Automated driving seems impossibly futuristic. Many car brands, including Mazda, Ford and Hyundai, now include computerised technology designed to enhance a driver’s ability, such as reversing cameras or parking assistance. However, despite big name brands such as Google and Uber working tirelessly to be the first to master automated driving, no one is quite there yet.
It’s easy to feel vulnerable on the road, where we are frequently subject to the whims of other drivers. Many are reluctant to take the control out of human hands and into those of a machine. But when it gets off the ground, automated driving is expected to significantly decrease the amount of accidents that occur in any given year. Machines are much more willing to follow a strict set of parameters, making it almost impossible for them to break road rules.
Technology company Bosch, working with electric car manufacturer Tesla, has been the first to bring the experiment and design phase of the automated car revolution to Australia. Working out of Melbourne, the project has benefited from the input of specialist engineers from all over the world.
Bosch engineer Xavier Vagedes is fully aware of the delicate balance that needs to be struck in this new relationship between car and driver. ‘We need to consider all the cognitive functions of the driver. [The car] needs to perceive the world, understand where it is at all times.’ This process has required Bosch engineers to experiment again and again, with a lot of design give and take from various parts of the car.
Those developing automated cars have initially relied on a revolving, 360-degree camera, which made for an iconic image when mounted on the top of the car. However, due to production issues, Bosch has developed their processes further to produce laser scanners on all sides of the car. Even when the driverless function is not enabled, this has the potential to allow drivers to see what is happening around their car more easily.
The company’s latest promotional video also reveals a system designed to detect fatigue in the driver. A real concern for those against automated driving has been the idea of a car speeding out of control while the supervising driver sleeps peacefully. By using this technology to alert the driver when they fall into a micro sleep, and an inbuilt automatic stopping mechanism if the driver fails to respond, that worry is almost eliminated. Again, this technology is also useful when a human has control of the vehicle, as fatigue currently contributes to numerous accidents.
While companies like Bosch are making leaps and bounds in this area, fully automated cars are still a way off. This gradual process of developing cars with more inbuilt features allows engineers to understand in greater depth the implications of each new piece of technology on the car, and how this will affect the driving experience. The reluctance to set a firm date for driverless cars leans towards a sensible approach that suggests all tests and checks will be done before the public can take advantage of this emerging technology.
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