If you’ve bought any car in the last 10 years, then one of the biggest selling points that car brands and their dealerships now point to is Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). While the first ADAS systems started in cars about half a century ago, they have gained much more attention in recent years as they have become more advanced and more capable of working independently of human input.
In today’s blog, we are looking in depth at ADAS technology, where it all started, how far it has come, common features you see in cars today, as well as the latest or upcoming technologies that are just being introduced in 2020 and 2021. One feature that we won’t be discussing in this blog is autonomous driving capabilities, which we feel deserves its own article.
ADAS Technology: Background and History
The first ADAS systems were developed around half a century ago in the form of anti-lock braking, now commonly known as ABS. The ABS feature was a system of braking that works by pumping the brake on and off when heavy or emergency braking is performed. Sensors would notice when a wheel was locking (stop moving) and the system would prevent skidding.
After ABS, other early ADAS systems included now-commonplace technologies such as electronic stability control, blind spot information, lane departure warning, cruise control and more. It has since grown into a huge sub-industry of the automotive sector with many manufacturers offering dozens of options and new technologies emerging all the time.
Current ADAS Technology
Below is a list of technologies that you’ll find in a lot of modern cars. Availability usually depends on which trim level of a particular model you buy. The more expensive the base model, the more ADAS additions it will have as standard. Different car brands may also refer to ADAS using their own particular brand names as well (more on that below).
Adaptive Cruise Control
Cruise control many will know is a system whereby the car is able to be set to a constant cruising speed, or set with a maximum speed that the driver then won’t be able to exceed. The more modern Adaptive cruise control includes additional features like minimum distance controls from cars in front and other safety additions that make the technology more useful in keeping vehicles safe.
This comes in many forms, from simple sensors that give audio signals when obstacles are detected to the rear of the car — usually increasing in frequency or volume when said obstacle is closer — to more advanced and comprehensive systems with reverse-view cameras, guiding lines, and even some cars that can park themselves as you operate the pedals.
Head-up Display (HUD)
The HUD is straight out of science fiction, offering a transparent screen onto which important data is provided in the driver’s eyeline without being a distraction. It is typically placed right above the driver’s cockpit an in the driver’s line of sight. The idea is to cut down on the need for the driver to look at separate screens for navigation and other drive information like speed and rpms.
While many users now get these from their smartphone and merely feed through to the car’s infotainment screen via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, many cars continue to retain their own built-in navigation system which comes as part of the overall infotainment system. Display will either been on the central infotainment screen or sometimes on the driver’s instrument display if it’s all digital and large enough.
Blind Spot Monitoring
With countless accidents being caused by drivers consistently forgetting to check their blind spot, this monitoring software has become increasingly sophisticated over the years. It used to be a fairly niche technology but now is common in standard ADAS packages. It simply detects when other vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists are within the cars’ blind spot zone and will remind the driver with an audio-visual signal.
Driver Drowsiness/Fatigue/Alertness Detection
Some cars are now equipped with facial recognition software that is programmed to read the tell-tale signs of fatigue, drowsiness or other lack of alertness. It looks at the position of the driver’s eyes, whether they are open or whether they are pointed at the road where they should be. If it detects a problem, it will prompt the driver with an audio-visual signal, and perhaps remind the driver to take a break from driving.
In some regions, driving is made hazardous by powerful crosswinds which can blow a car clean over to the other side of the road. This feature is designed to compensate by detecting when a wind is applying that kind of force and then gently applying the brakes on that side of the vehicle.
This technology is key in preventing collisions from happening, as well as preventing accidental hitting of pedestrians and cyclists. The technology involves first sensing that there is a potential hazard or collision ahead, warning the driver at first but then applying automatic action in the event that the car deduces that driver can’t or won’t react in time to prevent collision.
Glare-free High Beams
This interesting technology allows drivers to keep their high beams on without dazzling oncoming drivers. The system works by deactivating only the LEDs which will enter the eyeline of oncoming drivers, and it does so automatically.
