Technology moves quickly in the automotive world. Once we get used to one new feature, another, even more impressive one comes along. The high-end options that blew us away 10 years ago are now standard in entry level vehicles, and new high-end options are blowing us away.
The advancements in technology help every part of the car. They make driving and riding in the car more comfortable. They make navigating more convenient, and more intuitive. They make car rides more entertaining, and they make getting behind the wheel more fun. They make stops to the gas station and the auto shop less frequent.
But above all, they make driving safer. Advances in automotive technology are primarily aimed at safety, for the driver, passengers, and surrounding drivers and pedestrians. Modern innovations decrease the chance of you getting into an accident, and limit you and your vehicle’s damage in the rare event that an accident does occur.
At the heart of safety advancements in the automotive field is autonomous driving.
What does autonomous driving mean? And what are its benefits?
Autonomous driving is the biggest field in automotive technology right now. It’s the most important area of innovation, and auto manufacturers are constantly working to evolve the science behind it, and make it better.
Autonomous driving is what it sounds like: driving that is done autonomously. In other words, vehicles that drive themselves. Vehicles that take the responsibility out of your hands, and handle driving themselves. As technology can have quicker reaction times, instantaneous calculations, and scientific strategies, autonomous driving is safer than having a driver drive.
Currently, there are no fully autonomous vehicles on the market. You still have to do the bulk of the driving yourself, even if your car has autonomous features. However, those features can help you drive more safely, or help you accomplish driving tasks that you might otherwise find difficult.
Autonomous driving features
There are a lot of different autonomous driving features currently on the market, and a lot of cars that offer thee features. We’re going to show you all of the different autonomous features that are available with modern vehicles, and let you know what cars offer them.
Self-park steering is one of the most desirable and common autonomous driving features currently available. Self-park steering is pretty much what it sounds like; it’s a feature that allows cars to park by themselves. You simply line your car up next to a spot that you want to parallel park into, turn on self-park steering, and let the vehicle take over. No one likes to parallel park, so self-park steering is a very convenient feature.
Self-park steering is also a lot more effective. As a driver, when you’re forced to parallel park, there’s always the risk of hitting the vehicle in front of, or behind you. With self-park steering, that’s no longer an issue. This autonomous driving feature relies on sensors to know exactly how close your car is to other cars. That way, there’s a limited chance of cars colliding, and the vehicle can use a scientific approach to make parallel parking path as efficient and accurate as possible.
Most self-park steering features require the driver to still handle the gas and braking, though it’s dictated by the system. However, some vehicles with the self-park steering feature control both the gas and the brakes.
BMW 2 Series
Here are the current vehicles that offer a self-park steering autonomous driving feature:
Lane-centering steering is an autonomous driving feature that helps your car stay in its lane when you’re on the freeway. With lane-centering steering, your vehicle will have its path corrected so that it stays in the center of your lane. This can be an enormous safety feature if you space out while driving, and it can also be a convenient feature that allows you to relax a little bit while you drive.
The specifics of lane-centering steering differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some cars have advanced autonomous safety features that help your car avoid other vehicle that are approaching your lane. And some have gas and braking features that gauge the traffic speed around you, and accelerate and decelerate your vehicle as necessary.
Many cars have lane departure steering and warning systems, which are similar to lane-centering steering. However, these types of systems are a little bit different, and are not classified as autonomous driving features.
Here are the current vehicles that offer a lane-centering steering autonomous driving feature:
Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster
Adaptive cruise control
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Adaptive cruise control, which is often known as autonomous cruise control, is arguably the best autonomous driving feature that is currently available, due to just how much it improves your vehicle’s safety.
Adaptive cruise control is a cruise control system where the speed is not fixed. With most cruise control systems, you set the speed, and the car maintains it. With adaptive cruise control, the car sets and alters the speed, based on the flow of traffic. When a car is in adaptive cruise control mode, it will speed up to a safe, traffic-flow speed, and it will slow down as the vehicles in front of you do the same. Adaptive cruise control maintains a speed that will keep your vehicle a safe distance behind the car in front of you.
Adaptive cruise control increases safety for somewhat obvious reasons. Your car maintains a safe speed, while staying a safe distance behind other vehicles. Not only is this automated and scientific, but the autonomous system is a bit smarter and more reliable than the human brain. We all have the tendency to tailgate, wait until the last minute to brake, or simply be a little too close to the car in front of us while we drive. It’s basic human nature. Adaptive cruise control takes the power out of your hands (and feet), and maintains that safe distance and constant braking that we often forget to do. As a result, it makes freeway driving far safer than when you’re in charge.
Here are the current vehicles that offer an adaptive cruise control autonomous driving feature:
The future of autonomous driving
While these three features – self-park steering, lane-centering steering, and adaptive cruise control – are the common autonomous driving options, there’s lots more in the pipeline. Companies are innovating all three of these features to make them safer, more intuitive, and more effective. However, they’re also working on more autonomous driving features.
There are already a few companies that make vehicles that are essentially fully autonomous. These cars aren’t available to the public – there’s still legality issues to work out, and no manufacturer is going to offer a fully, or even mostly autonomous vehicle until every wrinkle has been ironed out. But a world of autonomous driving is certainly the direction that we are headed in.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), has a six-level system, ranging from level zero to level five, to determine how autonomous a vehicle is. A car with none of the features above would be a level zero. A car with some of the features above would either be a level one, or a level two. Level five is is a fully-autonomous vehicle that can drive itself at all times, in any and all conditions.
We’re working our way towards that, but it’s still a very, very far ways away. In the meantime, manufacturers are working on creating vehicles that are level three, and eventually level four. It’s a slow process, but every year cars are getting more and more autonomous. They’re taking the responsibility out of the driver’s hands, feet, and brain, and creating a safer world for us to drive in.
Autonomy is front and center as auto manufacturers innovate and improve their vehicles. The more things a car can do for you, the safer your car is. Computers and science are more reliable than the human brain and human reflexes, so every innovation in autonomy increases the safety of driving.
It seems that hardly a month goes by without innovation in the autonomous driving field, and for good reason. Autonomous driving is how we will create the safest driving world possible, where transportation is rarely ever a danger or a liability. The vehicles listed above have helped us take a big step towards that future.