Tapping mapping for an extra eye on the road

Automotive news reports on new automotive safety systems based on GPS navigation.

Automotive News

If your car knew what was around the next curve and could choose the best speed for safety and efficiency, would you let it?

That's the promise of map-based advanced driver assistance systems. Such systems are being developed for North America and Europe with data from navigation mapping leaders Navteq and Tele Atlas. The mapping companies say drivers will welcome an extra eye on the road ahead, especially as more content arrives in the connected vehicle of the future.

The systems will link data from the growing array of in-car sensors--including radar and video from advanced adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems--with global positioning data. The systems then will check to make sure the vehicle is tracking correctly with the road.

The goal of the systems is a vehicle that can "think for itself when the driver is not thinking," as one panelist said at the Telematics Detroit conference held in May in suburban Detroit.

Early versions

In 2005, BMW launched an early version of such a system on its 3, 5 and 6 series. Map-based data can prevent acceleration by the adaptive cruise control when the vehicle is in a freeway exit lane or other limited driving situation. And in Japan, some systems already use known road geometry with real-time traffic to set up ideal traffic routing and cruising speeds.

Most drivers say they don't want a car that intervenes in their driving. But surveys show that many would like their car to be more helpful when it comes to economical driving, warning about unsafe conditions or spotting traffic signals and stop signs.

Kevin Moran, business development director for Navteq, told the conference that a survey of more than 1,000 respondents in Europe and North America found that map-enhanced driver assistance has high appeal, even at a cost of $500 to $1,000 per vehicle. Such systems might display a "virtual red line" speed for an upcoming curve or give an audio warning that a stop sign was just over the next hill, Moran said.

North American and European drivers concurred on three features:

1. Advice for speed on curves.

2. Advice about safe road speeds on particular stretches of highway.

3. Fuel economy enhancement for their particular drive.

Drivers of high-end vehicles told surveyors they would welcome, in this order, advice and warnings on fuel economy, stop signs and traffic lights; speed advice; and curve assistance. Drivers of midmarket vehicles ranked their priorities as economy, speed, traffic devices, and blind spots.

Virtual rumble strips

Moran said properly executed driver assistance systems would follow the example of rumble strips, which have reduced run-off-the-road accidents dramatically when installed along high-risk routes. "They make no demand on the driver; they're not there until they're needed," Moran said.

Map-based driver assistance systems could serve as a "virtual" rumble strip, focusing a driver's attention when concentration is needed for an upcoming curve or if the vehicle's wandering path indicated driver distraction or drowsiness.

Jonathon Husby, vice president of automotive, telematics and transportation for Tele Atlas, said the digital-mapping company already has several attributes of a driver assistance system out in the field, including curve and speed information.

Under prototype development right now is slope information, which could be coupled with a vehicle's powertrain to recognize a particular hill and help a driver choose the most efficient acceleration for fuel economy.

On the horizon are systems that may recognize that a driver is in a hot spot for accidents and help that vehicle avoid driving patterns that have led to prior accidents, Husby said.

"I see a great opportunity for that, but you have to have the right infrastructure in place for that," he said. "The industry hasn't come together on that yet."

Husby said he didn't think such map-reliant systems are far in the future.

"I don't think we're measuring it in five or 10 years," he said. "I think we're looking at having new offerings in two or three years."

Robert Denaro, vice president for driver assistance systems at Navteq, said in-car systems such as lane departure warnings and adaptive cruise control, when combined with powerful map data, probably will encourage rapid market penetration by driver assistance systems.

70% fewer crashes?

"People say, 'Well, I'm not sure safety sells.' But I guarantee you, as soon as there's a model of car out there where there's data that says this particular car seems to have 70 percent less crashes than other cars of its type, buyers will want it, they will seek it out," Denaro said.

That percentage may sound unreasonable. But consider the rumble strip example Navteq cites. When the New York State Thruway installed the bumpy roadside warning strips in 2003, run-off-the-road accidents decreased 80 percent, Denaro said.

"There are two classes of things happening here," he said. "One is where we're enhancing the performance of an existing system that uses sensors in the car, and the other is where we're enabling an entirely new system. You have more integrated functionality."

A map-based system can take signal inputs from something local, such as a lane departure camera, and combine that with another system, such as a headlight-aiming function, to produce a car that anticipates circumstances.

"I would predict that in 2009 we'll see the first systems that are doing this" in trucking fleets, Denaro said.

He sees two kinds of systems taking the lead.

The first would be predictive cruise control. "You set a band around a speed, and the algorithm, based on the predictive nature of the map, makes decisions on accelerating or decelerating within that band," Denaro explained.

The second would be so-called eco-driving, where the system cues the driver how best to drive economically.

Steps to self-driving cars

Tele Atlas' Husby said the ultimate vision for driver assistance systems and the map systems they use is the pure autonomous vehicle -- the self-driving car of the far future.

"We've got to keep our eyes on that, but there's going to be several iterations of product coming out with subtle introduction of things before we get to the pure autonomous vehicle," he said.

While some drivers decry anything that might diminish their pure driving experience, many others are utilitarian drivers who don't love their commute and want the car to help them be more productive.

Said Husby: "Everyone wants to have a safer experience."

(Source: Automotive News)

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