According to federal data, 94 percent of motor vehicle crashes are the result of human error. That is the motivation behind creating fully autonomous vehicles that take drivers completely away from the controls. After the recent fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber vehicle in Arizona, however, it's clear that we're not quite there yet.
However, similar technologies are being installed in a number of passenger vehicles. Most are high-end, but the technology is expected to become widespread as its cost drops over time. Let's take a look at some of what is becoming available now.
Keeping track of conditions. New Mercedes S-Class vehicles are equipped with global mapping, advanced navigation systems and cameras that can read speed limit signs. If the driver exceeds the posted speed limit, the car's computer can either issue a warning or slow the car. It can also respond to construction zones, roundabouts and curves. Volvo has a similar system.
Timing traffic lights. Some Audi cars and SUVs are linked with traffic light computers in several cities and can count down the time until the lights change. This could cut down on red-light running and allow drivers to alter their driving so they don't have to stop. Ultimately, it could warn other drivers if someone is about to run a red light.
Better than over the shoulder. In Hyundai's Nexo, a camera turns on whenever the driver activates a turn signal. The view to the side and rear of the vehicle is then visible on a view screen. "The information we can offer from a camera may be better than a live look over the shoulder," said a Hyundai spokesperson.
Distraction buster. A company called NVIDIA is building a camera- and AI-based system that can sense where the driver is looking and adjust the sensors to show whatever the driver isn't focused on. It could also provide an alert or even stop the car when something happens outside the driver's area of focus. The system could be in Volkswagen vehicles within two years.
Lidar-based obstacle tracking. Lidar, short for "light detection and ranging," is a laser-based system that can see objects in great detail in the dark or in poor weather conditions. Audi plans to introduce forward-facing lidar system in its A8 sedans this fall. The company is working on an upgrade that can be combined with radar and cameras to provide an even better view. Also, auto part supplier Continental offers a system that can see vehicles up to 10 meters away. It is working on a system that will be able to see smaller obstacles like pedestrians and bicyclists at longer distances.