Just Look Ahead – The Journey of Autonomous Driving

by Adam Hilton

This advice, dispensed to me shortly after I moved to Paris, was shared in an effort to help me navigate the craziness of these crowded, vibrant streets. “When driving in Paris, just look ahead,” my mate said. It’s good guidance, indeed, and has served me well.  

To be honest, though, it isn’t enough. 

Those sitting behind the wheel aren’t always aware, 100% focused on the road, the surroundings…it’s a lot to take in.  And, even the most alert and engaged drivers encounter unavoidable situations that result in property damage, injury or worse. 

Drivers are human, as are the bikers, pedestrians and everyone sharing the avenues and sidewalks of cities and towns all over the world.  And, there will always be human error.  That person looking at their digital map instead of the traffic signal; the driver distracted by another vehicle and unaware of the cyclist beside them; or the newly-licensed teenager backing out of a parking space that doesn’t see the woman pushing the shopping cart.

Look Ahead, Behind, Beside, Up and Down

There is no dispute: looking ahead and responsible driving are critical elements of accident avoidance. But we need much more.  Fortunately, much of the more is already here, and it is producing meaningful results.  

The dangers of human fallibility on the road have been reduced significantly by the precision and immediacy of electronic sensor capability, which is widely integrated in newer-generation automobiles at nearly every price point.  What used to be ‘nice to have’ Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are now available on a large majority of vehicles, often as standard.  Consumers, too, have altered their beliefs about ADAS and have come to appreciate the effectiveness of the massive sensor ecosystem that underpins advanced auto safety.   

Rightly so. Because it is hard to dispute the benefits of ADAS. 

According to a 2019 University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) study of GM vehicle crash data, ADAS has had a stunning – though not surprising – impact on accident reduction.  Results of the analysis revealed accident prevention due to electronic safety systems ranged from an impressive 20% decline in lane departure crashes all the way up to an 81% drop in backing crashes.

(Source: https://www.thecarconnection.com/news/1124990_study-automated-safety-features-significantly-reduce-the-risk-of-vehicle-crashes)

Look Inside and Underneath

But what makes ADAS work?  Have you ever considered the reliability of cameras, radar sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and LiDARs that enable all of the safety features we have come to rely on, such as….

  • Forward collision and lane departure warnings
  • Blind spot detection
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Rear-side monitoring
  • Parking assistance
  • Night vision systems
  • Automated braking

Camera

Radar

LiDAR

These technologies are only as good as the myriad of components and materials enabling their function and dependability. When solder joints have long -term integrity, component connections are protected from mechanical stress, heat is removed from high power devices and systems are safeguarded against damaging environments, guess what? If Henkel solutions deliver, ADAS technology delivers … reliably… day in and day out. The sensors and actuators that combine to provide massive vehicle control monitor fields in all directions – virtually 360 degrees – to ensure the driver, the passengers, the cyclist, the pedestrian and that lady with the shopping cart are all safe from injury, and that the vehicle is free of damage. 

Not only can materials be the difference between function and failure, they can also be the difference between broad integration or lack thereof.  Improving manufacturing and processability, more efficient processes and enabling systems drive OEMs to embrace ADAS solutions, develop lower price-point vehicles that contain them and, therefore, attract more customers.  It’s a win-win-win. 

Look to the Future

So, you ask, if we have all of this ADAS capability today, how long then until we get to authentic autonomous driving?  The truth is that Level 5 ADAS – a.k.a. autonomous or self-driving vehicles – are already here, though limited in broad application.  The vehicle technology exists and leaders in this space – Google/Waymo, GM, Volkswagen and more – have demonstrated that autonomous driving is viable, even if commercial application is likely several years away. 

Only when we have complete collaboration between electronics and automotive innovators, governmental and regulatory bodies and, yes, confident consumers that trust the technology, will we be able to advance this effort.  Infrastructure has a long way to go, fail-safe modes and effective manual override capabilities for traffic and weather conditions have to be further developed, and effective solutions to system security threats need to be addressed.  But we are on the road to this reality – some automotive CEOs project narrow application of the technology within a couple of years, others suspect urban areas may be a possibility by 2025 or, according to one top executive, even 2030. [2] Clearly, we all hope it’s sooner rather than later.  

Though timelines are hard to predict, I am certain we will reach Level 5 full automation, and that all of us involved in this exciting new era of automotive innovation will embrace the fact that our vehicles are the ones that will be ‘just looking ahead’ without fail. 

Want to learn more about what makes ADAS work? 

Watch this: Webinar replay.

Read this blog: A cyclist’s tale; what ADAS may have helped avoid.

Engage with the author, contact Adam: mail, Linkedin

Author

Dr. Adam Hilton: Business Development Manager @ Henkel; Focusing on Automotive LiDAR, RADAR, Camera and ADAS sensor assembly solutions

Sources:

  1. https://www.thecarconnection.com/news/1124990_study-automated-safety-features-significantly-reduce-the-risk-of-vehicle-crashes
  2. The Self-Driving Car Timeline – Predictions from the Top 11 Global Automakers | Emerj

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