Hill Start Assist
A very useful feature for people who dread starting their car on a slope. Hill start assist helps to hold a car in place for a few key seconds regardless of the driver’s input. It allows time for the driver to apply the gas and get the car moving.
These sensors help to automatically activate your windshield wipers as rain begins so you won’t be caught out trying to flip the switch as your visibility is disappearing. It’s a useful technology in climates where rain falls suddenly and very hard like in tropical regions.
This provides a 360-degree birds-eye view of the car which is useful for helping with parking. It lets you see everything that’s around you on every side all at the same time.
Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
Slow punctures can be very dangerous as they lead drivers to miss the fact that a tire is losing pressure until it’s too late and a potentially lethal blowout might occur. The TPMS keeps an eye on tires and warns drivers when a tire is dipping below the recommended psi rating.
Road Sign Recognition
This feature will flag up road signs on the driver’s HUD or other display to remind driver of things like speed limits, one-way restrictions and so on. This is very useful for drivers who are in unfamiliar areas.
Latest ADAS Technologies
The most cutting-edge ADAS technologies typically start in the most expensive luxury models whose expense will cover the cost of developing and installing it in the first place. Over time, however, these trickle down into cheaper cars as the new technology becomes more mainstream and thus cheaper and easier to mass produce. Below are some examples of the most recent, state-of-the-art ADAS technologies.
Augmented-Reality (AR) Navigation
This technology arrived for cars in 2020 and has been first applied by upscale car makers like Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac. What it does it take navigation information from your maps system and places it right into your eyeline as though it were on the road itself. It does this via an advanced HUD unit placed in the driver’s eyeline.
For example, you could be driving along the highway and your exit coming up on the right. The AR navigation system doesn’t just tell you “in half a mile, take the next exit,” but also show you an arrow on the road before your eyes pointing to the exit so you know exactly where to go.
The feature is extremely useful for drivers who are worried about missing exits, turns and stopping points in locations with which they are not familiar. Even better, it helps relieve the pressure in heavy traffic environments when drivers feel pressured by other drivers when they are unsure of where to go next.
This is a feature designed for times when drivers are in heavy traffic. It automatically manages the throttle, brakes and steering to help drivers feel less stressed with the stopping and starting routine that is involved in these situations. The driver can essentially just sit and wait, perhaps listen to music, just watching the road ahead until the road clears and the driver can take back over. In the meantime, the system will keep the car crawling forward and centered in its current lane.
Seen by many companies as the “holy grail” of ADAS features, but also feared by many in the current climate as a very misleading and dangerous marketing point on some vehicles (more below on that).
The ultimate challenge for developers of ADAS technology is that which can make the car as aware and responsive as a human driver can be. This involves the incorporation of real-time sensors that don’t lag — this is where 5G helps — and a healthy dose of AI that can understand on-road conventions such as how to deal with intersections.
Tesla’s Elon Musk has very confidently claimed that fully autonomous driving is very close, but others are skeptical. A number of high-profile news stories about drivers acting recklessly while their cars are in autonomous driving mode have created media firestorms and heated online debate. The goal of a car that can truly drive itself however remain the final frontier in the minds of many; bringing science fiction to life.
ADAS Alignment and Realignment
Your vehicle’s ADAS features work by virtue of a network of cameras and sensors carefully and strategically placed around the car to provide the coverage needed. Via these devices, the car can then detect obstacles in the road, read driver behavior and more, everything it needs to do to make the ADAS safety features work properly.
When the car is manufactured, these cameras are carefully put in place. Common locations include the front bumper, windshield, rear bumper, the side view mirrors and other places where they are needed. The sensors include:
- Steering Angle Sensors
- Ultrasonic Transmitters
In short, the alignment process involves positioning the car a fixed distance from a frame mounted with lasers (with additional lasers mounted to the car, too) and a special board with a unique pattern on it (pattern determined by each car brand). Using a scan tool, the lasers are then lined up, as is the car with the pattern on the board and then the ADAS systems will be confirmed as properly calibrated.
When Do You Need ADAS Realignment?
