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Mansplaining – a man explaining to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronising. What follows is emphatically not Mansplaining. I just happen to be male. In this era of taking offence at everything which might be false, it is possible to feel completely buried by the endless ‘noise’ of conversations. Advanced this, watch out for that…. Who needs humans anyway? Well, there is much smoke and not that much substance, with vehicle manufacturers in full blown panic mode trying to keep their businesses afloat.

Let’s start

I have often heard at first hand conversations which start with ‘EVs and autonomous cars’. To be clear autonomy is going to happen, but not before driver assistance systems become truly fool-proof and come down significantly in component cost. Then we need legislation to finally appear whilst this technology revolution has been developing, to ensure every single new vehicle from a certain date will be equipped with a minimum system performance as standard.

Europe has been struggling with legislation on this subject for more than two decades, so far… the goal posts keep moving as technology gets better and better.

Driver assistance systems can be applied to any type of vehicle, powered by petrol, diesel, liquified petroleum gas, partial electric drive and even full electric drive. Driver assistance systems will be the basis of autonomy, and do not require pure electric drive. Rather the only requirement is electronic control of whatever drive system is used. Steam, anyone?

So that’s clear…

Um, nope. Once upon a time at the turn of this century the ‘map’ for driver assistance was quite clear, which remained clear until around 2011:

* Forward facing CMOS camera fitted to the windscreen to classify the type of potential obstacle.

* Forward facing RADAR to measure the closing distance between the potential obstacle and our vehicle.

* Forward facing LiDAR sensor fitted to the windscreen to give more accurate short-range distance measurement than seemed possible with RADAR.

* Rear facing RADAR to detect other vehicles in our vehicle blind spot.

* Electronic control of the engine.

What happened? No rules, no law. Instead vehicle manufacturers tried to offer some of the features across a larger section of their ranges, as the technology rapidly evolved and component prices fell. Vehicles which have already offered some form of driver assistance system have seen significant upgrades to the operational software as well as several sensor technology changes.

Outwardly, however, the vehicles remained apparently identical. The upshot? In the first place the take-up of these systems has been so far quite modest, so the chance of coming across such systems has been quite low. Further, what was required to repair or calibrate a system fitted to the very first vehicles built in the model series is not what’s required for later builds. Never before has the VIN been so important for getting parts and methods.

But that’s not all. Adding to the confusion, we can currently see the following pattern developing:

* Forward facing CMOS camera fitted to the windscreen can now classify and measure.

* Forward facing RADAR tends to be fitted for auto-brake and adaptive cruise control.

* Forward facing LiDAR sensor is eclipsed by cost reductions / performance for RADAR as well as CMOS camera.

* Rear facing RADAR is migrating to the options list, combined with reversing camera to give low speed autobrake – or in the case of next gen Mercedes-Benz A class W177, alerts when parked to prevent opening a door in the path of a passing cyclist.

* Electronic control of the engine.

* Electronic control of the steering.

Electronic control of the steering system is significant. Driven by the desire to save weight, eliminate PAS oil from the vehicle build process and to take advantage of the huge leap in processing capability of the driver assistance systems, the vehicle could calculate not only the time to impact in a straight line (hopefully avoiding collision) but also an alternative path around the obstacle. First shown in prototype form in 2011, this became production reality by 2016.

The big issue

Apart from lack of legislation, even if a vehicle could have driver assistance systems fitted there is no minimum performance standard. For example, a vehicle can claim to offer driver assistance by only fitting a LiDAR sensor. All this will do is say to the driver as the vehicle is within 10m of impending impact ‘Hello. We need to do something. Not taking heed? The car will now apply the brakes’.

First generation camera systems have been fitted without the supporting sensors. What will that do? ’Hello. I detect something which by checking from more than 1200 types of obstacle I can say, at the speed of light, it is….. an….. Oh dear, we have impact. It wasn’t my job and that. #Confused #Impact’.

Spoiler alert! Dual camera systems and enhanced single camera modules with infrared range finding are able to classify objects as well as determine the closing distance between the vehicle and the obstacle. However, there are still limits to the system performance compared to the original ‘base’ set up with the latest sensor technology.

Currently vehicle manufacturers are fitting all types of sensor and data processing modules which range from cost optimised designs from circa 2000 right the way through to the very latest technology. Latest? Why that would be the LiDAR, now with greater capability combined with no moving parts (performance up, cost way, way down). The battle between the sensor and data processing systems is set to continue for quite a few more years.

