Reporting from Dearborn, MI, I was pleasantly surprised by Ford’s “safety technology” demonstration – a ride in a kitted out Ford Explorer to demonstrate various ways new cars will avoid collisions. After the demonstration, which turned out to be fascinating, it struck me that public safety is an obvious aspect of sustainability – not to mention common-sense business. Keeping people safe matters.
Let’s start with the basics:
Ford has had something called “adaptive cruise control” for a couple years now (PDF here). It’s a simple radar on the front of your car which determines whether a distant vehicle in front of you is travelling a slower rate of speed. As you get close to it, your car automatically adjusts its cruise control to a slower rate to avoid a rear end collision. It will automatically increase your speed if the other car moves out of the way or speeds up.
More exciting, however was a system called the “Blind Spot Information System” and a host of ways cars will “talk” to each other to communicate their positions and speed – avoiding more complex collisions hundreds of yards in advance. Take a look at this:
Now imagine if there had been a way for either vehicle to sense the incoming collision course by knowing that another vehicle was approaching at an unstoppable speed? The technology Ford is testing would do that.
In our demonstration (fortunately driven by an experienced test driver), our vehicle sped toward a blind intersection where our view of perpendicular traffic was blocked by a large truck. Another test driver sped toward the intersection from our right at a high rate of speed that would have guaranteed a crash if we hadn’t stopped.
Like clockwork a flashing red signal and a loud beeping warned our driver to slam on the brakes. Collision avoided.
The same technology was demonstrated to sense vehicles in adjacent lanes, as well oncoming traffic on a two lane road – useful when passing a truck, for example.
In order for it to work, it requires other vehicles to have the same technology – something that’s still down the road, and something that would involve all car manufacturers, not just Ford. A national standard is planned first, followed by some kind of international standard for cross border driving. No word on whether your vintage Mustang can have the system yet.
In theory, such a system could even be connected to the brakes to force the driver to slow down. Though, as WIRED ominously reported this month, there will inevitably be failures on any automated system. However, this is more of an argument against completely autonomous vehicles than it is a critique of helpful pieces of assistance like the lange change warning or even automatically adjustable cruise control.
(full disclosure, the conference, including travel has been paid for by Ford)