New study shows assist systems are being misinterpreted by buyers, while Euro NCAP launches assessment of the tech

Thatcham Research has released evidence suggesting drivers are being given “dangerous” false impressions of what the latest automated driver assist systems are capable of.

The British safety and crash testing body has also teamed up with Euro NCAP to test 10 cars fitted with common systems made standard on many cars today, including autonomous emergency braking and lane keep assist. 

Both organisations have identified confusion among motorists over what these technologies are capable of, with a study claiming 71% of drivers globally and 53% of drivers in the UK believe you can purchase a fully self-driving car today. Thatcham believes that improper marketing by car makers, using terminology such as “semi-autonomous” or “self-driving”, is fuelling the misinformation.

Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham, said: “Some car makers are designing and marketing vehicles in such a way that drivers believe they can relinquish control. Car makers want to gain a competitive edge by referring to ‘self-driving’ or ‘semi-autonomous’ capability in their marketing, but it is fuelling consumer confusion. This is exacerbated by some systems doing too much for the driver, who ends up disengaged”.

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“Our message is that today’s technology supports the driver. It is not automated driving and it is not to be relied upon at the expense of driver attentiveness. The driver is in control and must always remain alert. If used correctly Highway Assist systems will improve road safety and reduce fatalities, but they won’t if naming and marketing convinces drivers that the car can take care of itself.”

Since the study has been released, Nissan has confirmed to the company that it will start calling these features “assist systems” and will stop using the words “autonomous” or “automated” in its literature. Volvo has also said it will stop using the phrase “semi-autonomous” in its marketing, admitting there is room for confusion.

Thatcham’s testing (below) also revealed that cars supposedly using the same features were inconsistent in their responses, with one not responding at all. Euro NCAP has announced that it will be grading the technology by 2020 as part of its overall safety rating for new cars.

 

Q&A with Matthew Avery, director of research at Thatcham

What is your main concern about today’s driver assist systems?

"If they’re used properly none of them are a big concern. If you don’t over-rely on any of them there isn’t a serious concern. But people can look at the way it's marketed, the way it’s sold, and can look at what it appears to communicate to the driver. All of that can convince the driver the system is more capable than it actually is. We think the BMW and the Nissan don’t support the driver enough, and can lead the driver into questioning is it working? And what’s the point?

The Tesla appears to do a lot more than it should do - it’s very competent, it’s a very good system. However, it probably does too much for the driver - it doesn’t want the driver to interact with it. During the pothole test, the Tesla resists you, so you end up fighting the steering until it eventually lets go - it leads the driver into thinking it's more capable than it actually is."

Should manufacturers be doing more to educate buyers about these systems?

"Manufacturers are beginning to move the right way - but we don’t like terminology such as 'autopilot', and we want a system that is very clear and cooperates with the driver. We want to keep a clear blue line between ‘assisted’ and 'automated'.

"Tesla’s over-the-air updates are very good - since we’ve started testing the system the performance seems to be getting better. These systems make driving safer than it’s ever been - but don’t think they’re going to do the driving for you. That message isn’t getting through."

Does the performance of these systems vary in different weather conditions?

"AEB systems are dependent on the weather - these systems are very robust. There will be system degradation in bad weather - but it’s not horrendous. One thing that we do find is that some of the sensors can be blocked, sometimes, well before the driver gets a warning. The driver doesn’t always get the feedback they should that the system is not working."

 

 

The Thatcham driver assist test

The tests developed so far will form the basis for the tests that will be introduced into the Euro NCAP rating system in 2020. They will include a ‘desk-based’ rating, where the team judges how manufacturers are selling drive assist systems to consumers. Practical testing includes a rating of how well these systems are able to read white lines on the road, and how they can take on board information given on motorway gantries, such as speed limits or hazard warnings.  At the test track, researchers have devised three tests. The first is a pothole test, where the car’s ‘lane keep’ steering assist is activated and the driver has to attempt to steer around a pothole in the road before hitting it. The second is an S-bend test, where the team sees how long the system can maintain steering assistance through a series of bends with and without white lines on the road, and with no hands on the wheel. The final test looks at the automatic emergency braking systems, seeing if the cars stop behind a stationary vehicle at more than 40mph. The highlights from Thatcham and Euro NCAP's findings on the key models are below, and you can read more at this link:

Audi A6:

"Adaptive Cruise Assist on the Audi A6 gives the driver a moderate level of support while maintaining the impression of the driver being in control with the car assisting them. The name “Adaptive Cruise Assist” clearly indicates that the system is a driver-assist system, not an autonomous one, and is not readily misunderstood. Overall, the Audi system is balanced with little risk of driver over-reliance on the system."

DS7 Crossback

"Connected Pilot on the DS 7 Crossback gives the driver a low level of support, therefore maintaining the impression of the driver being in control with the car assisting them. The name 'Connected Pilot' does not clearly indicate that the system is a driver-assist system, and could be easily misunderstood. The limited scenarios tested show that the system is only assisting In the longitudinal scenarios; the DS 7 Crossback shows a moderate level of support in the slower-moving and braking car scenarios. When approaching a stationary car, and in the ‘cut-in’ and ‘cut-out’ scenarios, the system offers no support at all. Overall, the DS system needs the driver to be primarily in control with little risk of the driver becoming over-reliant on the system."

Ford Focus

 

"Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop&Go, Lane-Centring and Speed Sign Recognition as part of Co-Pilot360 on the Ford Focus gives the driver a high level of support while maintaining the impression of the driver being in control with the car assisting them. The name 'Co-Pilot360' indicates that the system is a driver-assist system, not an autonomous one, and is not readily misunderstood. Overall, the Ford system is balanced with little risk of driver over-reliance on the system."

