(Another installment in our continuing series looking at how the cars of yesterday are being transformed into the driverless cars of tomorrow via the technology of today.)
While you may not be old enough to remember when Raul Julia uttered those words in The Gumball Rally, surely you’ve been around long enough to know the “first rule of Italian driving” is some pretty bad advice.
Since people don’t have eyes in the backs of their heads (except my mom, who always seem to know what I was up to), automakers are looking for ways to extend our vision beyond the rearview mirror.
Backup Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert
Today we’ll take a look at two features designed to help you build a 360° view of the driving environment around you. Both of the features we’ll discuss are improvements on another relatively recent development, the backup camera.
The backup camera represents a step up from the rearview mirror. A camera affords a view of the area directly behind the car, not just the area above the trunk. This image is then projected onto a screen either mounted in the dash or incorporated into the rearview mirror. While these cameras do offer a larger viewing angle than mirrors alone, they can be obscured by dirt or moisture, and there are areas where the view of the lens still does not reach. It is good practice to walk around a car physically before getting into it to back out. Accidents involving people “hidden” behind parked cars result in over 15,000 injuries and 200 fatalities every year.
How Today’s Features Go Beyond
As we said, one of the limitations of the backup camera is reduced effectiveness due to obscuring of the lens. It is also at times difficult to judge distance from a two-dimensional representation of an image on a screen. The first technology, backup warning, addresses both of these concerns. Backup warning does not rely on a distortable image but on radar. This way, the distance to objects and obstacles can be detected independent of light and optical input. If a collision is imminent, a warning alerts the driver.
Another limitation of a camera is its inability to see around corners. This is problematic as it means that cameras alone cannot address a potentially dangerous maneuver that drivers face nearly every day, backing out of a parking space. Unless you are seated high in a remarkably tall vehicle, it is virtually impossible to see beyond the cars parked on either side of you. The rear cross traffic alert feature, like backup warning, employs radar to signal the driver if cars are pulling into the space behind them as they reverse from the space. It should be noted that drivers should still exercise caution with this feature. While rear cross traffic alert has become relatively reliable sensing the presence of other vehicles, sometimes pedestrians are missed. Drivers should always back out of parking spaces slowly and with vigilance.
One day your car will take information from cameras and radar on your car and make the decision to interpret and act on it. Until then, you are your cars biggest safety feature. Superman isn’t Superman because he can fly, but because of who he is. For him, flying just enhances his “super-ness.” Automotive technology is not a substitute for driving conscientiously. Use yours to make you better at what you already do well.