Autonomous, or self-driving, cars have been getting a lot of buzz lately with tech companies like Google getting involved. Ultimately, it’s going to take an automaker to make it happen, and some of them are working on it. Mercedes-Benz raised some eyebrows this year with a new autonomous concept car. It was not their first. The Mercedes-Benz “F 015 Luxury in Motion” concept car drove itself on stage at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, as well as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. You can see Mercedes-Benz has been giving it a lot of thought. If necessary, the F 015 Luxury in Motion can be driven by a person, but when it drives autonomously the steering wheel retracts out of the way. The passengers will not just sit there with their hands in their laps watching the world go by. The four power seats in the car can be moved to face each other for a “lounge-like” interior. Though actual widespread implementation of autonomous driving has a long way to go, it might surprise you that the roots of the technology can be seen in safety features you can buy in cars today.
Mercedes-Benz is marketing these systems under the name Intelligent Drive. Many models can be equipped with them with the optional Driver Assistance Package. Most people know some cars can already park themselves with Active Parking Assist. Parktronic is Mercedes-Benz’s system that allows automated parking with active steering and brake control in both parallel and end-on spaces. That’s not too scary at low speed, but extend that technology to the road. Through the use of radar and a stereoscopic camera, the vehicles are able to detect different hazardous situations and react as the situation demands. Autonomous braking comes into play with Pre-Safe Brake with Pedestrian Recognition – it can bring the car to a stop automatically from 31 mph if a person gets in the way. The cruise control called Distronic Plus keeps the car at a pre-set distance from the car ahead; now it works in stop-and-go traffic. Through the camera and radar, the vehicle sees the lane markings and car ahead, and now Steering Assist will keep the car in in its lane, in traffic or out on the highway.
You don’t have to go to a luxury brand anymore for autonomous safety features. Cary Bosak, president of Bosak Motors in Merrillville has been watching these features come into production and thinks acceptance of autonomous driving may be a generational thing: “It seems inevitable, but I don’t know how many people will embrace it. The American public likes to be in control. The Millenials are a different breed however… That said, I like the direction it’s going safety-wise. Especially with three kids driving now.”
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Some of the features available on certain Dodge and Chrysler models include Adaptive Cruise Control - Plus with Full Stop, which maintains distance from the vehicle ahead. It can bring your vehicle to full stop without driver intervention, and start driving again if traffic stops for less than two seconds. Full-speed Forward Collision Warning-Plus uses radar and camera technology to determine if a frontal collision appears imminent. It pre-fills the brakes for a faster response and transmits audible and visual warnings to the driver. If the driver doesn’t respond it briefly applies the brakes. If the driver still doesn’t respond, brakes are applied and can bring vehicle to full stop if speed is reduced below 20 mph. They also offer Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, which uses electric power steering to deliver subtle steering-wheel input when the system detects you leaving the lane. You can adjust the sensitivity for how much correction you want.
Similar systems are available on General Motors brands like Chevrolet. Depending on the model, Chevrolet’s Forward Collision Alert system uses radar located in the grille area or a camera mounted behind the windshield in front of the inside rearview mirror. It shows a green icon when a vehicle is detected ahead and an amber icon when a driver is following too closely. A red collision alert warning will flash – along with rapid, high-pitched beeping – when the driver is approaching a vehicle ahead too quickly and may potentially crash. In Chevrolet models equipped with the available Safety Alert Seat, the seat will quickly pulse five times on both sides.
Taking it a step further, in the 2015 Chevrolet Impala, Tahoe and Suburban, available Front Automatic Braking will automatically slow or stop the vehicle if the driver does not respond quickly to an alert.