As we race to a future of self-driving cars, many argue it won’t happen in South Africa. But, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, it’s already here.
The future of the automobile is here. You only need look in your rear-view mirror. There’s a good chance that one of those cars you see is an Audi or a Subaru or a Ford or a BMW that has an assisted driving feature activated.
That means, on a current Audi A5, a “lane assist” feature that alerts drivers when they are veering over lane demarcations, “active lane assist” that steers the vehicle back into a lane when it detects the car moving over the lines, and “side assist” that detects vehicles coming up in the next lane when the driver signals a lane change – even forcing the car back into its own lane.
In the new Land Rover Discovery, an Autonomous Emergency Braking system spots potential collisions and applies brakes automatically if an accident is anticipated. It has a form of self-driving as well, with an off-road feature called All-Terrain Progress Control, which allows the driver to hand control over to the vehicle when the terrain is particularly difficult. The driver steers while the ATPC takes over all other functions, including braking, applying torque to the wheels, individually, for maximum traction, and controlling the speed.
In the Subaru XV, EyeSight Driver Assist Technology comprises two colour cameras positioned near the rear-view mirror. They monitor traffic movement, and feed the information to an artificial intelligence systems that fine tunes cruise control automatically and keeps an eye on unintended lane changes. It also features Pre-Collision Braking, in effect watching for cars that brake suddenly in front or – that perennial South African road hazard – cars cutting in dangerously.
The new Ford Fusion features the whole bang-shoot of automated safety, from Adapative Cruise Control that slows the car if it detects traffic ahead, to automated perpendicular parking and park-out assist for getting out of tight spots. Cross-Traffic Alert is like having a built-in assistant to warn of approaching traffic when a car is backing out of a driveway or parking spot.
The cherry on top is Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, which warns of potential collisions with both cars and pedestrians. The brakes instantly “precharge” and increase sensitivity for full responsiveness when the brakes are applied – which happens automatically if the driver doesn’t respond to the alarm.
The Volvo CX90 features all of the above, along with City Safety, designed to avoid collisions in slow-moving, stop-and-go city traffic. It brakes automatically, avoiding or helping to reduce the effects of a collision.
Every one of the above is a car I’ve tested on the South African roads. In the automobile industry, science fiction is not fiction anymore.
It’s not a great leap for such features to evolve to fully automated driving as well. The big catch, aside from the law, is that none of them are cheap, and none are aimed at the mass market. Yet.
In cars, future shock is no longer about how much of driving can be automated. It’s about how much of that automation can be built into mass-market cars.
The biggest shock comes when the high-end features like reverse cameras suddenly appear in entry-level cars. The nippy little Ford Fiesta ST2000 may not be a beginner car, but it points the way. It already features rear-view colour cameras for safer reversing, and AvanceTrac, which automatically applies brakes and adjusts engine torque when it detects wheelslip.
The true breakthrough, for the ordinary driver, will come when standard features in all cars include lane-assist and park-assist, as well as the predictive braking systems appearing in the high-end vehicles. That will gradually prepare drivers for their next upgrade: the self-driving vehicle, or at least a significant turn of the wheel closer to that dream.
Laws will have to evolve to allow for many of these changes, but that is already beginning, says Trevor Hill, Head of Audi South Africa.
“Germany will soon change its legislation, then the USA, probably in parallel, and then the rest of the world will follow,” he says. “But you have to have infrastructure, you have to have lines in the road. In Polokwane right now, an autonomous vehicle would end up in the bush. The sensors in the car will need to read the road markings, as well the traffic.
“But this will all happen in time. Once we get this technology into South Africa, we can start to explain to authorities what the benefits are. This will save lives. If you could put the current predictive braking features on trucks and taxis, you would save a lot of lives. But then everyone has to do it, because if one car brakes suddenly and others don’t, you have a problem.
“There are real safety benefits, though. Once costs come down and it becomes standard, most cars will get it. The technology is there; you just have to put it in the cars.”
The current Audi A5, already on South African roads, is a car of the future, available today, and does not need any change in law to be allowed on the roads. Like the Land Rover Discovery and Ford Fusion, it can detect a collision about to happen, with a technology called “pre sense”, which applies brakes automatically. That is just the beginning.
The new Audi A8, revealed in Barcelona a few months ago and due to arrive in South Africa next year, has built in numerous new features that also improve both autonomy and safety, without flouting any laws.
It features a parking space finder, similar to that of the Ford Fusion, which scans for open parking spaces. Chances are that the next model will drive itself to and from parking spaces after it drops you off at the front door of a building. It’s safety features are right out of the future.
“If the car is about to be hit from the side, it will first try to avoid accident. But, if it is unavoidable, the side of the car lifts 8cm so that it exposes the underside of car and distributes the impact, protecting passengers from the direct impact. An artificial intelligence active suspension means electronic actuators on the wheels smooths out potholes, bumps, and rough surfaces.”