Brain overload? Fear not. Legislation is being introduced in stages both in the land of DJ Trump as well as all-seeing Europe. That will do much to establish the minimum driver assistance system performance. At some point by around 2020, this will become clearer, which should prevent the fitment of ‘alert’ devices and standardise on those that will not only alert but ultimately brake the vehicle to a stop without the input of the driver.

Just remember the ever-growing number of vehicles fitted with earlier iterations of driver assistance which will remain very much alive for another 15 years or more from now.

One useful thing would be to have driver assistance systems sold properly. Whilst there are many professional sales people who do a really great job, quite a number here in Europe are more comfortable with the paint options than how the systems work. Surprisingly most customers/users of vehicles which are equipped with driver assistance systems don’t know where the sensors are nor what they do. This is not really an issue for repairers, but it is an almighty issue for insurers.

Data bases exist for basic vehicle information so that an insurer can tell what the vehicle should be just from the registration. The data includes engine size, power, body style, trim pack… but rarely does this cover option packs, and specifically, if some sort of driver assistance system has been fitted. Organisations such as Global NCAP have been working for more than a decade to define tests for driver assistance systems, which will in turn define a minimum performance. Euro NCAP is close to launching such a test standard, but the process is not easy.

Meanwhile

Vehicles need some sort of propulsion system to make them move. Today, after more than a century of services, the internal combustion engine is challenged by the combustion gases they emit. Stand in any city street and breathe – the air quality is not great.

In Europe the collective governments of the member states mapped out a way to go from virtually no testing (ie, what’s the colour of the gas and is there much of it) to an objective measurement system. This was adapted from the systems introduced in the USA during the early 1970s. These systems remined largely static, but the amount of pollutants which could be emitted by a vehicle were dramatically reduced from 2002 onwards.

The benefit? For a while smog, which is caused by un-burnt hydrocarbons, lack of air flow and sun light – became a distant memory for many cities which previously suffered from the vile gas cloud. However, as legislators thought that targets could be changed at a faster rate than ever before. This was rooted in a distrust of vehicle manufacturers and the mistaken belief that they were making huge profits. Compliance would be compulsory, with no excuses.

The result? Companies like BASF invented new technologies to reduce oxides of nitrogen, and to introduce three-way catalytic converters for diesel engines. In 2002 neither concept existed, yet by 2015 both were deployed in the global automotive market. However, some vehicle manufacturers decided to use the old test standard to the letter – meaning the vehicle would meet ever more stringent targets, but as soon as it was in the real world it would emit much, much more. By no means has every vehicle manufacturer done this.

The main source of pollutants for an internal combustion engine is during acceleration, and cold start. Hey presto! Let’s use another energy source, fuelled by electricity, to power the vehicle during the ‘iffy’ parts of the journey. Better, now that legislators have finished another two decades process to develop a better emission test standard, meeting the new targets with the new dual energy system is very possible.

The bottom line? If the vehicle has to carry fuel around with it, just as we have become accustomed, then there is not enough raw material to supply enough Li Ion batteries for just 10 per cent of the current global vehicle production. However, if much smaller batteries are required (circa 1 kWh) then that resource goes much further. If the power is supplied by external means the it is possible to electrify almost all vehicles.

Will this happen? Yes, even in South Africa. How quickly? That depends on Government, investment in electric power generation and building infrastructure which could remain operational for some time without suffering theft. In other words, as in many parts of the world, quite possibly decades.

Mind the gap!

I’m glad we have got this far. Quite honestly as a direct result of the technology chaos a lot of genuine progress has been and will continue to be made. The opportunity is for the collision repairer to embrace the very nature of what has happened so far – no two vehicles are alike – and to invest in software/electronic fault resolution. That’s’ where the future profit will be.

However, it would be a mistake to invest without scoping the probability of vehicles arriving in the repair shop with this equipment in significant volumes. Today specialism is King, and will migrate to the mainstream in the coming decade for electric assisted drive systems as well as driver assistance systems. Probably driver assistance systems will be the bigger headache for repairers who are not following the rate of market change

Insurers, however, have a bleaker outlook. The crucial data they need to price risk accurately is now owned by vehicle manufacturers as well as associated technology partners. Unless an insurer is part of that business arrangement for each vehicle manufacturer, important information will simply by-pass them.

Change is sometimes painful. With care, it usually produces a better result in the long-run.

Auto Industry Consulting is an independent provider of technical information to the global collision repair indutry. Products include EziMthods, our online collision repair methods system and Auto Industry Insider, our collision repair industry technical information website. For more information please visit the websites: www.ezimethods.com and www.autoindustryinsider.com or contact ben.cardy@autoindustryconsulting.com