Ford, however, is showing signs of inching towards this phenomenon, with their latest array of systems that can support drivers. Take for example, Active City Assist, which can be turned on when driving through a congested city.
Speaking to Humans Invent, Pim van der Jagt, MD of the Ford Research Centre Aachen, explains, “When driving in the city you may stop paying attention for a second and the car in front of you stops without you noticing but with Active City Assist the car will stop for you.”
It is an assistive system so you have the right to override the vehicle
In a typical stop and go situation on a congested road, sensors on the car can detect how far away the vehicle in front is. If you are distracted and about to hit the car in front, the City Assist system will override your foot on the accelerator and brake before you hit the car in front.
We decided to test out this and the other assistive technologies Ford has recently developed, to see if (a) they work and (b) they are useful. Sitting in a Ford Kuga in an empty car park, I was told by the testing engineer to drive straight at a wall of foam blocks that made up the likeness of a car’s behind at between 10-15kph.
The first time I did so, I simply couldn’t stop my foot from hitting the brake pedal as we neared the foam blocks. The second time I managed to resist braking and the car came to a perfect stop just in front of the blocks. It was impressive but feeling a bit cocky I asked to have another go. This time I whacked my foot down on the accelerator and not surprisingly smashed into the foam blocks, which went flying in various directions.
Had I shown this system to be faulty? Apparently not. The engineer explained, “Even though the system detects a vehicle, you, as the driver, may want to override the system – maybe there is an emergency vehicle behind you for example. It is an assistive system, so if you decide to do something different then of course you must have the right to override the vehicle.”
Next, I tried out the Active Park Assist, again in the Ford Kuga, and it worked seamlessly. I pulled beside the car in front of the parking space, put it into reverse, pressed the Park Assist button and then took my hands of the accelerator. As I put my foot down gently on the accelerator the car did the rest for me. All I had to do was change the gear from reverse to drive when it needed to go forward and vice versa. Controlled by ultrasonic sensors dotted around the car, it can detect a suitably sized parking space and manoeuvre in without touching the car in front and behind.
Jagt says, “This is the first generation, you still have to control the longitudinal motion by yourself. The generation on top of that will also have longitudinal control, so the throttle and braking will all be done automatically.”
The car will start, stop, drive, steer…do everything for you
However, the plan doesn’t end there. Jagt explains, “For future generations we are working on a system that will actually allow you to exit the car, and then – though it is not completely clear yet but most likely using a mobile phone – you will start the parking. The moment something goes wrong or you see a car coming you release the button and the car will instantly stop. We think this method is actually safer than being in the car and this type of system is only a few years away.”
For one who feels like the whole world is pointing and laughing at them when I try and park my car this type of technology is very appealing. But is it indicative of a move towards self-driving cars in the near future? Jagt says, “It is slowly moving towards that but what we don’t see is a time where, in the morning you get in your car, tell it, ‘take me to work’, while you sleep another hour in the back seat but the systems we talking about now and what we are planning for the future are slowly progressing towards forms of the car driving itself.”
The latest system they are developing is called Traffic Jam Assist. Jagt says, “The idea is that you are on a motorway in traffic jam conditions and, up to 50kph the car will start, stop, drive, steer… do everything for you.”
In order for cars to self-drive safely, it will be necessary for them to communicate with each other and the infrastructure around them. This way all cars will know the whereabouts of other vehicles. If a car can tell other cars where it is in relation to them it would avoid a lot of dangers. Jagt says, “If 100% of cars could be equipped with this technology, we could address a very large percentage of all accidents. If somebody ran a red light the car would tell the other cars, ‘I’m not stopping, I’ve run a red light’ and all the other cars would know that and wait.”
One possibility is that, like Ford’s Active City Assist, the car could brake automatically if you tried to jump a red light. This again would only work if the car was communicating intelligently with the traffic lights but as we see the rise of Smart Cities, perhaps this type of technology is not that far off.