Cost of crash prevention technologies set to fall
With consumer testing organisations Euro NCAP and IIHS just starting to assess the effectiveness of the driver assist options on new cars, the cost of crash prevention technologies is set to come down in the next few years. The focus at first will be on autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which promises to have the greatest impact on the number of collisions.
It’s hard to say how many lives and injuries AEB will save, but most estimates indicate that if all cars had the technology, there would be around 25% fewer car-to-car collisions. As the technology advances so that it can detect and protect pedestrians and cyclists as well, the benefits should be even greater.
For now, the technology is mainly available as an option. And the price consumers must pay to fit the technology can vary. In the UK, a basic city-speed system from Fiat adds just £250 (€290), while a Mercedes-Benz options pack that also includes other safety assist functions such as lane departure warnings and blind spot monitors costs £2345 (€2740).
That’s partly a reflection of what the market will currently tolerate. Prices for radar and cameras have reduced a lot in the last few years. The radar-based AEB systems that are used for highway driving speeds are estimated to cost car manufacturers just €100-150.
Prices for the technology to reduce
Jean-Marc Gales, president of CLEPA, the body that represents Europe’s auto technology companies, estimates that around two million AEB systems sell worldwide each year. “We expect the figure to reach 15-20 million in the next five years,” he says. “The technology can already be found on compact cars like the Golf and Focus, the main part of the market. That’s going to help to bring costs down significantly in the coming years.”
TRW, one of the suppliers working on AEB with manufacturers, believes that the introduction of consumer testing in Europe and the US will play a part in making the technology more affordable too. “The creation of performance standards will enable industry to optimize systems designs and costs to meet specific performance objectives,” says Andrew Whydell, senior product planning manager at the company.
Foundations laid for autonomous cars
But unlike other safety technologies such as ABS and ESC, it is possible that AEB will not be introduced as a standalone system. Markus Schneider, head of business development at Continental’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems division, says: “Car makers are evaluating the solutions that best fit their requirements. In most cases, they will not fit AEB on its own to cars but in combination with other functions, depending on the sensors used.“
Basic safety functions could then be standard. More sophisticated ways of using the same sensors and software, such as semi-automated driving functions to make motorway driving more restful, could be optional extras.
More capability, better value
Pretty soon it will be hard for a car to get a five-star safety rating if it doesn’t have AEB on board. Insurance companies will also demand higher premiums for cars not equipped. The increase in volumes will fund further investment in development. Greater capability will make a big difference to the huge number of people unnecessarily killed and injured.
Delphi, which supplies sensors to Volvo, has developed a system that integrates radar and camera, making it a better value proposition than fitting two separate systems for city and highway driving. “There is huge potential as active safety technologies become more broadly affordable,” says Michael Thoeny, Delphi’s director of electronic controls engineering. “Manufacturers can see demand increasing and are preparing to offer more systems to customers.”
Next priority: saving pedestrians and cyclists
Schneider of Conti sees pedestrian protection as the driver for the next generation of technologies: “In the future pedestrian detection will be an essential part of getting a good Euro NCAP rating. We’re developing the necessary technology – an example would be the stereo camera we supply to the latest Mercedes E-Class.”
Whydell of TRW agrees. “Pedestrian and cyclists are a big part of total road deaths – 21% of European road deaths (6,359) in 2011 were pedestrians and 7% (2,027) were cyclists,” he says. “We’re developing radar and camera systems today that can detect them, even in crowded city environments when a pedestrian can step out from between parked cars at a moment’s notice. In time, the sensors will also be able to deal with a greater number of situations: braking for large animals like deer and poor visibility situations. Automatic Emergency Steering could also help avoid accidents when braking would not be effective –swerving around a pedestrian at the last moment, for example.”
Why not make it a legal requirement?
With so many social benefits associated with the technology’s adoption and development, it is curious that there is currently no real political interest in making the technology a legal requirement. For the sake of €100 per car, a lot of lives could be saved. Regulators seem to be tied up instead with the introduction of CO2 emission reductions and the introduction of E-Call systems, however.
“To have an effect on road safety in our daily lives, industry needs to increase the fitment rates on new cars,” says Gales. “Europe has a vehicle parc of around 300 million cars and every year we replace around 12 or 13 million. So even if every new car came with AEB as standard, it’s going to take some time before a sensible proportion of the vehicles on our roads are equipped.”
There is still a long way to go still for the technology to deliver its full potential. With Euro NCAP and IIHS in the US both now testing and promoting the technology, it is now inevitable that one all cars will feature the technology. The pace of progress, however, will be determined by the choices that car buyers make in the next few years.