The most under-hyped, but most important, technology since seat belts

I’ve read dozens of retrospectives on the 2000s and 2009, in particular, in the past few days and quite a few predictions for what technology will be important to pay attention to in 2010 but none of those that I’ve seen have talked about this technology and this one could save your life.

Stats: “Car Crash Stats: There were nearly 6,420,000 auto accidents in the United States in 2005. The financial cost of these crashes is more than 230 Billion dollars. 2.9 million people were injured and 42,636 people killed. About 115 people die every day in vehicle crashes in the United States — one death every 13 minutes.”

Think about that. If we could cut down on car crashes by even 5% we could save more than 2,000 lives!

For the last 11,000 miles I’ve been using a technology that could do just that: radar is built into my car. I think it’s criminal that it’s not in every new car. Just like it was criminal for car makers to drag their feet pushing out seat belts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes in previous safety fights.

After 11,000 miles I’ve seen up close what this technology can do.

Twice it has sensed I was about to get into a crash and pre-fired the brakes, tightened up my seat belts, and warned me with both visual and audio alerts that I was about to get into a crash (both times someone had cut me off forcing me to apply emergency braking).

But it’s not just about accident avoidance, either. Recently I had a conversation with Ford’s Chief Safety Engineer, Steve Kozak. You should watch this interview to learn about this technology (it’s in two parts, Part I, Part II).

What does my 2010 Prius do with its radar? It has the best cruise control I’ve ever used and I’ve been in some very expensive and nice cars. Here’s how it works:

I pull onto a road, say freeway 280, and I set the cruise control. I set the top speed the car should ever go. Say 80 mph. But it doesn’t go 80 unless there’s no cars in front of me. Usually in Silicon Valley there’s traffic. So, the car in that case follows the car in front of me.

But they just slammed on their brakes to avoid something. What does my car do? It slams on its brakes too. It is so reliable I no longer impulsively reach for my brakes. Let’s say the car in front of me speeds up after slamming on its brakes. My car speeds up too. It’s like there is a rope between my car and theirs. It is like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

Why haven’t they just made my car totally drive itself? Because customers just aren’t ready for it, says Ford’s Kozak in the video. He explains how the 2010 Ford Taurus uses this technology in a much different way from my Prius due to customer research that showed Ford most people just aren’t ready for assisted driving technologies like exist in my Prius (my Prius also has a video camera that works with my steering system to keep me in lane and warns me if I am drifting out of my lane — great to warn you that you’re falling asleep at the wheel. Toyota has demos of these technologies on its 2010 Prius site).

Ford also uses radar to help when backing its car out of a parking spot. In part II of my video you can see him show how that works.

But the real deal here is the accident avoidance and preparation for getting in a wreck if you are headed that way. Kozak told me that very few people fully depress the brakes before a crash. If they had, he told me, lives would have been saved. Ford’s version of radar prepares the brakes so that all you need to do is touch them to get full braking pressure if the car thinks it’s headed for a collision.

Another place the radar is invaluable? In fog. I drive over the Santa Cruz mountains every day to get home and there often is fog. One day there was a car in front of me that had no back taillights. This would be a very dangerous situation in a normal car in deep fog (there are often crashes in the central valley that involve dozens of cars due to fog). My radar saw this car before I did and slowed down and kept its distance.

If you only watch one part of the videos I shot, watch the second part which gives a demo of how the tech works.

Why doesn’t this technology get hyped on Techcrunch or Mashable or other blogs?

A few reasons:

1. Most tech journalists haven’t bought a new car in the past year. So, they don’t get to see the latest 2010 technology.
2. The market doesn’t change over to new cars very quickly like we do with other gadgets or services. Look how long it took for Americans to get used to wearing seat belts (in many states it took legislation to get car owners to take them seriously).
3. Safety systems just aren’t as “sexy” as other toys on cars like Microsoft’s Sync system.
4. There aren’t big companies who are pushing the radar systems to bloggers. At CES next week, for instance, I’ve already gotten tons of PR invites to see Microsoft’s new Sync system that lets you control music and other systems in the car with your voice, but no company has invited me to see their radar system.
5. It’s hard to demo. I didn’t get how important this new technology is until I had driven several hundred miles in my car and had a near miss and gotten used to the assisted driving features.
6. It’s expensive. My system came with an electronics package that cost many thousands of dollars. Now, yes, I got LED headlights, navigation system, and a few other toys (better stereo) but I know only a small percentage of Toyota Prius buyers go for the expensive package.

So, this technology faces some major challenges. What are they?

1. Engineers still are figuring out what’s the right way to use this technology. You can see that in the video with Ford’s engineer.
2. This technology is still expensive, so will remain for cars that are $30,000 or more for at least the next year.
3. There isn’t much consumer demand for these systems yet (there will be as accident data comes in, because I’m convinced it will save lives and the data in a year will show that) but that’s partly because very little marketing is being done around these systems. How many Prius commercials have you seen that show off this system? I haven’t seen one, even though Toyota has shown off automatic parking.
4. Even when consumers pay for these systems I bet that most don’t even know to use the cruise control. My wife, for instance, hates cruise control so she never turns on the system that can help her drive better, even though it is more accurate than her own eye is and safer too.

Anyway, this is one technology that is way underhyped and not talked about nearly enough. If you have a chance to buy a new car in the next year you should consider buying a car with a radar system. It just might save your life.

Comments

  1. Here are a few reasons why this technology may be slow to catch on:

    1) People overestimate their abilities. Almost everyone believes they are good drivers, even though statistically speaking half of them are below average. They are going to resist having their decisions superceded by a computer.

