What Autonomous Technology Is Available? And What Options Should I Check Out?

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about all the autonomous car technology that's coming out at the moment. While Tesla and Google have stolen most of the headlines, every single manufacturer is working hard to make their cars smarter and safer.

In this section, I'm taking a look at the mode of classifying autonomous driving technology and some of the most popular technologies on the market.

What Are The Autonomous Driving Levels?

While car technology is definitely making progress, it’s a little tricky to measure how far we’ve come because the term ‘autonomous car’ covers everything from a 2005 Citroen C4 with lane keeping to Google’s fully autonomous Waymo prototypes.

The good news is that the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has broken autonomous driving down into six tiers or levels, which are:

  • Level 0 — No Automation
  • Level 1 — Driver Assistance
  • Level 2 — Partial Automation
  • Level 3 — Conditional Automation
  • Level 4 — High Automation
  • Level 5 — Full Automation

What Is Autonomous Emergency Braking?

Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is a relatively new bit of safety tech that allows cars to automatically apply the brakes if it detects an upcoming obstruction like a sharply braking car or a careless pedestrian stepping out into the road.

While AEB systems work in different ways, all will scan the road using radar or lasers, passing the data back to some central system. The car then takes that data, analyses it and works out what's an obstacle and what’s just a nearby object.

If the system does detect an imminent collision, it will trigger some sort of warning to alert the driver, usually this is a dashboard light and buzzer. If the driver doesn’t heed the warning, the car will automatically apply the brakes.

According to a study from the EU, 5,000 deaths and 50,000 injuries could be prevented each year by the adoption of AEB technology. That’s a lot of lives to save by implementing a technology that has been around since 1966!

What Is Automatic Parking?

There was an old episode of Top Gear where Richard Hammond and James May tested the LS600. It was the first car designed “to help old people park,” declared Hammond, leaning out of the window.

What followed was a typical Top Gear segment where they don’t read the instruction manual, almost crash the car and conclude that it’s a bit rubbish.

Well, automatic parking tech has taken huge leaps forward since then and is now standard on many upmarket cars.

Automatic parking is basically the next step after parking sensors. Instead of just telling you where the space is and how to maneuver into it, the car takes control of the steering and acceleration and actually does the parking for you. (Some systems still require the driver to take control of the speed by applying the brakes.)

In order to understand its environment, self parking cars come fitted with a bunch of sensors that scan your environment as you drive along.

What Is Adaptive Cruise Control?

Cruise control is nothing new and has been used on cars since, at least, 1900. It’s basically the autonomous technology equivalent of leaning a brick on the accelerator so your speed stays the same.

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is a more flexible version of that old technology.

As with traditional cruise control, you set your maximum speed but then ACC uses a radar (or some times a laser) sensor to watch the car ahead of you. It then alters your speed to keep you a consistent two, three or four seconds behind it. Again, the driver can usually set the following time.

What is Lane Keeping or Lane Keep Assist?

Endless motorway driving can drive even the most attentive motorists to distraction. Unfortunately, even a moment of distraction can cause a serious accident if a motorists drifts out of their lane and into oncoming traffic.

And that’s where a piece of autonomous technology called lane keeping comes in. These systems are designed to monitor a car’s position on the road and help return it to the lane if it detects the car drifting out.

There are three different levels of lane keeping, each providing a bit more assistance to the driver. They are:

  • Basic: These systems use a pretty camera mounted on the front of your car to continuously watch the road and detect where the white lane divider lines are on the road. If you drift outside the white markings, the system provides feedback to the driver by vibrating the wheel, flashing a light or making a sound.
  • Medium: These systems work just like the basic warning systems. It uses a camera to detect your position on the road and warns you if drift outside the lines. However, if you drift outside your lane, the car will nudge the steering back the other way to direct you back to your lane. All you get is a nudge, though. It's up to the driver to recentre the car.
  • Advanced: The most advanced systems are called lane centring assist technologies. These systems are constantly active and constantly nudge the steering to keep you in the centre of your lane.

What Is Traffic Sign Recognition?

Traffic sign recognition isn’t a very complicated technology. You stick a camera on the front of your car and hook it up to software that analyses images and picks out traffic signs. The software compares every sign to the one that came before it and if there’s a change, it notifies the driver.

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