If you keep up with car news, you're probably familiar with adaptive cruise control, which works like regular cruise control, but with the added benefit of slowing your vehicle when the car in front of you decelerates.
You're likely familiar with lane-assist technology, too, which sounds an alert when you've drifted from your lane because of a distraction or because you've dozed off.
And if you're a real tech fan, you've also heard of Volvo's SARTRE system, which will eventually allow specially equipped vehicles to join highway caravans chock full of cars that communicate with one another. So, when the car in the front slows down, the others do, too, and when the car in front accelerates the others follow suit. SARTRE allows vehicles to travel closer together and at a more consistent speed, saving gas while also decreasing the possibility of accidents.
Now, Volvo has taken those three systems and combined them to create one specially targeted to commuters -- specifically, those who spend a lot of time in traffic moving under 30 mph.
The great part about Volvo's Autonomous Driving Support (ADS) technology is that, unlike SARTRE, it doesn't require nearby cars to have any special gizmos or gadgets. A Volvo tricked out with ADS can manage the situation all by itself.
Volvo says that the ADS system activates with the push of a button, which causes the car's engine, brakes, and steering to control themselves automatically. However, just like cruise control, the driver can regain control of the vehicle at any time.
Even better: ADS is set to debut in calendar year 2014.
Why do we need it?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, drivers in the U.S. spend over 100 hours each year commuting between their homes and offices. That's more time than many 40-hour workers get for vacation.
ADS won't necessarily speed up those commutes, but by shifting driving duties from the motorist to the motor vehicle, it can make the process a little less stressful. In tests with Volvo customers last year, the response to ADS was positive. One driver was particularly effusive and optimistic: "It will take away the cramps and knee pain that I get when constantly having to adjust speed and distance in slow-moving queues."
Volvo says that ADS and other tech systems will arrive in 2014 as part of Volvo's new Scalable Product Architecture platform. Though full details about that platform haven't been revealed, it's likely to revolve around a series of sensors and computers that can be adjusted to accommodate a number of technological innovations.
Volvo's ADS may be among the first of its kind to debut, but it's certainly not the only such system in development. Many other automakers -- both luxury and mainstream -- are working on similar technology, which should arrive before the decade's end.
That said, systems like ADS are still terra incognita -- not just for automakers, but for our legal system, too. For example, who's at fault if a vehicle with ADS has an accident? The driver? The automaker? And since such technology makes vehicles more autonomous, how do we prevent it from encouraging distracted driving? After all, if my car is watching the road, why shouldn't I check Facebook?
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