    2) People underestimate known risks and overestimate unknown risks. The chance of the Prius' radar erroneously slamming on the brakes may be 1/1000 the chance of a car getting into a rear-end collision, yet people will worry more about the radar malfunctioning even as they drive while on a cell phone.

    3) People will worry that their skills will erode and their reaction times increase after relying upon the radar for too long.

    Every accident that can be attributed to malfunctioning driver-assist technology will require about a year of flawless operation by every such equipped vehicle on the road to reduce public anxiety.

  2. Like Albatross said, people over estimate their abilities and don't trust automation as much as they should.

    It doesn't matter what the rate of failure is on automated systems, as long as the rate is below human failure rate. In that case, we win. The problem is that humans are really hung up on the illusion of control. We know that in a car that drives it self that we're not in control and the prospect of that machine killing us without our intervention scares us. What we're not so sharp on is that by taking control we are [hypothetically] increasing the chances of our injury or death, and in a field of all manual or all auto cars, manual control doesn't even favor skilled drivers since the real danger for above average skilled/careful drivers is the /other/ drivers on the road.

  3. Regarding your second point….

    I would be concerned about the durability of the radar and its system. With no long term data… who knows? In 3-10 years it might be slamming on the breaks every 25 miles. I think it's a valid concern.

  4. Yup. I've only been in one accident and in that one a lady hit me and was ticketed. That's one reason why collision preparation systems are so interesting. You won't be able to avoid all collisions, but your car can prepare and improve your chances for living by helping you scrub energy off with maximum braking and by preparing seat belts (it's really weird when your car hugs you, like mine does as it prepares for a wreck).

  5. Let’s be clear, this is not something amazing Toyota have just come up with. Numerous manufacturers have had this sort of thing for *years* (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_cruise_control_system). I specifically remember seeing the road-tests of both Jaguar and Mercedes systems on British television a decade ago. Jaguar announced the technology in 1995 – nearly 15 years ago! (See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/radar-to-get-jaguar-out-of-a-jam-1590188.html)

    In fact, Mercedes had an embarrassing PR disaster in Europe where the demonstration of this technology went spectacularly wrong as the frame of the enormous steel hanger they were operating within interfered with the radar, causing the demonstration car to crash on camera! (See http://motortorque.askaprice.com/news/auto-0511/mercedes-pileup-at-safety-demonstration.asp)

    So don’t rely on it if you happen to be in a large, steel-framed shed. ;-)

  6. What if you learn to rely on it and then it brakes? What if there’s something small in between you and the car (a cat, a dog, a child!) that you could and would avoid? How does it behave?

  7. Maximum braking when the guy in front of you slams on the brakes (rather than cutting you off) means you were travelling too close, of course. The risk of motorway pileups increases exponentially when each link in the chain is applying maximum brakes. For safety, there should be slack, and less than maximum brakes ought to be applied within that slack space to give time for following cars to slow safely.

  8. I usually don’t get impressed very easily, but this technology is most impressive. I’d hate to use an old cliche here, but to think that if this technology can save even one life…wow!
    I think it’s time to upgrade my 2002 Nissan.

  9. There's probably a danger in that you will get complacent, totally relying on the system, so when it fails you are absolutely unprepared to react properly.

  10. Amazing, and incredible safety news. I can't wait to update my vehicle now. Seriously over the top kudos on this post Robert. I think they should work towards making the technology more seamless so users like you're wife can take advantage of the safety features.

  11. In my infiniti they call this the 'tech package'. Kind of bummed I didn't get it. Next car :-) Glad you have all this sweet safety tech and will be traveling more safely as a result.

  12. In my infiniti they call this the 'tech package'. Kind of bummed I didn't get it. Next car :-) Glad you have all this sweet safety tech and will be traveling more safely as a result.

  13. The concern I have is that as a driver you stop paying attention to road hazards and depending solely on the electronic nanny. And why not? Eventually, if the electronic systems fail for any reason, the driver's reaction are not really going to be where they need to be. For sure these systems are a great idea, but I think they should be limited to emergency only situations until they get a LOT more time on the roads.

  14. Possibly. This system may or may not make us safer. And the difference may be big or small. Human fatigue is a big factor in fatal accidents so my bet is that this will be cost effective.

  15. Glad to see some reporting on 'useful' tech Robert, instead of the 'glam' stuff that most IT journalist tend to focus on these days. Truth be told, I am getting a little sick of the 'social' apps and gadgets etc. that seem to command a lot of space and attention.

    Technologies such as in car radars should be made mandatory from now on. After all, they are standard equipment on large aircraft (I used to be a commercial pilot), although even in those cases, some of the tech is quite antiquated and could do with some updating.

    Perhaps car makers need to go back to Volvo's style of ads. Remember when safety and reduction of injuries to you and your loved ones was actually a higher priority than having a bluetooth connection or some other 'feel good' gizmo in your car?

    Ironic that most of the 'features' they tout (GPS, iPod Dock, Stereos, Environmental controls, vanity mirror lights) actually disperses your situational awareness of the road and conditions around you, thus mandating a device such as a radar to keep you safe.

  16. Thank you for sharing this very cool technology!

    My hope is that as it's on the road long enough for good data to be collected, that the cost of the systems will be offset by discounts in insurance based on the fewer and milder accidents that vehicles with these systems should experience.

    Obviously, if the data shows that these systems do not reduce the likelihood and severity of accidents, then something is very very wrong.

    I understand the resistance people have to giving up some of their control to the automated systems, but I'll tell you, I love my cruise control and my ideal car would do all the driving for me, so I could work, or sleep while the car brought me safely to where I needed to go.

