Technology can prevent accidental and intentional collisions at speeds up to almost 40 mph (60 kph)

In recent years automakers -- in a quest to score top government crash test safety ratings and win buyers -- have incorporated automatic braking systems that attempt to stop or at least slow the vehicle if it appears the driver is not slowing down in time.  These efforts have been particularly vital in helping to ensure that overall traffic fatalities continue to decline; an impressive feat considering the lighter, more fuel-efficient cars tend to be inherently more prone to deadly crashes.
I. Honda Aims to be the First to Deploy Pedestrian Auto-Braking Protection
But another common form of fatality involves someone who isn't even driving -- a pedestrian being hit by a car.  This accident type is more common than you might think:
  • U.S.      :: Injuries: 69,000    Deaths: 4,432   [2011 data]
  • Canada :: Injuries: 13,475    Deaths:   334    [2001 data]
  • EU-24   :: Injuries: 40,000    Deaths: 6,004    [2010 data 1, 2]
  • Japan   :: Injuries: 69,069 [2009 data]     Deaths: 1,686 [2011 data]
So in just Japan, the U.S., Canada, and the 24 core nations of the European Union, pedestrian accidents injured over 190,000 people seriously enough they had to go to the hospital and over 12,450 died.  As with most crashes the issue isn't just the driver; sometimes the pedestrian is to blame as well.  Drunkenness, disability, senescence, and distraction can all play a role in a pedestrian making a poor decision and getting hit.

pedestrian safety
As passenger and driver safety have been improved with technology, pedestrian accidents have become a more pressing concern. [Image Source: BMW]

Given the scope of the problem, the EU and Japan have added pedestrian safety as a category to their national crash test safety ratings.  Some have suggested that automakers add more sophisticated auto-braking technology to cars, but doing so is very difficult as pedestrians are much smaller than vehicles.
But Honda Motor Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7267) has taken on this difficult challenge and now it has what it feels is a finished solution, ready for the real world.
The system consists of a millimeter wave radar scanner and a high-resolution camera, which work together to spot passengers and apply the breaks if necessary, and if it is safe to do so.  What's particularly impressive about Honda's claims is it says it can bring a vehicle hurdling towards a pedestrian to a dead stop in most cases at speeds up to 60 kph (~37.3 mph).
The system will initially be priced as an add-on, according to a report in the newspaper Nikkei.  The technology will be offered with this year's 2015 Honda Legend, a high-end consumer sedan that is rebranded as the Acura RLX in the U.S.

Honda will look to field the tech in the 2015 Honda Legend (2014 Acura RLX shown).

The addition will be a boon for Honda in markets that include pedestrian safety, as its smaller cars (compacts, subcompacts) have otherwise been performing quite poorly in crash test ratings.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ranked Honda's fuel-efficient 2014 Honda Fit subcompact last (in eleventh place) in crash testing ratings among popular U.S. subcompact models. (To be fair, this was just the worst in a sea of flunking scores -- every subcompact flunked besides the General Motors Comp. (GM) 2014 Chevy Spark.)
Honda is pushing to get better results in 2015, but it certainly wouldn't mind an extra boost from the pedestrian safety features, which could easily raise its European scores by a point or two, allowing to speed into the middle of the pack safety-wise.
The rest of the fleet should receive the upgrade in the 2016 model year (next year) or 2017 model year.
II. Toyota and Subaru Pile on, View Braking Tech as Stepping Stone to Self-Driving Cars
Toyota Motor Corp. (TYO:7203) -- which last year crept ahead of General Motors Comp. (GM) to become the world's biggest automaker (with 9.98 million vehicles sold in 2013) -- is racing to catch up with its domestic rival.  The Toyota system is more simplistic, based on the current braking technology found in the Lexus LS.  That technology uses 77 GHz long-range radar (LRR) sensors, similar to Honda's.  It is unclear whether Toyota plans to supplement the current system with a high-resolution camera for color image processing, as well.
Toyota plans to roll out the technology in the 2016 model year (next year), putting its launch roughly in line with Honda's volume ramp-up.  The current system can only slow the vehicle from speeds of 40 kph (24.9 mph).  But Toyota plans to aggressively develop the system to be able to stop from speeds of 70 kph (43.5 mph) by 2020.

Toyota Camry
Not to be left out Subaru Motors' parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (TYO:7270) is installing braking tech of its own in the 2015 Levorg sports wagon.  That tech will be just slightly less sophisticated than Honda's, capable of stopping from a speed of 50 kph (31.1 mph).
Honda has not announced the price of its new pedestrian-geared auto-braking option, but Fuji Heavy Industries and Toyota have both pegged ¥100,000 (~$967 USD) as the going rate.  The options will likely retail for around $1,000 USD in the U.S.
It should be interesting to see how Honda's color-camera-assisted technology stacks up to radar only implementations.  Blaise Agüera y Arcas' PhotoSynth program, which he made for Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), confirmed what many long suspect might be possible: that color information can be used to guess with reasonable accuracy a 3D model of a panorama.  Cars could potentially use similar technology to greatly extend their sensor range, supplement shorter-range radar, with long-range color "vision".  It's likely that Mr. Agüera y Arcas will likely look to do precisely that at his new post as a research engineer at Google Inc. (GOOG).

Photosynth uses color-based 3D model generation tech.  Similar algorithms could be incorporated into a car's image processor for collision avoidance.

Google is looking to leverage such technologies to create self-driving cars, an international race that it enjoys a slight lead in.  Both Honda and Toyota believe that the self-driving car is coming soon to the market as well according to Nikkei.  It claims they will look to deploy vehicles with full "autopilot" by 2020.

Before they can get there, however, there needs be a substantial shift in user trust regarding the vehicle driving itself.  Pedestrian collision avoidance is a good place to start as even slowing the vehicle can drastically improve survival rates.

pedestrian fatality
[Image Source: TBD]

If drivers come to feel that they can trust the car as a smart copilot, capable of avoiding collision if they mess up, perhaps they will one day come to trust it enough to sometimes allow it to take full control of driving as well.

Source: Nikkei

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