with fewer parking lots since autonomous vehicles could be sitting miles away, waiting to be called in when you need them. These all-electric vehicles might be more like pods that could be used whenever you need to get somewhere. Once you are dropped off at your destination, the car would speed away to its next appointment like an AI-guided Uber.
When all vehicles are autonomous, they will be able to speak to each other and connect in "convoys." These train-like collections of cars would be able to accelerate and brake together as needed. This would lead to a truly automated highway system that is far more efficient and safer.
As of this writing, what is known as Level 5 autonomous vehicles that do not require human attention, may begin taking to our roads as early as 2030. It is thought that as we become more accustomed to using ADAS technology, the idea of having a car that drives itself will be easier for us to adopt.