    Take care,
    Andy
    http://binauraljourneys.com

  17. Amazing technology. Definitely sounds like something that should become a must have in all new cars. I suppose the danger is that you start to become unaware and stop anticipating what is happening ahead. On cars that are over $30,000 it sounds like something that will show up in cars that rich people love to drive…maybe the Range Rover is next. I will have to update my post http://stuffrichpeoplelove.com to include new safety features on luxury vehicles!

  18. Additionally, we should have “transponder” like devices on cars, stop signs, and traffic lights.
    If a light is red, or there is a stop sign, the car would automatically stop if it detects you are going to run it. Imagine the money saved in insurance costs, property damage, and injury costs.

  19. I thought this, particularly when I read 'It is so reliable I no longer impulsively reach for my brakes.' – sounds scary to me, but then I'm probably falling for the same ideals that people a few comments above mentioned. So I guess the times when it fails / you forget you're in a different car will be a lot less than the times it saves you?

  20. Most of the time yes. Traction control for these types of situations is a fairly mature technology and has existed for quite some time.

  21. Thanks for this information. Great interview Robert. Very interesting technology- the main barrier is the price tag. Not having purchased a new vehicle in the last 15 years, it's unlikely I'll be sitting in the driver's seat of a car sporting these features anytime soon. That said, the sooner this become standard equipment, the sooner the roads will be safer.

  22. But how are they going to get a lot more time on the roads if they are limited to emergency only situations?

  23. Been in three accidents in my life (none my fault), this radar system – either in my vehicle or the other – wouldn't have saved me :-(
    But ya, in a lot of cases it would help – especially for someone like Robert – playing with toys, videoing, talking on the phone, tweeting, being distracted by kids :-)

  24. Just to set a little context, this is not 'new' technology, my 2006 Infiniti M45 (which I bought in April of 2005) had the laser radar and the lane cameras – and Robert is right, the car could drive itself (if the automaker's wanted to take on that liability). And, Yes the several companies were showing off simiar technology far before then (on a “closed course”), but most of it seemed pie in the sky.

    Either way, it is sad to see 5 years later that this is not common technology, and that it is not in either of the vechicles I have purchased since then :-(

  25. Another completely overlooked (and also underdeveloped) safe driving technology would be PROGRESSIVE BRAKE LIGHTS. With the shameful amount of drivers who ride their brakes, I just don't trust what the red light ahead of me means. And don't overlook how both would also drastically REDUCE TRAFFIC, but both are at the mercy of car development. See my article at http://northgeek.com/2009/03/3-causes-of-traffi

  26. There’s no doubt that this is exciting technology, at least in terms of its potential. But it seems to me that the Prius and its ilk have a huge social responsibility issue to resolve, one that having radar in your car doesn’t begin to touch: The lifetime fuel cost to the planet of a Toyota Prius is double that of a mid-sized SUV running on gasoline. The reason: A short service life, exacerbated by the massive component transportation burden for things like its batteries. Features like you describe are, to me, just digging the early obsolescence hole deeper, faster. This would be Charles Kettering’s wet dream.

  27. The reason I invested in hybrid technology is to encourage car manufacturers to find ways to reduce gas mileage and increase technology in car design. I'd love to see the stats you quote, can you link me to them and how they were figured out just so I'm up to date on those too?

    1. Of course. Check it out here: http://www.cnwmr.com/nss-folder/automotiveenergy/ The story was widely reported in the press a couple of years ago, and I cited it in a blog post in 2007 here: http://brandcowboy.blogspot.com/2007/08/convenient-truth.html

      The premise of their analysis, which you can imagine is hotly contested by some interests, is that a car’s true fuel use impact must include what it takes to build and dispose of it. Hybrids are the devil, at least currently, because of the mining and shipping of nickel, the fact that batteries are not built where the cars are built, and that the car is expected to have half the service life (which Toyota disputes). I think the point is less acute if this is someone’s first car or a necessary replacement, but it becomes antisocial when hybrids are bought for the purpose of appearing to be green. Common sense and available facts suggest, to me at least, that the ‘greenest’ car on the road from a fuel cost perspective is an older, well maintained vehicle with a gasoline engine, because every one of them represents a new car that isn’t being built. Such a car might cost the driver more, but cost the planet less. Precisely what nobody wants to hear, and hopefully something that won’t be true forever.

      I’m not pro-oil, and I’m not anti-hybrid. At all. Nor am I characterizing this data as prima facie. But, right or wrong, it seems to me intuitively inarguable that someone who sells their gas powered car into the used vehicle market prematurely and buys a hybrid to replace it is, at least for now, a bigger part of the problem than of the solution. The urgency of all this is driven much more by the desire to save the auto industry than to save the planet.

  28. On our other Toyota the car's computers stopped working because of a dead battery and, yes, the car did stop (but not while driving). There are manual systems that continue to work like steering and braking systems, though, although if the computers died for some reason while driving I expect you'd want to pull over to the side and get a tow ASAP.

  29. Nah, we aren't even close to that kind of situation. In my Prius you have to actively keep involved in the act of driving. It doesn't steer for you and, if it starts slamming on its brakes while you are paying attention to something else it definitely gets your attention. Even then, though, everything is overrideable by pressing on gas or brake pedals.

    I find that the computer/radar, while great at following the car directly in front of you, isn't very good at predicting or seeing what's happening in front of that car. So, you can often do better for yourself and the traffic around you by applying brakes sooner than the radar would.

  30. Some of the things this technology does is help you avoid accidents, but the more important, and harder to demo, parts are what happens when a crash is imminent. Then the seat belts tighten, it helps you apply maximum braking, which does help save lives, and it gets the airbag and other systems ready for a wreck. But, these systems won't help in all accidents, especially those that come from a place the radar can't see (in my Prius it can't see that a wreck is coming from the side of the car, for instance).

