IIHS tests advanced driver-assist tech, gets mixed results

2017 Volvo S90 T6Advanced driver-assist systems like Tesla’s Autopilot and Volvo’s Pilot Assist are often touted as the cutting edge of safety tech, and possibly a stepping stone to self-driving cars. But in a recent test of these systems, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found their real-world performance to be lacking.

“Evaluations of adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping show variable performance in typical driving situations, such as approaching stopped vehicles and negotiating hills and curves,” an IIHS statement said. “The early results underscore the fact that today’s systems aren’t robust substitutes for human drivers.”

Adaptive cruise control can automatically vary speed based on the car in front, slowing down when the lead car slows and accelerating when appropriate. What the IIHS refers to as active lane-keeping systems allow the car to steer itself to a certain degree in order to stay centered in a lane. The ability of these systems to manipulate steering, acceleration, and parking, has led some media reports to describe them as enabling fully autonomous driving, but that is not the case. These systems still require an attentive human driver.

For its test, the IIHS selected a 2017 BMW 5 Series equipped with Driving Assistant Plus, a 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class with Drive Pilot, a Tesla Model 3 and Tesla Model S equipped with Autopilot (software versions 8.1 and 7.1, respectively), and a 2018 Volvo S90 with Pilot Assist. All five cars also had autonomous emergency braking systems that received the IIHS’ top rating of “Superior.”

Testers evaluated the cars on a closed course and on public roads. While the adaptive cruise control systems performed fairly well under controlled conditions, performance can vary in the real world, the IIHS said. On the test track, the BMW, Mercedes, and Teslas braked to avoid a completely stopped target vehicle, even though some vehicles’ owners’ manuals specifically said adaptive cruise control may not recognize a vehicle that has already stopped. Sure enough, on a real-world road, IIHS senior research engineer Jessica Jermakian found that the E-Class did not identify a pickup truck stopped at a red light. She had to apply the brakes manually.

“At IIHS we are coached to intervene without warning, but other drivers might not be as vigilant,” Jermakian said in a statement. “ACC [adaptive cruise control] systems require drivers to pay attention to what the vehicle is doing at all times and be ready to brake manually.”

Testers also noted “unnecessary or overly cautious braking” to be an issue with the Model 3. Over 180 miles, the car unexpectedly braked 12 times, according to the IIHS. Seven of those instances were for tree shadows, the rest for oncoming vehicles in another lane, or vehicles crossing the road far ahead. Jermakian said this quirk “didn’t create unsafe conditions” because the car didn’t brake very hard, but noted that erratic braking may cause owners to lose confidence in Autopilot.

But the Model 3 was also the only car to stay centered in its lane in every active lane-keeping test for curves. The Model S overcorrected on one curve, causing it to cross the inside line in one turn.  The E-Class and S90 both stayed within the lane in nine of 17 runs, while the 5 Series could only keep itself in a lane in three of 16 runs.

The IIHS also tested active lane-keeping on hills. Testers noted that the systems were “sometimes flummoxed” by hills because they obscure lane markings. The Model 3 once again had the best score, staying in its lane in all but one trial, where it “hugged the line.” In contrast, the 5 Series failed to stay in its lane in all 14 runs. Testers also noted that the Model S had a propensity to swerve while cresting a hill, as it apparently lost track of lane markings. The car “rarely” warned drivers to take over in these situations, the IIHS said. It shows that drivers have to remain vigilant.

“We’re not ready to say yet which company has the safest implementation … but it’s important to note that none of these vehicles is capable of driving safely on its own,” IIHS chief research officer David Zuby said in a statement. “A production autonomous vehicle that can go anywhere, anytime isn’t available at your local car dealer and won’t be for quite some time. We aren’t there yet.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Product Review

Who needs a Range Rover? BMW’s X7 has better tech and just as much luxury

The 2019 BMW X7 is the German automaker’s long-overdue entry into the full-size luxury SUV segment. Packing three rows of seats and plenty of tech, can the new BMW take on Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover?

Sibling rivalry: The Tesla Model Y takes on the Tesla Model 3

Tesla expanded its lineup with a fourth car named Model Y. It's an electric crossover positioned as a more spacious alternative to the Model 3. The two cars share about 75 percent of their components, but they're aimed at different buyers.
Product Review

The Nissan Rogue is smart, handsome, and practical. What’s not to love?

Year after year, Nissan’s Rogue compact crossover is a consistent best-seller, outpacing Honda’s CR-V, and even Toyota’s mighty RAV4. We looked for the reasons why people love the 2019 Nissan Rogue, and found them.

Nearly 3 in 4 Americans are reportedly afraid of self-driving cars, study says

The latest AAA consumer survey finds most Americans fear self-driving cars. Few people would trust autonomous vehicles to transport people they care about. However, 53 percent of consumers think most cars will be fully autonomous by 2029.

Fisker plans sub-$40,000 electric SUV with 300 miles of range for 2021

Fisker Inc. plans to launch an electric SUV with a base price of under $40,000, and a range of around 300 miles in 2021. The unnamed vehicle could compete with the Tesla Model Y, if it ever gets into production.

Mercedes wants to turn your car into a comfortable shopping mall on wheels

Mercedes-Benz designed its MBUX infotainment system with e-commerce in mind. Motorists can upgrade compatible cars via an over-the-air software updating system, but the brand wants to take this technology to the next level.

Tesla gives us a cryptic look at its cyberpunk, Blade Runner-inspired pickup

Tesla has started designing its long-promised pickup truck. The yet-unnamed model will come with dual-motor all-wheel drive and lots of torque, plus it will be able to park itself. It could make its debut in 2019.

2020 Cadillac CT5 luxury sedan gets turbocharged power, chiseled looks

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 replaces the CTS in the General Motors luxury brand's lineup. Cadillac will unveil the CT5 at the 2019 New York Auto Show in April. Until then, it's keeping most details under wraps.

Bentley’s 542-horsepower Continental GT V8 is the best kind of downsizing

The Bentley Continental GT V8 has fewer cylinders than its W12 sibling, but Bentley expects it to offer better gas mileage and more agile handling. The V8's top speed of 198 mph is also pretty darn fast.
Emerging Tech

Racing to catch a flight? Robot valet at French airport will park your car

Hate searching for parking at the airport when you need to catch a plane? Startup Stanley Robotics recently unveiled a new outdoor automated robotic valet system. Here's how it works.

Nvidia’s new simulator brings virtual learning to autonomous vehicle developers

Nvidia introduced a simulator for testing autonomous vehicle technologies. Drive Constellation is a cloud-based platform technology vendors can use to validate systems efficiently, safely, and much faster than with vehicles on real roads.

Tesla wirelessly gives the Model 3 a 5-percent increase in power

Tesla again showed the potential of its innovative over-the-air software updating system by making the Model 3 five percent more powerful via a firmware update. The Performance model gained 23 horsepower.

Fiat wants to transform the cheeky 500 city car into an urban Tesla

Fiat is finally preparing a new 500. Scheduled to make its debut in early 2020, the retro-chic city car will go electric in part to comply with looming emissions regulations.