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Self-braking cars ‘in five years’

In trials, the technology has had a 100 % success rate. Image courtesy of ARTRAC
In trials, the technology has had a 100 % success rate. Image courtesy of ARTRAC

Self-driving cars have been stealing all the media attention. But another revolution in car technology is underway and largely going under-reported.

Cars that can automatically detect pedestrians and cyclists and are able to brake before they hit them could be saving many lives in the near future. They could also help meet the European Commission’s target of halving road accidents by 2020.

‘It is a big scandal that we accept that every year 5 000 people die on German roads,’ said Professor Hermann Rohling, from the Institute of Communications of the Hamburg University of Technology, Germany. ‘That would not be accepted in air traffic.’

He coordinates a European research project which has developed a system that can detect, classify and avoid obstacles on the road before collision.

Sixth sense

The ARTRAC project, which includes carmakers Volkswagen and Fiat, developed an affordable radar sensor that uses multiple antennas that can give the car a sort of sixth sense.

‘There was not a single instance of a radar sensor not working properly.’

Professor Hermann Rohling, Hamburg University of Technology, Germany

Once it detects a pedestrian, it can give out a warning or even be linked to an automatic braking and steering system.

Radar was chosen because it is relatively cheap, robust and can work just as well in bad weather and even at night.

The system worked properly during more than 100 trials. ‘Even for me, that was really a surprise – that there was not a single instance of a radar sensor not working properly,’ Prof. Rohling said.

The prototypes developed by the EU-funded project are now under review before they get tested in-car. But Prof. Rohling expects to see them in commercially available cars soon, within the next five years, together with emergency braking systems to prevent collisions.

If it is implemented, he says, there is no doubt that the number of fatalities, especially those of pedestrians and cyclists being hit by cars in our cities, will go down.

This is where another EU-funded research project, ASPECSS, which finished in 2014, is helping. It worked out how to test and evaluate the efficacy of these autonomous emergency braking systems in order to develop consumer ratings and stimulate widespread introduction.

The ASPECSS researchers also established a basis for testing automatic braking systems designed to protect cyclists, in anticipation of this technology becoming commercially available in the near future.

Romania had the highest number of road deaths in 2013 with 93 fatalities per million inhabitants, whereas Sweden's roads were the safest with 27 deaths per million. 

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