The Difference Between Driver-Assist and Autonomous Cars

January 16, 2018

This week's Detroit Auto Show unveiled more high-tech automotive features and it may have you wondering what the difference is between driver-assist and autonomous. 

 

Driver-assist systems have been available for decades to consumers. But, experiments have been conducted on automating cars (self-driving) since at least the 1920's and it is unknown when we may actually see them on the market. 

 

What is a driver-assist car?

 

Many of the cars currently on the road have automatic or intelligent features that assist drivers on the road.

 

These features improve safety and help motorists make better decisions. If you do not own an older “classic” model, your car probably has at least one driver-assist feature.

 

If not, you can install additional driver-assist features in most cars – the added advantage of this being that, by improving your car's safety, you can also reduce the cost of car insurance.

 

The first driver-assist systems in cars included cruise control, dipping mirrors and climate control. In fact, the first cruise control system was on the 1958 Chrysler Imperial.

 

Since then, we have seen automatic dipping lights, rain-sensing wipers, stop-start mechanisms, adaptive suspension and automatic emergency braking systems become commonplace. Now self-parking, lane-recognition and adaptive cruise control are accepted features on many new vehicles. 

 What is a self-driving car?

 

Scientists and carmakers are working towards vehicles that will require no input at all from the humans inside.

 

In 2009, Waymo, part of Google, began testing and perfecting the self-driving car. In that short time, the company has developed self-driving vehicles that have covered almost two million miles.

 

Currently, Waymo's cars are driving on public streets with a test driver in the front seat. The driver is there to monitor the vehicle and report back, but also acts as a failsafe. In general, the tests have been a success so far – so do not be too surprised if you see a self-driving car showroom opening up in the near future. 

 

When will I be able to purchase a self-driving car?

 

The technology to ensure that self-driving cars are safe enough to go on the open market is still a few years away.

 

Manufacturers are testing 'self-driving vehicles' and these usually still require the presence of a driver in case of emergencies – and are some way from passing all the government safety tests.

 

The first driverless car tested on the UK roads traveled at 15 mph and had a driver on hand in case anything went wrong – that was in October 2016. Last year, however, Tesla announced it had sold 200 of its latest self-driving cars to Dubai. The cars will operate as taxis in the wealthy, high-tech city. Even then, the cars will have a human driver ready at the wheel at all times.

 

The big difference between assisted driving and complete self-driving:

 

Like self-driving technology, driver-assist takes partial control of your car – even though it is only for a short time. For example, the Intelligent Parking Assist System requires constant input from the driver to control acceleration and braking, but turns the wheel automatically.

 

Although autonomous and driver-assist are similar, there are no cars technologically advanced enough to deal with every possibility drivers encounter on the roads. Self-driving cars always require a human fail-safe, who can take control of the wheel if the car makes a mistake.

 

A computer does not know to pull over for an ambulance or police. In addition, a computer cannot spot a sheet of ice and does not know how to negotiate temporary road signs. The technology of a self-driving car needs to be so intelligent; it makes us realize what good drivers we humans already are...sometimes.

 

When will self-driving cars be safe on our roads?

 

Testing is going on in many countries around the world, including real-world usage in cities such as Stockholm and Los Angeles. Manufacturers are claiming many positive results, although a few mishaps have been reported too.

 

Waymo has carried out the most successful testing. In 2016, their test drivers only had to take control of their self-driving cars 124 times in almost 635,868 miles.

 

Although total self-driving cars are still some years off, the driver-assist technology that helps motorists stay safe on the road is very much available. It is even worth considering adding some of these features to your own car; they could help you avoid accidents, manage tricky maneuvers and even reduce the cost of your insurance. 

 

Excerpts taken from: Arthur Unknown. (2017). "Driver-assit and autonomous cars: what's the difference?". Retrieved from https://www.lv.com/atheart/features/driver-assist-and-self-driving-cars-whats-the-difference?cid=LVBrand/Email/Newsletter/Spring17/DriverAssistCars. 

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