Once upon a time, automobiles were manually operated for the most part. Drivers were in complete control of the vehicle at all times. That began to change with the advent of cruise control, which actually debuted back in the late 1950s and offered drivers the ability to set their speed and relax their foot and leg.
Today, things have evolved considerably from what they once were. We now have ADAS, or advanced driver-assistance systems, that are capable of making life much easier for drivers, as well as improving safety for drivers, passengers and even pedestrians. Of course, each automaker has its own ADAS with its own unique capabilities, features, and drawbacks.
This leads to a complex landscape that can make it difficult to understand exactly what is possible with today’s technology. Below, we’ll clear the air when it comes to ADAS capabilities and features and illustrate just how much these systems have evolved over a very short period of time.
What Are ADAS?
Before we explore what’s possible, it’s important to first establish what ADAS are and what they are intended to do. A lot can be gleaned from the name – advanced driver-assistance systems. No matter whether we’re talking about a system from Ford or Mercedes, BMW or GM, these systems are designed to aid in the driving process to improve both car and road safety, as well as comfort and convenience.
In most instances, these systems combine elements of detection and early warning systems with automation. For instance, rain-sensing wiper blades are automated, but rely on sensing moisture on the windshield in sufficient quantities to activate. Object detection systems scan the road ahead and warn the driver about potential hazards. Advanced ABS systems help ensure that drivers can stop safely even at speed without locking the wheels.
These are just a few basic examples. ADAS have become incredibly complex over time, but the goals remain the same.
Common Features and Capabilities of ADAS
Cruise Control and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC): Cruise control and ACC serve the same functions they always have, but modern vehicles have become much better at setting, maintaining, and then adjusting speed based on real-time conditions.
Swiveling Headlights: Some vehicles today are available with headlights that swivel to follow the curve of the road, as well as to prevent glare from blinding oncoming drivers when high beams are in use.
Driver Drowsiness Detection: This feature is called by many different names, but it essentially detects when a driver is no longer paying sufficient attention to the road and will then alerts the driver in some way (visual displays, audio displays, etc.). There is a great deal of variation in how these systems work depending on the automaker in question.
Electric Vehicle Warnings: EVs and hybrids might be the future of automotive technology, but they present serious risks to pedestrians and animals due to the lack of conventional engine noise during operation. Electric vehicle warnings are audible and visual warnings emitted to help alert pedestrians to the presence of an EV or hybrid operating in electric mode to prevent an accident and potential injuries.
Collision Detection/Prevention: This is a system that detects potential collisions around the vehicle. Depending on the system in question, it can alert the driver, or in some cases even apply the brakes to avoid a collision. There are numerous variations on this, including front collision detection/prevention, rear collision detection/prevention, and side collision prevention/detection.
Hill Descent Control: Driving in areas with steep grades can be quite dangerous. A hill descent control system work to maintain a safe speed for the grade, while reducing wear on the brake pads, as well as reducing the chance of brake failure due to overheating (usually caused by the driver riding their brakes).
Automated Parking: Many vehicles have some version of automated parking technology today. In its simplest form, it is nothing more than a series of proximity sensors that alert the driver to obstacles and hazards while trying to park. In its most complex form, this system can actually take control of the car and park it for the driver, helping to ensure safe parallel parking in densely populated urban areas, for instance.
Tire Pressure Monitoring System: Tire pressure monitoring systems, or TPMS, have become ubiquitous today. These systems use sensors in each tire to monitor the air pressure. A radio transmitter sends a signal to the car’s computer. When the pressure drops below a point set by the automaker, the computer illuminates a warning light in the dash, telling the driver the tire is low.
Night Vision Systems: While not that common yet, more and more vehicles are being equipped with some version of a night vision system. Each automaker’s system works a little differently from the next, but they all have a goal of improving a driver’s ability to navigate in low-light conditions. Often, the night vision display is located in or around the central gauge cluster, but it may also be located in the center stack.
Lane Departure Systems: Lane departure systems offer both safety and convenience. They were initially designed to help prevent lane drift – where a driver starts out in one lane and then unintentionally drifts into another. However, some systems have advanced to the point that they can help make lane changes safer by monitoring for vehicles in a driver’s blind spots and then either warning the driver or preventing a lane change until conditions are safe.
Road Sign Detection and Recognition: Some ADAS have become advanced enough that they can recognize road signs and either provide the driver with information to make driving safer, or act directly on the vehicle (slowing it, for instance). Speed limit signs are perhaps the most commonly recognized, but stop signs, yield signs and others can be detected.
As you can see, ADAS have become incredibly advanced in just a handful of years. They will continue to evolve as technology improves, as well, with full automation being just around the corner.