  31. Jalada: one of our cars has this tech, another doesn't. So far I have never found myself in a place where I forgot I didn't have it (you have to manually turn it on, and it doesn't work in all driving anyway, even on the Prius). So, I think this fear is misplaced. By the way, when the system is on it is mostly better at driving than I am, especially in bad conditions, and it warns me when I get too close so it engages me back as a driver. It's something you really need to try out to see that this isn't a real problem.

  32. forbin is right. The road conditions are sensed by the traction control systems on these vehicles. If you are on ice the anti-lock brakes will behave quite differently than if you are on dry pavement. In either case, you'll be safer than if you were in a car without them.

  33. The system in the Prius only works at above 23 miles per hour, so if a cat or a dog ran in front of your car at these speeds it would probably not be sensed and you'd have to rely on good old human intuition.

    By the way, when I was hanging out with engineers from Fiat they told me that the Prius is one of the cars that's been designed with new pedestrian safety in mind. They told me that the Prius can hit someone at about 30mph and all that should happen is that the pedestrian would have their legs broken. They told me this is a new law in effect for smaller cars, but doesn't apply to bigger vans/SUVs or trucks.

    But, I haven't tested this use case on my radar and hope to never do that. I'm meeting with Ford this week at CES again and I'll ask if the radar could sense something small like an animal or a child, though.

  34. barrkel: that's true, and is a good example of what radar doesn't do well. It can't look ahead of the car directly in front of you. You can. So you can more smoothly predict emergency freeway stops than the radar can and you can start slowing down. But, every day I see accidents on freeways so I know humans aren't exactly that great at keeping their eyes on the road and in those incidents the radar would possibly save your car and/or your life.

  35. This really is not a problem with the systems in my Prius in my experience. That might be a problem as the engineers move these technologies from just being assistive to truly taking over the car's operation. I don't expect that to happen in cars, though, for many years. People just aren't used to typing in an address and letting the car drive somewhere.

    If these systems fail, by the way they tell you they aren't working and it's pretty clear that you aren't being assisted anymore. In one storm the rain was falling so hard that my system turned itself off and rightfully so. I had to pull over to the side of the road the conditions were so bad and wait for the hardest rain to stop. It told me that conditions had deteriorated to the point that it wasn't safe for it to operate anymore. I bet there are hundreds of algorithms in these systems to check to make sure the system is operating properly. Imagine the lawsuits that would happen if it caused a wreck (a bad floormat/brake pedal design caused Toyota to recall millions of vehicles last year at a great cost to the company — imagine if tech caused problems and all the hell it would raise).

  36. Great post, and subsequent comments. The issue with a technology solution to the road crash problem is that little thing called existing vehicles on the road. If magically all new vehicles had all the safety technology incorporated, it would take years, if not decades, to get the majority of drivers in vehicles that had the equipment.

    There has only been one study performed to my knowledge on crash causes, called the Tri-Level Study, in 1973. It showed that over 70% of crashes are definitely caused by human error, and over 90% have a probable cause of human error. Yet in the years since the study virtually all the research and development money has gone to attack the roads (less barriers, etc) and in making the vehicle safer IN a crash (seat belts, air bags, crush zones, intrusion barriers, etc), not toward preventing it in the first place. At least the radar technology is addressing the real problem of crash prevention.

    Sully landed in the Hudson not because the plane had systems that took over, he did it because he had prepared for the unlikely event by practicing on a simulator. Technology exists today to better prepare a driver for the events that rarely occur, but we do not make use of it.

    Ford, Toyota, and a handful of organizations are addressing the novice driver market with good programs that unfortunately due to the cost can only reach a small fraction of the new driver population.

    My dream is that we make the simulation technology affordable and provide adequate and continuous refresher training to the operators of these 4000 lb missiles called cars and trucks.

    I know simulation works. The heavy trucking industry uses it to train their drivers. I have been using it with success for over 6 years in the novice driver arena.

    Yes, there are idiots that will continue to put everyone on the road with them at risk, regardless of training. What we can do is give the majority the tools to protect themselves from the mistakes of the few.

  37. I'm pretty much in the same boat. However, as many have stated, many times the problem is 'the other driver'. I'd feel safer if as many of the 'other guys' had this as possible.

  38. Also I'd like to point out that this is not “2010 technology” really. It might be that it hasn't been available for the low/mid-range models but at least the German car manufacturers have been offering this in their better models for some years now. Some systems even work up to (or starting from) a standstill, so that you don't actually need the gas pedal at all :). Of course all of this kind of fancy tech always appears first to the most expensive models and is then later brought to lower-range ones as the technology matures.

    Anyway, I find these kind of systems really useful but I'm a bit worried that the introduction of these systems may reduce people's concentration on driving as a whole.

    p.s. 2 “emergency braking” situations in 11,000 miles? Sounds like a lot to me, people can't drive or what?

  39. It would really be great to extend this technology beyond being a “Adaptive Cruise Control” Modern Cars should be able to create an Ad-Hoc network with there surroundings (other cars, Traffic signs, roads, etc etc) when they (and before they go) are on the road. This car technology can be used to let technology manage traffic so much more efficient then human beings can! Bye Bye traffic jams…

  40. My concern about this technology is human nature (also known as the nut that holds the wheel). I would be concerned that people who become used to, and reliant of this technology would use it as an excuse to abrogate their responsibility to pay attention. I can easily imagine people setting the cruise control, and then diverting their attention from driving to texting, phoning, eating or other activities. There is a president for this in the boating world, where widely penetrated current technology allows boat operators to set in a way point, and turn on an autopilot which then steers the boat to the waypoint. There have been many documented cases of people setting the autopilot, then failing to keep a watch on things like vessel traffic. Occasionally they leave the wheelhouse all together. This has led to collisions and groundings. Until the technology matures to the point where the system actually does “drive” the vehicle, people will misuse it.

