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Car safety systems more integrated, but costly

Safety mechanisms in vehicles to be more unified and incorporate more advanced technologies for better road safety, but mainstream adoption will depend on price, note experts.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor on

Car safety mechanisms will increasingly become more synthesized and integrated, according to automotive technology experts, who add challenges persist in making such systems cost-effective and adoption varies across and within regions.

From being stand alone independent systems, next-generation safety and advanced drive assistance systems will be integrated with chassis, telematics and navigation systems to improve functional efficiency, and also reduce total cost of ownership, Prana Tharthiharan Natarajan, senior research analyst at Frost & Sullivan's automotive & transportation practice, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

The ability to integrate tools such as camera and radar with mapping capabilities will help suppliers develop fail-safe systems where sensors and map work in tandem and prevent failure by validating the situation when one particular aspect is not functioning as it should, he said.

Citing traffic sign recognition as an example, Natarajan pointed out that cameras can fail to identify traffic signs for various reasons, while maps may be obsolete or not indicate which direction of traffic needs to adhere to the traffic sign.

A combination of both technologies will address the limitations, he said, adding that the future development of traffic sign recognition "will be camera- and map-based solutions".

Alois Seewald of safety systems manufacturer TRW agreed that a higher level of integration will be a major trend in safety systems. These include enhanced vehicle control technologies, car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication systems and occupant or pedestrian protection developments, noted TRW's global director for cognitive safety integration and steering research & development.

"The basic integrated technologies include environmental sensors such as radar and video cameras that provide clear images of the environment surrounding the vehicle," Seewald explained. "Knowing exactly what is happening near the vehicle at any moment in time is essential to establishing cognitive safety functions, while sensor data fusion allows systems to react autonomously."

The executive shared that TRW is currently working on AC1000, a short-range radar solution with 360-degree sensing which has the potential to integrate advance functions including pedestrian detection and traffic sign recognition.

Manish Garg, research analyst at Frost & Sullivan's automotive and transportation practice added that future systems will be able to track moving objects, as compared to today's sensor-based advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) which can only track stationary objects. There will be separate algorithms that will run in the background to take corrective action, he said in an e-mail.

"Different algorithms are needed to differentiate between a moving pedestrian and a vehicle," Garg said. "In a nutshell, the future is enhanced safety--for pedestrians, for vehicle occupants, from obstacles on the road."

Audi, on the other hand, said new safety systems will be increasingly focused on the driver. Studies had shown that the driver is the overwhelming cause of accidents at 93.4 percent while technical defects accounts only for 0.7 percent, noted Lee Nian Tjoe, Audi Singapore's senior PR manager.

"Technologies can helps by giving the right amount--and not too much--information to the driver and, where applicable, render active intervention when needed to ensure a safer drive," he said in an e-mail.

Cost deterring mainstream usage
According to Natarajan, the main challenge for the automotive industry is to make ADAS cost-effective and extend them beyond high-end models to small and mid-segment cars.

"[Cars are] a very price-sensitive market and the added cost of safety technologies may not make sense to consumers who prefer to buy [cheaper] cars," Natarajan said. "Keeping the cost of the system low will enable wider acceptance of the system on higher volume cars."

Seewald of TRW also said the company has also focused on offering technologies that are affordable as it is the only way to increase the penetration of such systems and ultimately, deter road accidents."We recognize that to properly support our customers, we have to continue to innovate our technologies while also considering the cost impact of safety systems."

Adoption of safety systems vary between geographical markets as well, Garg noted. Japan and Germany, he said, have a high rate of acceptance for vehicle safety technologies but over in the United States, adoption is in line with government mandates.

Consumers ZDNet Asia spoke to also had mixed reactions to car safety systems. Shawn Lee, a student, noted in an e-mail that car safety systems did not matter much as "it wasn't communicated well enough".

Kyle Lee, a junior research analyst, said also in an e-mail that safety systems only "[act] as an in-built second level of protection". However, he maintained they are still important for overall road safety.

On the other hand, Alex Ng said a car with a "good safety system" was one of his foremost concerns when purchasing a car. "I'm willing to make sacrifices on price, performance, fuel efficiency or aesthetics to have a safer vehicle," the tax associate told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

Moving forward, safety systems are being developed at a much faster rate than their adoption rate, Natarajan noted, concluding that "there is a need to bridge the gap between the two" to achieve crash-free driving experiences.

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