Author: Aniruddha Kulkarni, Vice President, CV Engineering
Stringent Emission norms, inclusion of various alternate fuels and transition towards net zero emission along with vehicular safety are key focus areas for automobile manufacturers around the world. Infrastructure being an integral part of the country's economic ecosystem, is further likely to grow manifold in coming years. Highways are an important part of the country's infrastructure and have an immense impact of its growth and development. India has the second-largest road network in the world, spanning a total of ~60 lakh kilometres, and caters to heavy volumes of traffic movement, comprising a wide array of both passenger and commercial vehicles. Against this backdrop, a systematic approach towards ascertaining safety is the need of the hour, with effective collaboration amongst all stakeholders.
The government has taken several meaningful regulatory measures towards ensuring road safety, and automakers too are striving to fortify their efforts in this regard. While passive safety features that ensure protection during an accident, such as seatbelts or airbags, have been conventionally prevalent, today, heightened emphasis is also being relayed on active safety features, which come in before an accident happens. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), that utilise advanced technologies and with intelligent software, are becoming important mechanisms in helping cement active safety in modern vehicles.
The fundamentals of ADAS
Let us begin by understanding the features and functioning of ADAS. Essentially, ADAS comprises a set of sophisticated safety systems designed to assist drivers, incorporating a wide variety of technologies, including electronic stability control, anti-lock braking, driver state monitoring, lane departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking, to help avoid or mitigate accidents altogether. This helps elevate safety considerably, especially in commercial vehicles, where the potential of passive safety features to offer protection reduces when the vehicle weight increases (towards higher tonnage).
In terms of its functioning, ADAS operates in three steps. First, the vehicle perceives and interprets its existing surroundings, in its "sense" phase. Secondly, it processes the information it receives and prepares a driving strategy, in its "think phase". Finally, it uses its powertrain, steering, and braking system interventions in such a way that this driving strategy is put into action to avoid accidents, in its "act" phase. To execute these steps, an ADAS uses several key components, such as a camera, radar, LiDAR, ultrasound sensors, controllers, and actuators. The levels of automation working within this system can vary from level 0 to level 5, from no automation to full automation respectively. Each level of automation comes with certain features that enhance the automation, safety, and driving experience of the vehicle.
Unlocking a plethora of benefits
Foundationally speaking, such systems can majorly minimize the consequences of human error (which continues to be the leading cause of accidents today) by alerting the driver in real-time or taking action themselves to avoid accidents. This means there will be reduction in fatalities, with features like front collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. There is a high potential towards accident reduction due to presence of ADAS systems such as driver monitoring systems, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist etc. The system's comfort features would also relieve driving fatigue and cultivate a stress-free environment for drivers, helping track overexertion.
Besides maximizing safety, ADAS systems can also help bring down vehicle downtime, as well as related insurance claims, thereby saving fleet costs. Since the system is integrated with smart technologies, it can also help efficiently utilize energy across the fleet and help chart actionable routes to effectively navigate traffic. Ultimately, this would mean a significant reduction in operations costs due to optimisation across levels. With increasing automation levels in ADAS features, there is further potential towards reduction in fleet operations costs. Research suggests "truck platooning" or the linking of trucks within a convoy through ADAS and connected technologies on the highway can result in 15% total cost of ownership (TCO) savings.
The road ahead
While the transformative possibilities of the adoption of advanced systems are endless, like ADAS is undeniable for a large and diverse nation like India, it is also necessary for us to remain cognizant of some aspects that will be determinant in its future spread. There must be impeccable coordination between the complex components within ADAS to ensure its robustness, along with exhaustive analysis, integration, and optimization for the Indian context. The road infrastructure must also be well-marked according to proper standards to ensure the full effectiveness of the systems.
Going forward, it is necessary for us to consciously develop a roadmap that envisions a seamless integration of ADAS with all modern vehicles on the road. Tata Motors has already kick-started this journey with its introduction of India's first-ever ADAS system, complete with features for collision mitigation, lane departure warning, hill hold assist, tyre pressure monitoring, amongst several others. Automakers must continue to work towards building even more sophisticated, nuanced algorithms within ADAS to improve precision while striving to promote autonomous driving. Along with other stakeholders in the ecosystem, we must place the safety and well-being of our customers at the heart of our pursuits, paving the way for a safer tomorrow.