Active safety systems that warn of a potential crash or that can even take over braking or steering to prevent an accident are starting to appear on more and lower-cost vehicles. This proliferation of the technology, also known as driver assists, is the source of large investments by automakers and suppliers to remain competitive, to comply with new and impending safety regulations and ratings and to also gain an advantage in the autonomous-car race.
The market for driver assist technology, which largely consists of sensors such as cameras and software, is expected to increase by three fold to $10 billion by 2020, and will accelerate as the industry develops self-driving cars. As evidence of this ramp-up, on Friday General Motors unveiled its new $14 million Active Safety Test Area (ASTA) near Detroit.
The automaker also announced that it will offer 22 different driver assist technologies in 2016 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles, including City Speed Front Automatic Braking, Front Pedestrian Braking and a Curb View Camera that helps avoid low-speed collisions with curbs, poles and parked vehicles.
GM’s new 52-acre ASTA facility includes:
- A highway simulation section with six lanes, on/off ramps, lighting and road signs that can be switched to represent conditions around the world.
- A pedestrian test area with a specially designed rig that places a crash dummy in path of a vehicle.
- A parking test area with various curb types and landscaping.
- A simulated tunnel test area with walls and posts.
- An observation building that features a robotic-car control
“The work we’re doing here is extremely important,” Mark Reuss, executive VP of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain at GM, told assembled media at the ASTA grand opening, adding that GM’s goal is “a world without crashes.” Jeff Boyer, GM’s VP of Global Vehicle Safety, said that the automaker is “working aggressively to prevent crashes” and that the addition of active safety to the company’s vehicles is “important here and globally.”
While active safety is becoming a competitive must-have across all vehicle segments, GM acknowledged in a statement that the new “facility is also used to assess performance in regulatory and insurance industry consumer metric tests, such as those conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Euro New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and others.” Both NCAP and IIHS have begun incorporating the availability of active safety features in its crash-test rating and recommendations, and last month lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate proposed legislation that would require NHTSA to include collision-avoidance systems as part of its new car safety rating system.
One the technologies that GM demonstrated for the media at the opening of the ASTA, City Speed Front Automatic Braking, is also known as Emergency Autonomous Braking (EAB) and is required on a vehicle to earn the highest NCAP safety rating. When it detects a front-end collision with a vehicle ahead is imminent while the host vehicle is traveling at low speeds (under or around 12 mph), City Speed Front Automatic Braking warns the driver with audible and visual alerts. If no action is taken, the system automatically applies the brakes to either avoid a crash or lessen its severity.
Another technology demonstrated at ASTA was Front Pedestrian Braking that can detect a potential collision with a pedestrian directly ahead of a vehicle. It similarly issues a warning and then automatically applies the brakes if the driver does not in order to reduce the collision’s severity or avoid it altogether.
While active safety technology is designed to reduce accidents and save lives by augmenting driver awareness – 94 percent of all crashes are the result of human error according to NHTSA – it’s also helping automakers gear up for autonomous driving. Bay said that the driver assist technologies being tested at ASTA represent the “building block to highly autonomous and autonomous cars,” while Cynthia Bay, director of Active Safety Electronics and Controls for GM, added that the new facility is “part of GM’s autonomous vehicle road map.”
A 16-acre “dynamics pad” at ASTA is dedicated to the testing of completely robot-controlled vehicles, which are remotely operated by engineers in a control tower via computers, allowing for “repeatability and reliability” in the testing process, said Bay. Seeing a Cadillac CTS stuffed with machines and computers – and watching an engineer in the control tower maneuver it and another car within a few feet of each other – it’s easy to foresee a future when technology will take the wheel for “a world without crashes.” And the kind of investments it will take to get there.
Originally published by Forbes.com