Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) systems technology uses either one or a combination of a camera, a radar or a lidar (laser light sensor) to monitor the road ahead for obstacles that could lead to a collision – typically the rear-end shunt kind. When they detect what looks like an accident, most AEB systems (but not all of them) prompt an audiovisual warning in the cabin; if the driver still doesn’t react, the system takes over and automatically hits the brakes.
Now assessed as part of Euro NCAP’s crash test, vehicles fitted with AEB are 27% less likely to be involved in an accident, according to safety body Thatcham, and have a 38% greater chance of avoiding a “real-world rear-end crash” according to a Euro NCAP and Australasian NCAP study.
In March last year, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) reported that 58.1% of all new cars registered in 2015 were available with some form of autonomous technology, including AEB which was sold either as standard or optional fitment on almost two in every five cars.
The technology is less prevalent in light vans than it is cars or other forms of commercial vehicle, but it is making inroads. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles became the first LCV manufacturer to fit the technology as standard across its range in June this year. AEB, at least in VW’s case, requires no adaptation between cars and vans, so the LCVs use the same, radar-based system as the passenger cars.
The manufacturer said AEB had been “proven to cut third party injury insurance claims by 45%”, which, in the case of cars and vans where it is not yet a legal requirement, can lead to lower insurance premiums for individuals and fleets operating vehicles fitted with the technology as standard.
As for lorries, AEB has been mandatory for vehicles sold in Europe since November 2015 (it’s also the case for coaches and buses). There are some exceptions such as vehicles with steel suspension and four-axle HGVs where the operation of the vehicle could theoretically affect the performance of the sensors, but for the average road going truck, AEB has been standard fare for almost two years.
The technology gets a bit smarter for buses and coaches. Even in a coach with 50 or more seats and the same number of seat belts, there will always be two or three passengers on the way to the toilets or to their luggage – some of them will always stand in the aisle, for those people, sudden braking can be more dangerous than the avoided situation.
In a coach, Daimler for example, knowing that there could be passengers in the aisle, have a very low jump [early warning jab of brakes], then a phase of about two seconds where deceleration increases, then once this stage is reached, there is the option for higher brake forces or full application of the brakes.
In June, Daimler announced its latest generation of commercial vehicle AEB, known as Active Brake Assist 4 (ABA 4), with a pedestrian recognition system. It will be available on Mercedes and Setra coaches from spring 2018 and uses a long and short-range radar system to identify objects smaller than conventional vehicles – i.e. pedestrians and cyclists. AEB with pedestrian recognition can be found in passenger cars, but this is the first time it has been applied to anything as large as a coach at a production level.
AEB’s benefits run beyond crash reduction, too. Heavy commercial vehicle fleets are unlikely to see instant discounts, but those using the technology could reasonably expect their insurance premiums to drop over time because typically it has a positive effect on accident rates and claims.