  41. Let's see … Scoble's only had the car a month or so, & already he's nearly had two collisions. Hmm, perhaps some REALLY advanced driving technology might be an advanced driving simulator instead! :-)

  42. I think that kind of technology is more likely to have a wide uptake, slowly followed by the radar-style system in your Prius, as people can keep that illusion of control (that even I clearly am suspect to!)

  43. The problem with automation is covering all of the FMEA (failure means and effects) which humans are incapable of performing in complex systems. Witness the issues with the AIRBUS crashes and incidents (several landings where the system did not detect land condition, limiting spoiler deployment / reverser use, and was unable to stop) A330/340 and B777 issues with undetected failed sensors causing nearly disastrous results.

    For these reasons, such technology must remain assistive, and only take control if multiple independent sensors detect a dangerous condition. Sadly, adding such sensors adds to the costs, and make such systems impractical for use in automobiles.

    Over-reliance on safety systems results in more reckless driving (numerous sources) as the driver assumes the stability control system will protect them.

    The only practical solution for the majority of drivers is a system to identify and warn, and let the driver make the final decision. This is the classic Boeing vs Airbus philosophy.

    Airbus now accepts the reality that pilot skills have eroded due to automation
    “Pilot handling skills under threat, says Airbus” (http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2009/09/09…)

    And good luck getting the evidence you need to prove that the automation system failed, and was not human error. Witness the response to the Toyota issues (brake system failures / missing override including with the Prius) by Toyota, and the USDOT and NHITS, (no problem here move on). Witness the ex Toyota attorney suing Toyota and disclosing several huge boxes of evidence which Toyota allegedly withheld / destroyed which the court had requested under subpoena.

    When we have full transparency of automobile black box contents, and open reciprocal accountability between manufacturers and drivers, will we be able to implement and evolve such safety advancements in confidence.

    The first step to gaining consumer confidence is to advise with fully open access to automobile black box recorder information.

  44. Statistically speaking, half of them are below median. Not below average. Average only correlates with median if the data happens to have perfect normal distribution.

    I agree with your larger point that people trust being in control more than not. I see this every week when I fly. Air travel is so much safer than auto travel but those moments of being out of control during take-off and landing give people so much anxiety.

  45. I'm certain these cars also have so-called active traction control and stability control. Both of them measure wheelspin to determine traction levels. This would be such a glaring oversight it would border on negligence.

  46. I'm certain these cars also have so-called active traction control and stability control. Both of them measure wheelspin to determine traction levels. This would be such a glaring oversight it would border on negligence.

  47. I would never, ever, buy a car equipped with this technology, unless there was some easy way to disable it.

    I don't care how much faster it is at reacting, it's taking control of the car away from me, and I won't drive a vehicle that can do things other than what I tell it to do.

  48. First of all, it's clear you didn't watch the video. This does NOT take control away from you. At any time I can override the system. Want to brake manually? Just step on the brake. Your manual control ALWAYS is always more important. Want to speed up? Step on the gas pedal. The system never has control that you can't override.

    But why the anger? And why are you so scared of change?

  49. One of the Swedish companies (Volvo, I believe) has a subtle but very well designed system that projects a heads-up direction marker to turn to avoid a collision…something that is only recently being taught in collision avoidance since most drivers look blindly at the car coming up at them and then hit it. New training has drivers looking for escape routes, and this assists the human rather than taking control – a smart idea.

    That said, this is wonderful technology and I agree it can make driving safer, but I'll have to throw in with @Jim. Given the number of people I've seen blindly ricocheting between the rumble strips or dots (which are simple safety improvements in the roads) while yakking on the phone, reading, looking at a laptop or video player, or even putting on makeup (with the visor down in front of them), I'd have to say that there's a big, fat unintended consequence waiting to happen with a combination of cruise control, anti-collision braking and lane sensing. We can make cars smarter, but it's a much larger job making people more sensible.

  50. Okay… And what if I want to plow at top speed into the car in front of me?

    Not sure where you're seeing “anger”. I'm not angry, I'm just saying that there's no chance of me ever using this technology or even riding in a car equipped with it. I would never, ever, have any faith or trust in a car that is capable of overriding the driver's decisions. I think that it is reckless and frankly insane to want that sort of thing in a car. I'm the driver. I'll decide how my car behaves, and a car that can suddenly slam on the brakes without warning does not strike me as “safe” in any sense of the word.

    Quite honestly, I'd be uncomfortable even if the thing has an off switch. I'd want to pull the actual mechanism out of the vehicle before I'd be okay with driving it.

  51. Here's my understanding of the Ford system after watching the videos.

    1) you can turn it off
    2) it does not apply the brake (just makes sure that you get max stopping power if you do brake)
    3) the reason they don't do the toyota 'partial braking' is to deter people like you from turning off the system

    so … watch the videos (again if you already did) and listen carefully

  52. Volvo is owned by Ford (they're trying to sell it though, apparently). In the video the guy talks a bit about how Volvo customers are more of a niche group looking for as much safety as possible so they can put more into the systems. But the Ford customers are a more diverse group and like Otto some do not want the vehicle to be taking any actions on their part.

  53. Volvo is owned by Ford (they're trying to sell it though, apparently). In the video the guy talks a bit about how Volvo customers are more of a niche group looking for as much safety as possible so they can put more into the systems. But the Ford customers are a more diverse group and like Otto some do not want the vehicle to be taking any actions on their part.

