When cars take con­trol

South Burnett Times - - LIFE - Iain Curry

THE great­est safety in­no­va­tion since the seat­belt.

A bold state­ment, but many road safety ex­perts are con­vinced Au­ton­o­mous Emer­gency Brak­ing, or AEB, is that sig­nif­i­cant in re­duc­ing road deaths and in­juries.

So what is it? As the name sug­gests, the car will take charge of emer­gency brak­ing if it de­tects an ac­ci­dent is im­mi­nent and the driver hasn’t re­sponded quickly enough.

AEB is typ­i­cally the next stage af­ter a car’s for­ward col­li­sion de­tec­tion sys­tem has is­sued the driver a warn­ing (an alarm in the cabin and warn­ing light flash­ing); au­to­mat­i­cally and force­fully (if re­quired) ap­ply­ing the brakes to pre­vent an ac­ci­dent or at the very least dra­mat­i­cally lower the speed of an im­pact.

In the real world, that may be if an an­i­mal runs in front of your car, you’ve not no­ticed a merg­ing or slow­ing car in front of you, or – and this is an ever-in­creas­ing prob­lem – driv­ers are dis­tracted by il­le­gally us­ing their phones when be­hind the wheel.

Look­ing down while tex­ting and driv­ing and the car in front stops? AEB may well slam your brakes on, pre­vent a col­li­sion and re­mind you you’re be­ing an id­iot.

Cars with AEB use radar, laser or cam­eras (or a com­bi­na­tion of th­ese) to in­tel­li­gently an­a­lyse risk of im­pact with an­other ve­hi­cle or pedes­trian for ex­am­ple.

Some work only at lower speeds – say up to 50kmh - but in­creas­ingly AEB is im­prov­ing at such a pace that it can be ef­fec­tive up to very high speeds – BMWs with Driv­ing As­sis­tant Plus can work up to an in­cred­i­ble 210kmh.

But does it work prop­erly in the real world? All new tech­nolo­gies need fair time to evolove and im­prove, and from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve had two con­trast­ing episodes with AEB on my Skoda Fabia: a sub $20k car which im­pres­sively has AEB as stan­dard (they call it

Skoda Front As­sis­tant).

A taxi reck­lessly pulled out in front of our car in slow mov­ing traf­fic while my wife was look­ing for a park on the other side of the road. She hadn’t seen the now brak­ing taxi, the Skoda beeped then braked in al­most the blink of an eye. Low speed bump hap­pily avoided.

Not so good was my re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence. A large pa­per bag flew in front of the Skoda while I was driv­ing and the AEB sys­tem knew a col­li­sion was im­mi­nent. It didn’t know it was a harm­less bit of pa­per I’d be happy to hit. For all the AEB sys­tem knew it was a solid metal car.

With no warn­ing the brakes slammed on – I thought the en­gine had abruptly seized – and we came to a com­plete stop. As the bag harm­lessly flew on its jour­ney the car seemed to re­alise its "er­ror" and re­leased the brake.

I was im­pressed at how the sys­tem had worked, but I would have been might­ily unim­pressed if a non-AEB car or even truck had been be­hind me and slammed into the back of my car as I seem­ingly made an emer­gency stop for no rea­son.

This per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence has high­lighted to me how im­per­fect some au­ton­o­mous sys­tems can be. I know most will be for the greater good, but we must also ac­cept there will be lim­i­ta­tions, and as in my case, a po­ten­tial ac­ci­dent caused by AEB too.

PHOTO: SKODA

EX­TRA EYES: Skoda’s Fabia has au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing as stan­dard.

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