eSafety of road and air transports Virtual co-pilot to reduce road deaths
Vehicles that can foresee dangers and respond automatically to changing road conditions, traffic and driver mistakes could start rolling along Europe’s roads in the near future.
Though still prototypes, the vehicles developed by researchers working in the SPARC project sit on the cusp of a new generation of cars and trucks that promise to improve road safety dramatically.
Using a combination of sensors, automated decision-support systems and innovative control mechanisms, the smart vehicles help counteract the single biggest cause of traffic accidents: driver error.
Correcting human error
Mistakes by drivers – whether brought on by inattention, fatigue, drinking or simply carelessness – are estimated to cause 95% of the 40 000 fatal accidents that occur on Europe’s roads each year.
Preventing or correcting mistakes by drivers is therefore seen as the single most important way of reducing the number of accidents and meeting the EU’s target of cutting the number of road deaths by half over the coming years. The technology developed in the SPARC project would help achieve that once it makes its way onto the market.
Tested in cars and trucks
The SPARC system has so far been deployed in two prototype vehicles: a Mercedes-Benz Actros truck and a small Smart car built by project coordinator DaimlerChrysler.
Unlike most modern vehicles that use mechanical components to control the vehicle, both prototypes were designed with electromechanical systems.
Known as ‘x-by-wire’ or ‘drive-by-wire’, the electronic control system is similar to the technology used to fly aircraft with high precision by turning driver commands into electronic signals that are fed through an onboard computer.
X-by-wire not only gives drivers more control over their vehicles, they also allow automated systems to lend a helping hand.
A control system that can make decisions constitutes a kind of virtual co-pilot. Using information gathered from several sources – such as cameras, radar, GPS and a human-machine interface – the SPARC system can reliably monitor road conditions and driver behaviour.
It can predict upcoming hazards and respond to them if the driver does not. The system could, for example, slow the car down if the driver is approaching a sharp bend too fast, or pull the truck over to the side of the road if it detects that the driver has fallen asleep.
Cars driving themselves?
Though the system leaves the driver in control for most of the journey, it instantly steps in and takes corrective measures as soon as it detects an imminent risk – be it a braking car in front or an erratic turn of the wheel.
However, much of the technology developed by the researchers in the SPARC project could contribute to the development of vehicles that drive themselves. In theory, fully automated vehicles that take the human driver out of the equation could be even safer still.
Field of science
- /engineering and technology/mechanical engineering/vehicle engineering/automotive engineering/drive by wire
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Funding SchemeSTREP - Specific Targeted Research Project
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