Automated crash-avoidance systems, in a variety of guises, have become common features in a broad range of premium vehicles.
Now Subaru is bringing them to the lower-priced intermediate-size family market in the form of a suite of technologies bundled together under the name 'EyeSight'.
EyeSight is offered in Subaru's mid-size Legacy sedan and Outback CUV, both of which get a significant mid-cycle makeover for 2013.
Usually, such systems use radar or laser technology and advanced computing to detect objects ahead and determine whether a collision is likely, depending upon the distance between the two vehicles and how quickly that gap is being closed.
They then take steps that may include warning the driver, preparing airbag and other systems for an imminent crash, or even applying partial or full braking to avoid or minimize impact.
Typically, they are integrated with the vehicle’s cruise control, ABS and Electronic Stability Control systems and are usually combined with Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), a system that automatically maintains a safe distance between moving vehicles.
Subaru – true to its innovative character – has taken a different approach.
The Japanese brand, well-known for marching to the beat of a different drummer in terms of technical innovation, uses a system based primarily on a pair of forward-looking cameras mounted high on the windshield, on either side of the interior rear-view mirror.
They work very much like human eyes – hence the label EyeSight.
A computer control system processes the images making use of parallax – the very slight differences in what they see because of the distance between them – to calculate the distances to objects ahead. Similar to how the human brain establishes depth perception.
Subaru says the stereostopic camera-based system provides superior depth of field and a wider field of view than the radar-based systems used by some other automakers.
Combined with advanced object-recognition software, this ability allows the system to recognize objects rather than simply detecting that there is something in the field of view. EyeSight can identify objects in complex driving environments and recognize guardrails and lane markings, Subaru says.
The EyeSight system comprises seven separate functions, most of which, but not all have already been offered in some form or other in other vehicles.
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) senses the distance to the vehicle ahead and adjusts speed, using the cruise control system, to automatically maintain a pre-set distance behind the vehicle ahead.
Pre-collision braking assist is a next-step evolution that provides both visible and audible warnings to the driver if the closing distance and speed to the vehicle or object ahead suggest that a collision could result.
If the driver fails to react, the system takes over and applies the brakes. Hard!
I've tried the system, rolling at 30 km/h toward a fixed (styrofoam) barrier, and can attest that it works as advertised.
In some similar systems, if the driver does touch the brake, even late in the sequence, the automatic braking function is disabled. Not with this one.
Pre-collision brake assist ensures maximum braking effort, even if the driver applies the brake but doesn't apply enough force to stop before impact, which is a common occurrence.
Pre-collision throttle management is a unique feature that prevents inadvertent hard acceleration if there is a vehicle or other object close in front. It doesn't keep the car from moving but does limit response sufficiently to get the driver's immediate attention.
Lane departure warning is now a relatively common feature that alerts the driver if the vehicle unintentionally crosses a lane marker line.
Lane sway warning, however, is a novel new feature that identifies weaving within a lane, as might occur if the driver is drowsy, and emits a warning in response.
Lead vehicle start alert is a similarly novel addition to the suite that sounds a warning if the vehicle ahead moves away, as from a stop light, and you fail to do so in a timely manner, as when you're distracted by your cell phone.
While some of these technologies may be more useful and effective than others, they all serve a purpose.
But they don't replace good driving habits. There is only so much they can do to diminish the consequences of overly aggressive driving, drowsy driving, inattention and just plain bad luck.
The rest is still up to you.