Technology: Sensing a safety revolution
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A key change in the new Honda CR-V we reviewed last month was the expansion of Honda’s “Sensing” technology from just one model to being standard across the range. That means high-tech features such as stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance and automatic high-beam for the headlights are standard on all models.
This typifies a dramatic change for the motor industry in recent years: the kind of high-tech safety equipment that would have been reserved for high-end luxury cars in years past is now becoming commonplace in mainstream family models.
Different carmakers use different terminology. For example: Honda has Sensing, there’s Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) and Mazda calls its technology i-Activesense.
But they are all similar forms of Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). So while there are detail differences between the technology depending on brand, it’s all part of a wider auto-industry movement.
There are six SAE-specified levels of automation that the car industry recognises, ranging from none at all to complete self-driving.
Level 2 means that the vehicle can take over some dynamic functions, such as steering and acceleration/braking, but the driver must always be present and always ultimately in control. It’s “automation” rather than “autonomous driving”.
That’s the maximum level of assistance offered on production cars in New Zealand at the moment: there are no cars currently on sale here capable of Level 3 (fully autonomous in some circumstances) driving or higher.
It’s easy to take these Level 2 technologies for granted when they are now so widely available, but this is a level of driver assistance that we were only dreaming about not that long ago.
The latest adaptive cruise systems will not only keep you the correct distance from the car in front, they will take the car right down to a stop – and then start again when the car in front moves away.
Steering support can include a warning when the car is in danger of straying out of its lane, but also direct assistance to keep it on the straight and narrow. The camera-based technology that powers much of Level 2 technology can identify a potential collision and even mitigate the results with autonomous braking.
That’s a rare instance of Level 2 “passive safety” – extra protection if an accident is inevitable. But the majority of Level 2 is focused on “active safety”, or helping the driver to avoid an accident in the first place.
So while many sensing functions might seem like comfort/convenience features, they do also contribute significantly to active safety.
A key one is automatic high-beam support for headlights, which can active maximum illumination but automatically dip the lights again for oncoming traffic. This kind of technology makes night-driving more relaxing, but the ultimate benefit is safety – keeping the driver fresh and ensuring that oncoming drivers aren’t blinded by your vehicle’s lights if you miss the right time to dip.