Self-Driving Cars: What You Need to Know

Self-Driving Cars: What You Need to Know

There’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to self-driving cars. When will they hit the market? What are the benefits? How good are driver assistance systems today? Are current cars really self-driving? How do you fix something so complex? Here’s what you need to know about this emerging technology.

The Benefits of Automated Driving

Simply put, computers will be able to drive better than we can. The NHTSA estimates 94% of crashes are caused by human error. In 2010 alone, this accounted in almost $850 billion lost to expenses related to injuries, missed work and reduced quality of life. A shift toward automated driving won’t just make commuting less of a chore. It will dramatically improve vehicle safety.

The benefits don’t stop there. Automated vehicles will drive more efficiently, cutting emissions by as much as 60%. It also means non-drivers will be able to get around, improving the lives of the disabled and elderly. Better traffic flow will cut commute times, and parking will be easier. Autonomous cars can drop off passengers, then either park far away, or squeeze into compact spaces since they don’t need space for doors to open. However, this future is still a long way away.

What is a Self-Driving Car?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) divides driving automation into 6 categories:

Level 0: No automation
The driver is fully in control of the vehicle. At most, the car has cruise control and an automatic transmission.

Level 1: Driver Assistance
Computers can step in if there is an emergency. This includes systems like automatic braking and lane-keep assist. The car can steer, brake or accelerate, but not all at the same time.

Level 2: Partial Automation
The vehicle can handle multiple driving tasks at a time, but the driver must be ready to take control at any times. The most advanced cars on the market today are Level 2.

Level 3: Conditional Automation
The car can drive itself under ideal conditions, but the driver still handles difficult situations. For example, the system may be able to drive on the highway, but the driver has to take over in town.

Level 4: High Automation
The automation systems drive the car most of the time, giving the driver the option to take control when they want.

Level 5: Complete Automation
There are no driver controls. The vehicle is effectively a computer-controlled taxi.

Confusion about Driver Assistance

In a survey conducted by the IIHS, 40% of drivers were confused about what current technology can do. Much of this can be chalked up to overzealous marketers. By current estimates, Level 3 and 4 cars won’t be widely available until at least 2040, but current systems are pitched as self-driving.

How do current Level 2 cars differ from true self-driving vehicles? Let’s look at Tesla’s Autopilot. It can maintain speed, change lanes and self-park. However, it can’t navigate or react to cross traffic. It also doesn’t work in bad road conditions, and it needs clear road markings. To keep the driver on task, alarms are sounded if their hands are off the wheel for more than a few seconds. Last year, a Model X was in an accident while in Autopilot mode. Investigators determined the driver had been given repeated warnings, including 6 seconds of alarms before the vehicle hit a concrete barrier. Had the driver taken control, it would have been no problem to steer back on course.

How Do You Fix a Car That Drives Itself?

Most of the hardware needed to drive a car is already in place. Brake-by-wire, throttle-by-wire and lane keep assist use servo motors to control the car. 360-degree cameras, blind spot cameras, speed sensors and night vision give drivers and safety systems information for driving. Add better computers and driving software, and you have everything needed for a self-driving car. That means choosing a car with more advanced self-driving features won’t drastically increase repair times or costs.

Good fit and finish is an important part of any collision repair. However, it’s critical to the function of sensors used by automation systems to control the car. Cameras, radar and laser sensors need to be in exactly the right location to get accurate readings. From there, they’re recalibrated by a body technician using targets and sensors to ensure that the computers are getting the information they need.

All those sensors, motors and computers need to communicate, and that requires a lot of wiring. When the vehicle is first disassembled, wiring harnesses are checked at the points of impact. Any crimped or broken wires are replaced. As time goes on, this may become simpler as auto manufacturers phase in wireless communications.

Take the Stress Out of Collision Repair

When you need auto body repair, go to Merton Auto Body. We’re an I-CAR Gold Class certified shop, so our technicians are constantly learning new repair techniques for the latest vehicles. That means we can fix anything from antiques to the latest foreign and domestic cars on the market. No matter where you are in Lake Country, we’re nearby. Our shop is between Lisbon and North Lake, a short distance from Pewaukee, Oconomowoc, Delafield and Hartland.


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