Servo Magazine ( July 2016 )

Automatic Braking Systems: A Gentle Introduction to Autonomous Vehicles

By Bryan Bergeron    View In Digital Edition  

My first car — a ’68 Camaro — had a standard stick-shift transmission, manual windows, manual brakes, and manual steering. Although anti-lock brakes might have saved me from a spinout on a wet winding road, direct manual control had a lot going for it. For example, not only was the car fun to drive, but everything under the hood was readily accessible and inexpensively replaced.

My only other “accident” was a passenger side collision from a drunk driver who ran a red light. Fortunately, no one was hurt in either accident. However, that the accidents occurred points to the limitations of human thought and human reaction time.

We’re simply no match for inexpensive microcontrollers than can tirelessly monitor sensors and activate brakes and other systems in a matter of microseconds as opposed to several hundred milliseconds.

In recognition of this reality, the major automakers have agreed to install automatic braking systems on nearly all model cars by 2022. The technology is relatively mature; it’s standard on many luxury cars, but is significantly more expensive than manual brake systems.

The immediate driving force, of course, is the promise of a reduction in the number and severity of car accidents.

There’s also the longer-term view that automatic braking is simply one step in the path to fully autonomous vehicles that have featured prominently in SciFi movies for decades.

However, despite the promised time and cost savings of an autonomous UPS or Uber fleet, there are millions of drivers who actually enjoy the process of driving.

There are also others who are simply uncomfortable with change. Even automatic brakes are an unwelcome change to some drivers who are used to putting their foot on the brake pedal at the sight of a red traffic light or brake lights from the car ahead.

Fact is people take time to change. I’m sure that the major automobile manufacturers would love nothing better than to sell millions of fully autonomous models to the masses. However, it’s going to take time and exposure to the technology before ordinary drivers are going to accept a fully autonomous vehicle.

To that end, automatic braking systems represent baby steps toward the realization of autonomous cars.

Moreover, although there may be some initial pushback from unenthusiastic customers, I expect that insurance companies will have a hand in propelling automatic braking systems and other components of fully autonomous vehicles forward.

Twenty years from now, a fully manual ’68 Camaro may not be illegal to drive, but the insurance premiums will certainly be cost prohibitive.  SV

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