Under the bonnet: Assist systems the way ahead
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Drivers can be sceptical about high-tech driver assist systems available in new vehicles, but research suggests features such as lane assist can reduce the incidence of serious injury crashes by as much as 21 per cent.
Lane departure warning systems are designed to warn the driver when the vehicle begins to move out of its lane, on motorways and other clearly-marked roadways.
Initially they were restricted to premium brand models and commercial vehicles but they are now progressively and quickly becoming available on mainstream models.
Systems such as these are aimed at minimising accidents by reducing the main causes of collisions — driver error, driver distraction, and driver weariness.
Although some commentators have expressed concern that drivers may be less vigilant when relying on automated safety systems, or may become distracted by them, studies have found that lane-keeping systems and blind-spot monitoring systems in vehicles help reduce accident rates.
Police crash data was collected in 25 US states between 2009 and 2015 for vehicle models where the systems were sold as optional. The information show a reduced rates of single-vehicle, sideswipe and head-on crashes by 11 per cent, and a reduced rate of injuries in such crashes by 21 per cent.
Lane-keeping assist is a feature that, in addition to the lane departure warning system, automatically takes steps to ensure the vehicle stays in the lane.
These systems are sometimes combined with adaptive cruise control, to provide additional safety. Adaptive cruise control helps the vehicle lock on to the vehicle in front, maintaining a safe distance between the two vehicles.
The proliferation of such systems is part of the steady progress towards semi-autonomous driving. However, the systems currently require the driver to remain in control of the vehicle while it is in use.
The lane-keeping-assist systems work through advanced image processing techniques, which process data from forward-facing cameras attached to the front of the vehicle.
Real-time image processing using powerful computers are being used by many systems to achieve fully autonomous vehicles in which the lane-detection algorithm plays a key part.
Tesla uses one of the most advanced lane-assist systems combined with its adaptive cruise control system marketed together as “Autopilot”.
It includes features such as lane-keeping assist and also automatic lane changing without driver input. A similar technology to lane assist is used to do the autopark feature as well.
A lane-keeping assist mechanism can either reactively turn a vehicle back into the lane if it starts to leave or proactively keep the vehicle in the centre of the lane. Vehicle companies often use the term “Lane Keep(ing) Assist” to refer to both reactive Lane Keep Assist (LKA) and proactive Lane Centering Assist (LCA) but the terms are increasingly being adopted separately.
Lane departure warning systems and lane keeping systems rely on visible lane markings, which aren’t always available on New Zealand’s secondary roads.
They typically cannot decipher faded, missing, or incorrect lane markings.
Markings covered in snow or old lane markings left visible can hinder the ability of the systems to operate effectively.
They are important building blocks, however, and will lead to the fully autonomous vehicle.
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