Engineering Spotlight – Advanced Vehicle Technology

The advancement of safety features in Highway Vehicles has changed the way we travel, and profoundly increased the safety of vehicle operators, passengers, and pedestrians. As the automotive manufacturers have dedicated their focus on safety, and crash survivability, countless lives have impacted. From the advent of the safety-belt, Supplemental Restraint Systems (airbags, pre-tensioners), to engineering crush zones within vehicle structures have significantly increased motor-vehicle survivability. However, the highest risk component, the human operator, is still in control of most vehicle operating functions. This human component is referred to as “Human Factors.”

Human Factors are defined as: “the science dealing with the application of information on physical and psychological characteristics to the design and systems for human use.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) Human Factors refers to factors which involve any Human-Machine, Human-Computer, or Human-Human interaction. This focus is to ultimately compensate for our human limitations in the goal of safety and efficiency. Vehicle systems such as Lane Departure Warnings, Automatic Braking, and Blind-Spot Detection have considered these human limitations, and in some instances, taking the human out of the equation.

As vehicle automation advances, and companies such as Waymo, Google, and Delphi are looking to revolutionize the way we travel entirely, and for the most part, eliminate the Human Factors element from vehicle operation. While this seeks to radically change the overall safety of motor vehicle operation, as well as pedestrian safety, there are lessons to be learned.

As aviation began to automate flight systems in the 1960s and 1970’s, the goal was the same. To substantially reduce the incidence of Human Error and ultimately increase safety and efficiency. This soon came with one major downfall. The over reliance on automation and these systems to always perform as engineered had catastrophic outcomes. This “over reliance” on these systems has degraded pilot skills and created severe instances of confirmation bias. One example of this over reliance was demonstrated on June 1, 2009, when Air France Flight 447 departed Rio de Janeiro, Brazil en route to Paris, France. While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the aircraft (Airbus A330) encountered storms along their route, which included icing conditions. These icing conditions ultimately let to a failure of the Pitot Tubes (Airspeed sensors in front of the aircraft) and deactivation of the aircraft’s autopilot system. While struggling to understand what had happened and correct the situation, the pilot became unable to correct for the most fundamental part of flying, severely aggravating the situation, and ultimately crashing into the ocean.

As vehicle engineering approaches new levels of vehicle automation and control, it is crucial that engineers learn from other industries in their development and integration of these automated controls, and that the operators are engaged enough to recognize and react appropriately to vehicle warning systems. A balance must be reached as not to overload the operator with incoming data and warning messages, and ultimately allow the operator to make a correct decision.

Here at PRECO, we engineer our safety systems to aid in vehicle safety by addressing human limitations through the development of our products. Such consideration informs operators of emerging safety situations, allowing ample reaction time. Our systems allow the operator a better understanding of their situational awareness through our vehicle sensors, as well as consideration of these human limitations when designing and engineering the warning systems integrated into our sensors. Simple transmitted messages through audio and visual means allow the operator to promptly interpret the message sent and act appropriately to negate the issue, reducing the chance of inappropriate operator input. It is also vital operators are correctly trained on how to use these systems, their components, as well as the regular operation of these systems, so they are aware of all system aspects.

As operators gradually change roles from vehicle operation to more of a vehicle monitoring role, it is crucial that manufacturers consider these human limitations, and ensure clear, concise information to the person filling that role. An accurate messaging system that ensures understanding of that individual to all necessary information regarding safe operation must take precedence to continue reaching milestones in vehicle safety and control.