Research foresees automated driving to avoid accidents

Cars that can take over driving duties at points when accidents are most likely, then return control to the driver, could be on the market within five years, according to researchers on an EU-funded project.

The Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport (HAVEit) project, involving 17 universities, companies and institutions around Europe, is an attempt to prevent accidents, rather than mitigating their effects, which is the goal of most current driver-safety systems such as crumple zones and airbags.

The researchers state that automated driving systems that can implement different levels of control could reduce road accidents significantly, if drivers can be persuaded to accept them.

‘Many drivers dislike the idea of automation; they fear that they will no longer be in charge of the vehicle,’ said Reiner Hoeger of the Automotive Systems and Technology department of Continental Automotive, one of the members of the HAVEit project. ‘What we are proposing gives them a choice.’

In essence, the system monitors the road and the driver, and can introduce three different automated driving modes in appropriate situations.

HAVEit uses sensor and actuator technologies, including a camera monitoring the driver’s level of awareness, along with onboard computers running algorithms that can take control of certain aspects of driving.

In the first mode of the system, the driver remains in full control. In the second, the car handles braking and acceleration; this could be particularly useful in stop-start traffic queues, with radar and cameras detecting the position and speed of other cars. The third level of automation adds ‘lateral automation’ — the car also handles the steering.

‘Each mode has to be manually selected by the driver,’ said Hoeger. ‘It’s not done automatically, because it could lead to confusion.’

However, the system checks the surroundings every half-second and decides whether the automation can remain in control.

If it can’t, for example, if lines of sight to its sensors are too short, it warns the driver and returns control.