  54. Firstly, there's 20+ minutes of video there. No way am I watching all that. I skipped through random snippets of it lightly the first time, and read the post content. If there's more there that the content doesn't explain, then the content needs work. I'm certainly not going to watch the video, because frankly I don't like the very idea of the technology in the first place.

    Next, what does “max stopping power” mean, exactly? What is “pre-firing”? Because I know how cars work on a detailed level, and what that sounds like to me is “made up bullshit”.

    It's a brake. A fairly simple hydraulic mechanism. I want it to provide “max stopping power” every single time. A brake that doesn't do that is “broken”. Yes, a brake sitting for a long time (weeks) can reduce braking power. But you pump the brake five or six times and it's back to normal.

    So what exactly is this doing that makes it any safer in any way whatsoever? The story says that it applies the brake. Is it not doing that? If not, then the story is misleading and/or wrong.

  55. This takes the form of a serious argument, but the logic is, at root, essentially silly: “unless these systems never make errors, and can be proven to never make errors, they should not be deployed.” By that logic people wouldn't be allowed to drive either.

  56. I don't expect you to explain it. I expect Ford to explain it, clearly. They're the ones selling the things, after all.

    Is there a page where they explain it clearly, in text and pictures, and not using time and bandwidth consuming video?

    Because given what I've seen here, I won't be buying a Ford anytime soon. I liked the idea of Sync, but I find the very idea of this sort of thing to be a total deal-breaker. My car taking control of the braking system based on some buggy ass computer program? No friggin' way would I touch that thing.

  57. Like I said, is there somewhere they explain it without using time-and-bandwidth consuming video?

    Having some talking head “chief” guy talking about it for 20 minutes doesn't inspire confidence when a real engineer-type would be able to explain how the thing works and what it actually does in about 30 seconds.

    I could watch the video and still not understand what it does, apparently. I did skip through it randomly, like I said, and half of what I heard was either nonsense or irrelevant platitudes about how they researched for ideas.

    But all that is actually required is a *real* explanation. The fact that there's 20+ minutes of video tells me that he's not actually explaining a darned thing.

  58. You really should watch the video. He even explains that Ford had to listen to people like you when designing their new cars. I'm not going to take the time to engage with you further, though. You come in here ripping on a technology that you don't understand, and won't take time to try to understand it further. In other words, you are stiff in your position and are a Luddite. Why should we engage with you further?

  59. Fine. I listened to the video (while reading other things), and as I suspected, he doesn't explain anything about how the thing works.

    What he does say about the emergency braking thing is half-gibberish, and the bits that are not gibberish are much as I suspected above. He talks about maximizing braking power, which is marketing speak for increasing the sensitivity of the power-assist brakes. I already described earlier why that's a bad idea.

    He does not clarify whether or not the system automatically applies brakes for you or not. He mentions that they don't want people turning it off, but I can't seem to figure out whether he's referring to the cruise control trickery or the emergency system. Basically he weaves back and forth between different things and frankly I can't make heads or tails of most of it.

    Given what the guy said, no, I'd still not want this in my car. Some of it is a good idea, but quite a lot of it sounds very bad and highly dangerous, IMO.

    Your characterization of me as a Luddite is somewhat laughable. I'm a programmer. I've programmed the internal systems of actual cars. For Ford motor company. Professionally. If you own a Ford made in the last 10 years, then my name is on code that tested your vehicle's systems. I've been to every Ford plant in North America. So I happen to be able to speak from a position of actually understanding WTF I'm talking about, and specifically in relation to this very matter, with this very company. I very likely know several of the people who created this. Disclaimer: I ceased doing work for them ~6 years ago.

    So when I rip on this technology, it is not because I don't understand it. I understand it very, very well, and am able to rip on it from a position of extrapolated knowledge of their previous systems.

    I do not normally mention credentials, because I generally find them irrelevant, and prefer to focus on facts and detailed information. But you brought up my background, so there you go.

  60. He explained what it does very well. It reduces the amount of distance between the brake calipers and the disk, and increased the sensitivity to your brake pressure, which, if you do slam on your brakes in an emergency stop, will reduce the time the brakes will come on and will also guarantee you get full brake. One thing they discovered by studying human behavior during crashes is that people don't usually press the brake pedal enough to fully engage brakes before a crash. This technology helps humans scrub off some of the energy before a crash, or potentially even avoid one.

    Your confusion is because we are talking about three different cars. Mine, which is a 2010 Prius, which has assisted cruise control (you must turn it on and set it). A 2010 Taurus, which does not assist, but helps change braking and has a light and audio chime to warn you that something is in your path, and a Volvo which is similar to my Prius's operation.

    Wow, for a programmer you sure seem like someone I wouldn't want near my car.

  61. A device that applies brakes for me? No thanks. At best this is just one more thing to make humans even lazier and less attentive while piloting two ton weapons. At worst a deadly technological failure waiting to happen. Anyone who has such a system on their vehicle should be required to conspicuously advertise this fact so folks who actually know how to drive can make an informed choice to avoid being anywhere near them on the road.

    “It is so reliable I no longer impulsively reach for my brakes.”

    That's the scariest damn thing I've read this morning…

  62. “reduces the amount of distance between the brake calipers and the disk”… I'm sorry, but that is nonsense. Brakes simply do not work that way.

