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What is ADAS?

Industry Articles November 5, 2020

Advanced driver assistance systems

Advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, is the term used to describe the growing number of safety functions designed to improve driver, passenger and pedestrian safety by reducing both the severity and overall number of motor vehicle accidents. ADAS can warn drivers of potential dangers, intervene to help the driver remain in control in order to prevent an accident and, if necessary, reduce the severity of an accident if it can’t be avoided. In short, ADAS compensates for our mistakes, be they inattentiveness, erroneous control inputs or, up to a point, downright stupidity. As uncomfortable as humans are with admitting it, we’re not perfect – but ADAS is here to help. At least that’s the idea.

As the associated ADAS technologies are developed and refined, and as car manufacturers look to appeal to customers with an increasing range of safety- and convenience-focused features, the umbrella under which ADAS resides has got bigger and bigger. Today the term ADAS covers an increasingly broad, and increasingly common, range of passive and active systems that are offered as options or as standard on a growing number of new cars and commercial vehicles. Some ADAS functions are so well proven and effective that they have become mandatory in certain regions across the globe. Today ADAS  extends from day-to-day driver and passenger comfort and convenience features to accident and injury mitigation and prevention. The lines are, in fact, becoming a little blurred, and at times it can be hard to determine where ADAS’s remit begins and where it ends.

ADAS sensors

To say ADAS is becoming ‘increasingly common’ is, in fact, a little disingenuous. ADAS has been playing an important role in the development of safer vehicles for some decades, but the early incarnations of automotive driver-assist technology are now so well-developed, effective and familiar that we often take them for granted. The most commonplace and familiar of all is the anti-lock braking system, or ABS. Various incarnations of ABS have been developed and trialled by automotive manufacturers since the middle of the 20th century, but an electronically controlled four-wheel anti-lock braking system first saw service as an option on the Mercedes-Benz W116 S-Class of 1978. ABS’s benefits in terms of reducing accident frequency and severity are so widely recognised and well documented that it has been mandatory on all new cars sold in the European Union since 2004.

ABS aside, traction control systems (TCS) and electronic stability control (ESC, sometimes called electronic stability program, or ESP, or dynamic stability control, DSC) have also entered the realm of everyday automotive reality. Again, the proven benefits of each system are well known, and ESC, like ABS, is now mandatory in the EU. In fact, ESC is widely acknowledged as being the single most important contributor to vehicle safety due to its ability to reduce the number and severity of accidents, specifically those involving a vehicle rolling over and leaving the road – a scenario that often results in serious injuries or even fatalities. In 2016 ESC’s inventor, former Bosch engineer Anton van Zanten, described it, perhaps with understandable bias, as “the single most important part of ADAS and the basis for all future systems”. 

ESC and TCS also set a precedent for future ADAS development by combining the functionality of an existing system with new developments to further assist the driver. In order to carry out their specific tasks, both TCS and ESC use the ABS control module to apply retardation to individual wheels under prescribed conditions as part of their particular remits.

Today such integration of ADAS functionality is common, but while the growing capabilities of increasingly complex systems are furthering vehicle safety, a distinction must be made between ADAS, which is designed assist with the task of driving, and autonomous or self-driving functionality, which is ultimately intended to take control of the vehicle away from a driver. The former is readily available now, the latter is not.

To answer, ‘What is ADAS?’ we have to ask – and answer – a number of related questions, and explore related subject areas as follows:


Why have ADAS?

A report by wholesale insurance provider Swiss Re looked at accident statistics provided by the UK’s Department for Transport. It concluded that a hypothetical (and admittedly unrealistic) 100% adoption of forward collision warning, blind spot detection and lane departure warning by 2020 would reduce motorway accidents by 16.3% and accidents on other roads by 11.6%.

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What's the future of ADAS?

ADAS technology is advancing at an almost unprecedented rate. Connected ADAS undoubtedly opens up a new world of opportunity in enhancing road safety and paves the way for full autonomy.

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ADAS hardware

Current ADAS combines a number of technologies in order to operate. In essence each system comprises at least one sensor to monitor given parameters and relay necessary information which is then processed and analysed.

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ADAS sensors

Sensor technology is a key driver of ADAS development. ADAS and autonomous driving functions feed off a continuous stream of information about the environment surrounding the vehicle, and it’s the sensors’ job to provide that.

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ADAS on the road

Some ADAS functions are already commonplace on the roads, with many other systems available either as cost options or as standard on more expensive luxury models – an exclusivity that will inevitably change in the foreseeable future.

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Read the next section in the ‘What is ADAS?’ series: Why have ADAS? 

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