Alignment is first done during the car’s manufacture. When the vehicles arrive at dealerships to be sold, they have already been fully aligned once. Depending on the exact model and what happens to you on the road, there’s still a fairly good chance that at some point you will need to have these systems realigned, but when?
1. After an accident: Collisions in which the cars bumper, side, windshield, side mirrors and other parts are heavily damaged and in need of repair or replacement, the process will undoubtedly knock various sensors and cameras out of place or even damage them beyond repair. Even collisions that need no major repairs may create the need for realignment because the impact may have jolted things out of place.
2. When your bumper is removed or replaced for any reason. Some cars are designed with certain systems only accessible via the bumper, which means it may have to be removed temporarily during maintenance. When this happens, realignment will have to be done. The same goes for those modifying their vehicles and installing new aftermarket bumpers.
3. When your windshield is replaced or repaired. The windshield being replaced or repaired is another key area where sensors and cameras will be knocked out of place. A new windshield means new ADAS alignment.
If you notice any apparent defects in your ADAS features, it could be because the sensors are not properly aligned. Even if you can’t think how it might have happened, you should let a professional take a look for you and make sure they are working.
Problems with ADAS Features
The advent of increasingly digital and automated ADAS features has not arrived without criticism and concern. Below are some of the main factors behind some people’s worries about, even opposition to, ADAS features.
Drivers Becoming Lazy/Careless
As we touched on above, there are problems on the roads with drivers using ADAS features as a substitute for their own attention. The driver might set the car to an autonomous driving mode, or perhaps use the traffic jam assist function in heavy traffic and then proceed to go to sleep or play on their smartphone, thus taking their attention away from the road.
Experts point to the many dangers of this attitude and approach. Car makers now have to stringently and continuous remind their customers that ADAS features are not a substitute for driver input or attention. It’s the only way they can be sure not to be sued or held responsible for when things go wrong because of driver error.
Confusion Over Naming
AAA conducted a survey of 34 car brands sold in the United States and made some astonishing discoveries about ADAS features. They found that there are 40 different brand names all describing the same ADAS feature: emergency braking. There are an additional 20 different brands for adaptive cruise control, and 19 for lane-keep assist.
The branding alphabet soup creates a problem for consumers, namely that they don’t know for sure what these features are and what they do. Even more worrying are names like Nissan ProPilot Assist and Tesla Enhanced Autopilot. Greg Brannon is the director of automotive engineering and industry relations at AAA, and he pointed out:
“When you ask consumers about what they think that system is capable of, 40 percent of Americans believe that a system called ProPilot or Autopilot has the ability to drive the car by itself.”
Additional Costs to Repair/Maintain
There are some who believe that adding ADAS features will help them reduce insurance costs. In fact, multiple ADAS technologies in the car, especially the very latest ones, will actually add to the value of the car and likely make it cost more to insure. As we mentioned above with the issue of realignment, there are also extra maintenance costs involved with these systems.
The advent of 5G will help to make the reliability and reactive speed of ADAS features better and more stable. For older systems, however, there remains the problems of potential faults caused by even a momentary loss or disturbance in the connection. When this is combined with people becoming too overly reliant on ADAS features, it can create safety problems on the road.
Conclusion: ADAS is the Future, but It’s Not Here Yet
There’s no doubt at all that ADAS technologies are terrific additions to modern cars. They are steadily making life on the road easier, mostly working to protect drivers from accidents and other mishaps. They will never be infallible, but with each innovation comes a way to further protect drivers and passengers from the worst effects of collisions and other accidents. They are also an undeniable reality in cars, with 92.7 percent of cars in the US having at least one ADAS feature as of May 2018.
Beyond these assistance features lies the “holy grail” technology of fully autonomous self-driving cars. For car companies, the idea that you could sell cars to a wider set of people, even those who can’t drive themselves is an incredible idea, and would make the market for automobiles truly global. We’ll save discussion on this for a blog another day.
In the meantime, make good use of your car’s ADAS features, but remember that they are not a substitute for your attention and continued vigilance. They will help you stay safe, but only if you keep doing what you need to do, as well.