    Brakes work by the calipers pushing the brake pads into the disc. The calipers are fixed in place, they don't move in relation to the disc. They don't move at all, in fact, the pads do. The pads are pushed into the disc to slow/stop it, but they are already mere milimeters away. They don't get any closer without making some amount of contact. Zero == zero, you don't get any closer than that. It's not a matter of “distance” decreasing… or rather it is, but that's just what brakes do. If the “distance is reduced”, then that's the same thing as “applying the brakes”.

    Now, the amount of braking force is determined by the pressure applied to the pads, increasing friction between the pads and the disc. The hydraulic brake system amplifies the pressure applied by your foot onto the pedal. When you add in power assist braking, then you have a powered pump as well, which is used to increase the pressure further, giving more braking power. “Full brake” is merely when you put the pedal down to the floor.

    So, if we assume that the power braking sensitivity is adjustable, then yes, it's possible to make just a feather light touch on the pedal do the equivalent of slamming the hell out of the brakes, because your pump is controlled electronically and can apply variable pressure based on anything you like.

    However, *this is a terribly bad idea*, especially in an emergency situation. Saying that “people don't apply enough brake” doesn't mean that's its a good idea to make them apply full brake. Slamming the brake (assuming that anti-lock kicks in and pulses the brakes) will indeed slow you down rapidly. However, it's scary as hell, and most people actually lose control of their car in such a situation. It's better to be going a bit too fast on impact but to actually be able to steer away from the impact. A glancing blow is better than a direct impact at a slower speed.

    This is my basic problem with the idea. It may lessen the speed of the crash, but I think it might potentially cause more crashes unless it's implemented extremely conservatively. And that's just for head on crashes. What happens when you avoid one only to have the guy behind you slam into you because you applied full brake without possibly meaning to do so?

    There's too many variables, and I'd prefer the driver to decide how much brake to use. If they want to make it more sensitive, fine, make it that way *all the time*, so that the driver has a chance to get used to how his car operates, and to not be surprised or shocked by the unusual behavior it displays in the sudden tenths of a second before a major accident.

    BTW, for a technologist, I'm not sure you're somebody I'd want near my code either. ;-)

    Be civil, now. :D

  63. If you put on full braking then the anti-lock system will kick in and your car will stay in control. Generally this system will only come on if you are about to hit something anyway. On my Prius I've noticed this twice in 11,000 miles and both times I, indeed, was about to hit something and having hyper-sensitive brakes was the right thing to do in that instance.

    As to car behind you, well, legally the one who hits from the back is responsible and was following too closely to stop anyway. I want my car to do everything it can to help me avoid an accident in front of me. Both instances were of people who cut me off (didn't see me and pulled unexpectedly into my lane — both times the anti-lock kicked in and I kept in control of the car).

  64. If you put on full braking then the anti-lock system will kick in and your car will stay in control. Generally this system will only come on if you are about to hit something anyway. On my Prius I've noticed this twice in 11,000 miles and both times I, indeed, was about to hit something and having hyper-sensitive brakes was the right thing to do in that instance.

    As to car behind you, well, legally the one who hits from the back is responsible and was following too closely to stop anyway. I want my car to do everything it can to help me avoid an accident in front of me. Both instances were of people who cut me off (didn't see me and pulled unexpectedly into my lane — both times the anti-lock kicked in and I kept in control of the car).

  65. “Stay in control” is a relative term. You'll still be able to steer, but unless you've felt anti-lock brakes before, it's so shocking that many people might not actually remember to. I always advise people who get new cars to take them out to a mall parking lot or a track or something and run it up to a good speed, then slam the brakes in order to feel the anti-lock engage. It's surprising how many people don't remain in control until they try it a few times and recognize when it's happening.

    Always try your car under extremes, so you're not surprised by them when they occur.

    Also, who's at fault is not particularly useful when your car is wrecked. Better to not have a wrecked car than to deal with a wrecked one, always.

  66. This sounds amazing. There are so many times when I would love to have this sort of technology, especially since I have to make a six hour drive many times throughout the year since I go away for college. The cruise control would also save me from a lot of leg aches. I can see where the arguments can originate from, but I definitely think it's a step forward.

  67. Rather than the best idea since seat-belts it sounds like the worst idea since cruise control.

    The last thing I want my car to do in an emergency is suddenly behave differently – right when I need total control. At best this system reportedly changes my brake's sensitivity, at worst, it interferes with driving.

    If you can't be bothered being attentive on the road, catch a taxi, or a bus.

  68. Thanks for the comment.

    Please study the following topic: “cost benefit analysis” with “socio-technical systems”, to better understand the process corporations have used in the past to address defects.

    An actual working case example is the famous “FORD pinto fuel tank issue”

    Ford figured they would kill 180 people with the pinto, which would cost them 49.5 million dollars.

    The cost of making the car safe was 11 dollars a car, for a grand total of 137 million dollars.

    It was cheaper to let people recieve burns than to fix the defect, however the customer image was severely damaged when the evidence was revealed in court. The issue is “socio-technical” not purely economic, and therefore was unethical. The product was identified as “defective by design”

    See:
    “Introduction To Some of the Worst Engineering Failures”
    http://faculty.ccri.edu/jbernardini/JB-Website/

    The issue is one of personal vs corporate liability. If you cause an accident the fault and and liability are your own (however in todays litigious society your lawyer may sue the auto manufacturer and suppliers as well for the corporate insurance payoff).

    If an auto manufacturer or supplier defect causes an accident, this likely will not be an isolated incident once identified (maybe up to 25 or more before becoming statistically significant), thereby the harm caused is multiplied across the number of vehicles on the road (possibly millions). Once a recall is triggered, many more accidents have likely taken place, and recalls run for several years.

