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Tomorrow’s safety equipment

Mon, 18 Jun 2007 00:00:00 -0700

By Tim Pollard

Motor Industry

18 June 2007 08:48

The next generation of safety systems will take even more control away from the driver, read road signs – and even slam the brakes on for you in an emergency stop.

Forget science fiction, this is science fact. CAR Online is reporting from Bosch’s annual technology seminar all week – and we’ve had the lowdown from the world’s biggest components supplier on what safety innovations are around the corner. Bosch supplies safety systems to virtually every major car manufacturer and recent innovations – like night-vision – usually premiere on top-flight Mercedes like the new S-class before cascading down to more affordable models. Its new systems rely on three tiers of sensors on the car: ultrasonic sensors with a range of 4m; video cameras that can see 80m ahead; and radar for long-distance monitoring up to 200m. Much of the current work is on the video cameras, which can track other objects’ movement and are intelligent enough to tell if a child or car is about to pull into your path. The system will sound a warning and, from 2010, will be able to brake for you and tug the steering wheel to encourage you to steer around the obstacle.

We tried a prototype of the new video system and it's uncanny how accurately it reads the road ahead; the computers are intelligent enough to discriminate between a football rolling onto the road and a child about to step into your path - and they chime a warning only if a serious obstacle is anticipated. The German engineers have nicknamed the system Popeye, and it is indeed a very powerful tool.

The same cameras will be able to read road signs and display the last roadside speed limit on the car’s dashboard. This system will first appear in 2009, probably on a new BMW or Mercedes. Whereas today, this sort of technology is mostly limited to top-end execs, Bosch is confident it will have developed cheaper systems for cars in the Ford Focus class by the end of the decade.

The German supplier invented ESP stability control and is developing it further, with plans to make it prime the airbags if sensors detect a collision is likely. And the catchily titled Secondary Collision Mitigation due in 2009 will use the ESP system and brakes to prevent the car having two separate collisions (say hitting another car and then slamming into a tree) by automatically slamming on the brakes after the first impact.

Although the developers acknowledge there’s a danger of drivers being overloaded with warnings and beeps, it is adamant that the average driver is better off with this new nannying safety software. Half of all drivers involved in a frontal crash fail to hit the brakes at all – and Bosch predicts that such predictive safety systems will cut the number of deaths on our roads by 35 percent. Modern safety developments since 1970 have already decimated the chances of being fatally injured in a smash, claims Bosch. And the next round of innovations should bring us one step closer towards the accident-free society.


By Tim Pollard