Share By Megan Anderle
Manufacturers have made smart technology a major focus in new vehicles over the past decade, employing cameras, radar, sensors and other tools to make transportation safer.
“The safety benefits come from providing warnings to drivers when they appear to be on a collision course with another vehicle or when they are in danger of running through a red traffic signal,” said Steven Shladover, a program manager at California Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology (PATH), UC Berkeley.
These safety features are ever-evolving, and cars, planes, trains and buses have all made substantial progress, with futurist technology such as self-driving cars not so far off in the distance.
Here are a few of the most remarkable smart safety features in the transportation industry.
Forward Collision Avoidance: Many new cars have systems that detect objects in front of the car using radar and sometimes laser and camera sensors. Once an object is detected, the system warns the driver with a symbol on the dashboard or beeping. In some cars, the seatbelt will automatically tighten and the car may even slow down automatically, without the driver’s input. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), collision avoidance systems, particularly those that brake autonomously, are the most effective technologies in reducing crashes.
Lane Departure Warning: When your car is drifting outside of its lane, your vehicle will warn you to prevent an accident. The vehicle’s cameras, mounted on the windshield, capture the lane markings, and when the car deviates from the lane, it provides the driver with some sort of alert, such as a symbol on the dashboard, a beeping sound, or a vibration from the steering wheel. Lane Departure Warning has evolved into Lane Keeping Assist, which applies steering torque to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane.
Emergency Braking: Similar to how Lane Keeping Assist works, Braking Assist augments braking power during an emergency situation. When the driver applies the brakes, the emergency brake assist system examines the speed of the vehicle and the force that was applied. If the system determines that the vehicle is in a panic stop situation, the driver’s brake input is overridden and the full amount of available brake force is applied. According to a Toyota study, nearly half of all drivers do not step on the brake quickly or with enough pressure to stop the vehicle in an emergency, so brake assist addresses a significant safety issue.
Smart Traffic Lights: Developed by a team of Toronto engineers, smart traffic lights use cameras and computer chips with technology that learns to adjust according to real-time traffic patterns. Lights communicate with other lights in the area to coordinate traffic flow. Known formally as MARLIN-ATSC, the technology reduces congestion substantially, but more importantly, the lights can communicate with connected vehicles to warn of potential dangers. For instance, if a car runs a red light up ahead, the traffic lights could relay that information to the connected car or bus through the collision warning system. MARLIN-ATSC, which has been installed at more than 2,000 intersections in Toronto, is being developed by the U.S. Transportation Department.
Smart Trains: Railroad safety officials have pushed for a system that combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from colliding, derailing or speeding. Positive Train Control (PTC) was designed to prevent the human errors behind roughly 40 percent of train accidents, according to CNN. Congress has ordered the nation’s railroads to adopt PTC by 2015. However, transportation authority officials have opposed that decision because of the exorbitant costs — Metro Transportation Authority officials in New York estimate PTC would cost upwards of $900 million for full implementation.
Safer Airplanes, Smarter Traffic Control: The conversion of America’s air traffic control system from radar systems based on the ground to satellite-based GPS systems is also costly – in the billions – but it will revolutionize air traffic control when it is implemented in the next decade. Called NextGen, the idea is to digitally broadcast information about each aircraft’s position, altitude, direction of movement, and horizontal and vertical speed in real-time. Combined with weather conditions and topographic maps, this information will paint a fuller picture of the aircraft’s condition up to the minute. Air traffic controllers can then move the aircraft in and out of airports more quickly and identify and address potential problems faster, according to Fast Company.