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Ford Expands Its Self-Driving Car Technology With Evasive Steering Assist

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author photo by Russ Heaps January 2017

Regardless of whether we ever reach the point where we can safely nap at the wheel as our self-driving car barrels down the freeway, the race to totally autonomous vehicles is producing all kinds of technology that make cars safer than they've ever been. Almost weekly, a carmaker or technology start-up announces some new driver-assist technology, increasing the likelihood that fully autonomous motoring will be realized in the future while also making our roads safer in the present.

Ford recently revealed a technology that will help drivers steer around trouble. Called Evasive Steering Assist (ESA), it works with the driver to avoid a collision when braking alone isn't enough.

Setting the Stage

Surprises can be fun when they're birthday parties or unexpected gifts, but not so much when they're objects suddenly appearing in the path of a car traveling at 50 miles per hour.

We've all been there at one time or another: Without warning, some vehicle, person or object is suddenly right in front of our car, blocking its path, and the distance is simply too short to avoid a crash by emergency braking alone. We jerk the steering wheel to the right or the left, intending to steer around the problem. Maybe we're lucky enough that we don't send our vehicle into a spin or run into something else before either stopping or getting around the obstacle, but maybe we're not.

Most of us don't have a lot of experience with evasive driving. We don't have the benefit of muscle memory for safely steering around trouble. When surprised, we tend to react instinctively rather then rationally. But computers are never surprised and always act rationally.

The Scoop on ESA

Although ESA is a product of Ford's efforts to deliver a self-driving car, the technology currently doesn't operate on its own -- the emphasis in "emergency steering assist" is on "assist." Using information gathered by a camera and radar sensors at the front of the car, the system issues an audible warning when a crash is imminent. If the driver doesn't react, emergency braking kicks in. In cases where there's too little distance to stop before impact and the driver moves the steering wheel in an attempt to steer around the object, ESA calculates the appropriate path and helps with the steering.

Hands never leaving the steering wheel, the driver maintains control and can override ESA. Otherwise, the driver can allow ESA to safely drive around the object. ESA operates at city and highway speeds.

What it means to you: Perhaps vehicles will never be completely in charge of moving us from here to there, but there are plenty of technological developments on the way to a self-driving car that make you and yours safer.

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Ford Expands Its Self-Driving Car Technology With Evasive Steering Assist - Autotrader