Mercedes C-Class: 

"Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC with Active Steering Assist on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class gives the driver a high level of support while maintaining the impression of the driver being in control with the car assisting them. Active Steering Assist provides subtle steering support resulting in a good balance between the driver and the system in the S-bend scenario. In the absence of lane markings or other vehicles to act as a guide, Active Steering Assist will change to a passive modeand will resume assistance when clear lane markings are detected."Overall, the Mercedes-Benz system is balanced with little risk of driver over-reliance on the system.

"Pothole test: The steering assist lets the driver steer around the pothole and maintains assistance once they have done so."

Nissan Leaf: 

"ProPILOT on the Nissan LEAF gives the driver a moderate level of support while maintaining the impression of the driver being in control with the car assisting them. ProPILOT provides subtle steering support resulting in a good balance between the driver and the system in the S-bend scenario. In the absence of lane markings or other vehicles to acts as a guide, ProPILOT will change to a passive mode and will resume assistance when clear lane markings are detected. The name “ProPILOT” does not clearly indicate that the system is a driver-assist system and could be misunderstood. The limited scenarios tested show that the system provides assistance only.

"Rear end shunt test: The car did not sense the stopped car at all and drove into it without braking (above)."

Nissan has released this statement on the results. “This was a media demonstration event conducted by Thatcham and not an official test. They have not shared their findings or given us access to the vehicle tested, so we are not able to verify the result. We are very disappointed at this approach and will be actively pursuing this matter with them.

“Official safety system testing carried out by EuroNCAP concluded that the driver assistance technologies on LEAF performed as designed in a variety of scenarios. The LEAF also has a five-star safety rating from EuroNCAP.”

On ProPilot, it said: “Whilst ProPilot technology assists the driver it is not a self-driving system and it is the driver’s responsibility to stay alert, drive safely, and retain control of the vehicle at all times.

“This is made clear at all stages of the purchase process and we encourage customers to refer to the owner’s manual in case of doubt, where it is very clear how this system should be operated.”

Tesla Model S:

"‘Autopilot’ on the Tesla Model S gives the driver a high level of support with the vehicle primarily in control in both braking and steering scenarios. The name 'Autopilot' implies a fully automated system where the driver is not required. However, the limited scenarios tested clearly indicate that is not the case, nor is such a system legally allowed. Overall, the Tesla system is primarily in control with a risk of driver becoming over-reliant on the system."

"Pothole test: the car’s steering wheel fights against the driver while you try to drive around a pothole and then deactivates, providing no assistance. This encourages the driver to let the car be in control, which is potentially dangerous.

"S-Bend test: The car steers itself around the bends where there are white lines but stops doing so when the white lines end. At a motorway slip road it doesn’t recognise the road situation and drives the car onto the hard shoulder, assuming it is the left-hand lane."Rear-end shunt: The car senses the stationary vehicle well in advance and applies the brakes early, gently decelerating to a stop." 

Volvo V60: 

"Pilot Assist on the Volvo V60 gives the driver a moderate level of support while maintaining the impression of the driver being in control with the car assisting them. The name 'Pilot Assist' clearly indicates that the system is a driver-assist system, not an autonomous one, and is not readily misunderstood. Overall, the Volvo system is balanced with little risk of driver over-reliance on the system.

"Desk test: ‘Pilot Assist’ is a better name because it doesn’t suggest the car is in control.

"S-bend test: the system warns the driver that it’ll deactivate 15 seconds after they let go of the steering wheel, and does this 15 seconds later alongside deactivating the cruise control, bringing the car to a gentle stop."

Join the debate

Comments
10

18 October 2018

Try as we might we cannot legislate for sheer stupidity! 

Anyone thinking they have, or can buy, a fully autonomous car is clearly a moron. 

 

19 October 2018
Where's the evidence of increased crashes as a result of people relying on electronic systems? What a waste of time and resources.

18 October 2018

  I can’t beli the percentage is that high for People who think there are fully autonomous Cars to buy right now!

Peter Cavellini.

18 October 2018

The press have been telling us how good this autonomous rubbish is/will be and how it's just round the corner.

Now reality bites and people are realizing its futility the Press point the finger at the stupid and easily lead.

Blind leading the blind springs to mind

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

18 October 2018

Is the rear end shunt test going to be Nissan's equivelent of Mercedes ELK test?

Not good news for pedestrians if the LEAF can't even detect a stationary car.

A good report but the only thing I'd add to these systems is how many more accidents do they cause? As drivers we seem to be concentrating more and more on this technology, it's alarms and lights on the dashboard,  (not to mention the infotainment system) when we in fact should be looking thru the windscreen.

 

18 October 2018

Looks like EuroNCAP is going to get even more confusing for everyone than it already is.

18 October 2018

If you are going to take one word out of the marketing material, I'd make it "Pilot," which gives the impression someone else is driving for you.

18 October 2018

they dont have to think for themselves, thats what a "smart" phone is for, and the reason Kleenex can no longer sell mansized tissues.  

18 October 2018
Citytiger wrote:

they dont have to think for themselves, thats what a "smart" phone is for, and the reason Kleenex can no longer sell mansized tissues.  

 

what has Playstation got to do with it ? You'd be surprised, gamers probably think more than are sharper too  (than non gamers) and know the different between driver assists and autonomous driving, and even with driver assisst on  e.g. ABS, traction control, blid spot detection, they're still driving / steering the car in the game..

The only company claiming autonomous driving is Tesla, all I see is Thatcham calling it autonomous driver assists..

18 October 2018

Thatchamm are stupid, the only company that claims autonomous driving is Tesla and eve that does not work well with some reported deaths.

All systems tested by Thatchams are called driver assists.. if any car company or even Thatcham calls them autonomous driver assists need to get their heads examined.. True autonomous driving is not yet ready for the roads..

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