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Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

What They Do and Why I Like Them

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) is a fairly new term that encompasses modern safety equipment in our cars and trucks. The common factor is safety but convenience is the main byproduct. The number of printed circuit boards has grown tremendously with all of the new systems. There are over 250 of them packed into just one Lidar sensor. I’ve spent the better part of a year developing that amazing piece of technology while reading up on everything else the industry has to offer.

connected car

Image Credit: Ansys

A Little History

Back in the day, Cadillac sold the first car with an electric starter. It was definitely advanced compared to hand-cranking the engine. Other advancements came along, both mechanical and electrical, that drove a never-ending quest for something new and improved. The automatic transmission freed up an arm and a leg. Electric windows, door locks, windshield wipers, lights, and anything else that could be electrified made driving easier.

Government regulations get a lot of credit for improving safety. Mercedes invented the airbag and then made the patented technology available to all without charge; great public relations. It wasn’t long before every car sold had to have an air-bag or seven. It was more than a good idea or a way to sell cars, it was the law. Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) technology is also mandatory as are back-up cameras in new cars today. Safety and emissions standards have gotten steadily tighter over the years. ADAS is the spear tip of all of this progress.

Toyota Sense

It is this environment of continuous improvement that we find ourselves behind the wheel of a supercomputer bristling with sensors of every kind. This is a good thing when your spouse has a history of bending fenders. Her crossover had the bumper-height advantage over those poor little cars that never had a chance.

Her new car has the full suite of ADAS including adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane assist, cross traffic/pedestrian detection and so on for your safety. The Toyota beeps when it gets too close to the lane markings without deploying the turn signal. No more cutting across the white line of the on-ramp.

Toyota Safety Sense

Image source: Toyota

You basically sit there while the machine takes care of the throttle and brakes. It will nudge you back into your lane or bark if you “forget” your turn signal. While it doesn’t drive itself, it gives you every advantage short of that. Crossovers from Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, Ford and Honda do more-or-less the same thing. Anyway, the little cars have a chance now.

On Tesla

My son takes after her. Just last month, he totaled his car in the Intel parking garage. A few days later, a Tesla Model 3 with the “autopilot” software upgrade was home delivered in much the same way as you’d get a pizza. He was told that delivery would take three weeks so he didn’t have his insurance ready. His loss. He let me drive his fresh new car for the weekend. It sure feels quicker than my old BMW.

Even more outstanding are all of the cameras and artificial intelligence that takes full control. The detailed images of the surrounding traffic have to be seen to be appreciated. I taxed the batteries all the way to band practice and then had the technology drive me home after. Other than the central monitor, the controls are very minimalist. It looks nicer but comes with a learning curve. I watched a video to learn how to use the self-driving feature.

Tesla interior

Image credit: Clean Technica

His Model 3 turns the steering wheel with a little more force than his Mom’s Toyota. We shopped other makes as well and most of the electric nannies were a little intrusive. BMW has a good lane assistant. It vibrates the steering wheel as if you were going over a rumble strip on a race track or reflectors on the road. Only the driver gets the message. I have a feeling that some folks would disable the Toyota lane assist to extinguish the beep.

Feature-Rich Driving Experience

With sonar for parking, radar for the highway and cameras for everything, our cars look and listen in ways that only a machine can. Interacting with the car using voice commands is a leg up over manipulating buttons or a touch screen. Artificial Intelligence learns your language - the way you speak it. The car speaks back in soothing tones and never judges you for missing a turn. Recalculating.

A modern car is about as electrified as a typical home office. My “old” car has a hard drive, solid state that holds 10 GB of music. There are three USB ports along with the typical Teutonic over-engineering. I don’t know how I ever parked without cameras and sonar warning me when I’m improperly docking. Driving my wife’s car, I’m getting spoiled by the little icon in the rear-view mirror that vetoes my lane change idea when there is a car in my blind spot. I get back into my 2012 model and have to stare a little longer at the mirror before I merge.

Seriously, I’m ready for the car to drive me instead of the other way around. Test driving so many 2019 models with all of the fantastic technology made me stoked for the future. I want my Android Auto. I want my MTV. I want to summon my automobile from the garage. It better remember to open the garage door first. Then, it can open a door for me. Now, entertain me all the way there.

The thing is, for the PCB Designer, there are lots of opportunities with all of this ADAS technology. The Automotive industry is like the military in terms of the documentation required but, unlike the military, they are driven by cost, even in the high-reliability areas where innocent lives are on the line. If you can deliver high reliability at low production cost, there are many ways to succeed in this business.

About the Author

John Burkhert Jr is a career PCB Designer experienced in Military, Telecom, Consumer Hardware and lately, the Automotive industry. Originally, an RF specialist -- compelled to flip the bit now and then to fill the need for high-speed digital design. John enjoys playing bass and racing bikes when he's not writing about or performing PCB layout. You can find John on LinkedIn.

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