It’s not only about safety and comfort, however. Hill presents a fascinating vision for the role of the self-driving car: “With autonomous driving, we want to create a 25th hour for the customer. The hour spent driving can become productive time in the car, in effect giving you an extra hour to get things done.”
The promised delivery date for autonomous vehicles, from most manufacturers, is 2021. It cannot come a day too soon.
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.
LHI is coming to save your car from hazards
Local Hazard Information will give drivers advance warning of potential dangers lurking around the corner
There are many times when knowing what is around the corner could be useful. But for drivers that knowledge could be critical. Now, thanks to Ford’s new connected car technology, it is also a reality.
Local Hazard Information (LHI) marks a significant step on the journey towards a connected transport infrastructure by helping drivers prepare for and potentially avoid dangers on the road. When drivers ahead encounter sudden tailbacks, accidents or spilled loads, the driver behind – and possibly out of sight – is given advance warning. This could also apply to everything from freak hailstorms, to sudden flooding, or even landslides.
The triggers for the system come from what is happening in the cars ahead. It could be that airbags have been activated, hazard warning lights are flashing, or windscreen wipers are in operation. Previous traffic incident alert systems have relied on drivers to input information in order to generate alerts. LHI works autonomously, without the need for any driver interaction, to generate information and issue warnings.
Hazards are only displayed – via the dashboard display – if the incident is likely to impact on the driver’s journey. LHI is designed to be more beneficial to drivers than hazard information from current radio broadcasting systems, which often deliver notifications not relevant to them.
Already featuring as standard and free of charge for the first year on the new Ford Puma, LHI technology is being rolled out across more than 80 per cent of Ford’s passenger vehicle line-up by the end of this year. Crucially, the benefit will not be limited only to those travelling in Ford vehicles. Information sent can be used to alert drivers of other manufacturers’ vehicles, and vice-versa.
“What makes Local Hazard Information different is that it is the cars that are connected – via the Internet of Things. There is no reliance on third party apps. This is a significant step forward. Warnings are specific, relevant and tailored to try to help improve your specific journey.” Joerg Beyer, executive director, Engineering, Ford of Europe
How it works
Sensors monitor activities including emergency braking, fog lights and traction control to detect adverse weather or road conditions. Data from these activities is then computed to determine the hazard location and whether a traffic incident has occurred.
The vehicle automatically provides updates through a secure connection to “the cloud” using the Ford Pass Connect modem. Ford’s technology partner HERE Technologies operates the central cloud-based platform that collates information from multiple vehicle brands, governed by a business-to-business agreement.
The more cars are connected to the network, the greater the efficiency of the system. When many vehicles generate the same warning, others in the vicinity receive incident information from the cloud via the cellular network, enabling drivers to reduce speed or take appropriate action.
Additional information is sourced from public authority incident databases and traffic reports to provide drivers with further advance warnings including approaching vehicles driving on the wrong side of the carriageway, animals or people in the road ahead, and roadworks.
The on-board modem will be connected at the time of vehicle delivery. Customers may choose to opt in/opt out of certain data sharing.
Local Hazard Information data provided by HERE Technologies.
SA gets live EV charge map
Drivers of fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles can now plan their journeys with ease using a live map to locate available public charging stations nationwide.
The live map displays the entire network of Jaguar Powerway and GridCars supported public charging stations, and indicates the current status of each including if it’s online, offline or in use. The map also shows the time and date of the station’s last successful use, as well as a tally of that particular station’s total charge sessions to date.
Information about each charge station’s exact location with either map pin drops or GPS coordinates is also available.
Brian Hastie, Network Development Director, Jaguar Land Rover South Africa, says: “While the primary charging habit for the majority of EV drivers will be at home where it’s most convenient and cost-effective, we know that the future of electric mobility ultimately relies on a public charging network. As the rollout of public charging stations intensifies and the dots between existing locations are connected, it’s vital that EV drivers are able to view the status of chargers remotely. This live map makes that possible.”
Jaguar South Africa began the rollout of its Powerway network of public charging stations late in 2018. The Powerway includes public charging stations along frequently traveled holiday routes along the N1, N2 and N3, and at various points of convenience, such as shopping centres, in the country’s major hubs including Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London and Bloemfontein.
The Powerway network also includes publicly available chargers in customer parking areas at every Jaguar Land Rover retailer in South Africa.
The majority of charging stations on the network are 60kWh fast chargers which also feature 22kWh AC fast charge ports to accommodate plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs). The AC standard Type 2 socket will allow charging of all EVs currently available in South Africa, while the DC charger is fitted with the CCS DC type socket used by the vast majority of EVs in SA.
The R30-million Jaguar Powerway investment, combined with the network of GridCars-supported public chargers, makes day-to-day travel as well as longer day trips and even very long journeys possible for owners of electric vehicles.