    Only products of the imagination are safe (the idea of fully autonomous cars), however when one produces an actual product sold in the marketplace, defects in those products can and do exist, and can and do cause serious life threatening injuries and deaths.ยด

    The current accepted defect rate in Civil Airliners, resulting in death, is 1 in one billion hours of operation (10-9). With millions of automobiles on the road, one can see that even this rate of failure would not be acceptable to the general public.

  69. Great points jmangan, just one flaw in your logic that i noticed in your last paragraph. You say that airline defect rate tolerance is in the 1-in-1,000,000,000 'hours of operation' then go on to say that with so many cars out there on the roads in relation to the number of planes that there would be more failures.

    the 'hours of operation' is the key to this. how many hours of operation do you think that a normal car goes through … it's in the tens of thousands by the time the car breaks down … not even close to a million of hours of operation. With more cars on the road than planes in the skies that does up the

    if the car companies can get autonomous cars with the defect tolerances that the airlines have i'll get in line

    maybe my statistical analysis is a bit off since yes more cars on the road than planes in the sky means higher volume but the fault tolerances don't take volume into account (afaik)

  70. I think if it's assisted as described and not taking full control, this is a great technology. I don't like the argument about certain kinds of safety technology making people lazier because it assumes people aren't already being lazy.

    I don't drive more recklessly because I have seatbelts, ABS, and cruise control. I don't climb on furniture because I know it's designed not to tip over (my kids do). And I don't (I'm running out of examples), but anyway, the point is that people who would be susceptible to not pay attention are already not paying attention. Except in the case of the person texting on their cell phone, the cell phone doesn't save their life. This can.

  71. I'm sorry, but although your post is lengthy, it is not coherent. The logic is flawed.

    You say: “The current accepted defect rate in Civil Airliners, resulting in death, is 1 in one billion hours of operation (10-9). With millions of automobiles on the road, one can see that even this rate of failure would not be acceptable to the general public.”

    That is just plain silly! The increase in death rate by drivers under 25 years old is orders of magnitude greater than that threshold, yet we allow them. Fords do not say “for use only by drivers above the age of 25.”

    Radios in cars (which distract drivers) lead to much greater increases in risk than your stated threshold, yet automobile manufacturers have not been sued out of existence for including radios.

    You are taking as a given social thresholds of automotive risk that are obviously quite contrary to actual fact.

  72. Robert, have you tried out the Distronic system from Mercedes? I saw the Top Gear show do a test a year or two ago where the car sets a distance from the car ahead and just keeps that distance (higher distance for higher speeds). He got off the highway and ended up in a line at a stop sign at the top of the offramp and the car just comes to a stop perfectly.

    Apparently you have to re-engage the system to start crawling again if you do come to a stop. There's lots of youtube videos of owners who love to show off this system.

  73. Robert, have you tried out the Distronic system from Mercedes? I saw the Top Gear show do a test a year or two ago where the car sets a distance from the car ahead and just keeps that distance (higher distance for higher speeds). He got off the highway and ended up in a line at a stop sign at the top of the offramp and the car just comes to a stop perfectly.

    Apparently you have to re-engage the system to start crawling again if you do come to a stop. There's lots of youtube videos of owners who love to show off this system.

  74. Robert, have you tried out the Distronic system from Mercedes? I saw the Top Gear show do a test a year or two ago where the car sets a distance from the car ahead and just keeps that distance (higher distance for higher speeds). He got off the highway and ended up in a line at a stop sign at the top of the offramp and the car just comes to a stop perfectly.

    Apparently you have to re-engage the system to start crawling again if you do come to a stop. There's lots of youtube videos of owners who love to show off this system.

  75. Robert, have you tried out the Distronic system from Mercedes? I saw the Top Gear show do a test a year or two ago where the car sets a distance from the car ahead and just keeps that distance (higher distance for higher speeds). He got off the highway and ended up in a line at a stop sign at the top of the offramp and the car just comes to a stop perfectly.

    Apparently you have to re-engage the system to start crawling again if you do come to a stop. There's lots of youtube videos of owners who love to show off this system.

  76. “I don't like the argument about certain kinds of safety technology making people lazier because it assumes people aren't already being lazy.”

    What the hell? :chortle:

    That's exactly what lazIER means – that people are (going to end up) more lazy than they already are.

  77. chris, barakapearlmutter

    Sorry, I should have made it more clear that you will reach the cumulative one billion hours much sooner when spread across millions of vehicles. (many automobiles use common parts)
    versus 100s of Airliners of a specific type such as the 737-800.

    The average airliner life is 30 years, and the average car is 20 years.

  78. chris

    Sorry, I should have made it more clear that you will reach the cumulative one billion hours much sooner when spread across millions of vehicles. (many automobiles use common parts)
    versus 100s of Airliners of a specific type such as the 737-800.

    The average airliner life is 30 years, and the average car is 20 years.

  79. I think that if people are this scared of getting into a car crash, then THEY SHOULD STOP DRIVING.

    Driving a car is inherently an unsafe practice, it always has been. Yes, I'd be horrified if a loved one was maimed or killed in a car crash, but I'd like to think I'd be able to accept that this is just part of the risk of being in a car.

  80. Some knowledgeable person (sorry, forgot who and not even Bing can help me find the quote) once said that in 2020 it won't be possible to crash a new car into anything, unless you really intended to. In better days Volvo also promised an injury-proof car for 2020. Given these developments these sound to me like a surprisingly realistic prediction …

  81. “1) People overestimate their abilities. Almost everyone believes they are good drivers, even though statistically speaking half of them are below average.”

    That's some amazing math you're using there, Albatross. You want to explain how half of a data set could be below the average of that data set?

  82. Thank you for this post. I will be looking for a new car this year and I am placing Ford on the top of my list.