We are in what could reasonably be called the renaissance period of the automotive industry. New innovations and sophisticated technologies, many leaning towards automation, are popping up all the time, each year bringing new changes and new visions of the future of the car.
In a time when the technology is so novel, however, how do we measure the effectiveness and safety of the gadgets increasingly at our disposal? In Europe, Thathcham Research and Europ NCAP have been at the forefront of testing new technology and giving it a grade.
In a fascinating article for Auto Express, Hugo Griffiths had he chance to visit Thatcham Research to test out some vehicles with nifty tech and learn more about how they rate vehicles and why it's important.
With things moving so quickly, the need for such testing is clear. In the UK, they've announced that automated vehicles will be legal on the roads by the end of the year. As consumers, it can be difficult to parse out the quality and importance of competing technologies. Organizations that grade such technologies help fill the gap.
"... with the Government consulting on whether drivers should be able to cede control of their cars to the next generation of these systems from as early as spring next year - potentially allowing motorists to take their hands off the wheel at 70mph on motorways - these tests are important."
Getting behind the wheel of six different vehicles, Griffiths was given the chance to try out things like adaptive cruise control and lane-guidance systems, seeing how they compared from vehicle to vehicle.
One thing that stuck out for Griffiths was the lack of standardization between different auto makers. Depending on the model, Griffiths found that the technology could change drastically, not just in terms of what was available in different models, but in how the same technology worked depending on the maker. Of this Griffiths said:
"... we can't help feeling that this lack of standardisation [sic] is one of the more problematic aspects of driver-assistance systems; and it's one that is likely to be felt more keenly as systems become increasingly commonplace in years to come, particularly if traffic laws change to allows 'hands-off' driving in the future."
This is important because, with such novel technology, understanding how it works and the differences between different versions of that tech is imperative. As drivers rely more heavily on gadgetry for road safety, confusion looms as a big red flag.
Matthew Avery, the director of research at Thatcham Research and a Euro NCAP board member, who was interviewed for the article, expressed concern over the lack of clarity surrounding automated tech.
"The consumer is going to be confused by all this," Avery explains. "What's assisted and what's autonomous? Self-driving, automated lane-keep - there is so much confusion out there. So what we would like to do, and what we're trying to do with these gradings, is make it clear."
While Avery expressed the belief that such technology would improve road safety in general, he did emphasize the importance of clarity in how we talk about such tech. For him, grading by Euro NCAP and Thatcham Research is a key part in giving consumers more information with which to make informed decisions.
Everyone agrees that such technology is going nowhere. However people feel about it, automated driving technologies are here to stay, and as this is the case, increased testing and grading will become important voices in the public conversations surrounding 'smart cars.'
For more on the testing and grading done by Thatcham Research and Europ NCAP, check out the original article by Hugo Griffiths in Auto Express.