Matthew Avery: "AEB systems are designed to intervene at the very last moment, applying maximum braking at a point way beyond where most drivers would have any possibility of reacting."

Matthew Avery: "AEB systems are designed to intervene at the very last moment, applying maximum braking at a point way beyond where most drivers would have any possibility of reacting."

An autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system uses sensors tucked behind the rearview mirror to work out if you are about to have a crash and apply the brakes automatically to either prevent the crash at lower speeds or reduce its severity at higher speeds. Although some luxury segment cars are already equipped with an AEB system, we are seeing some volume producers fitting it as standard on certain models.  That seems hardly surprising given that from next year automakers hoping to get a five star NCAP rating will have to put in an AEB system. Matthew Beecham asked Matthew Avery, Head of Research at the UK-based Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre (Thatcham) for his views on AEB. Thatcham has been a member of the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) since 2004.

It is said that from 2014, it will be 'practically impossible' for new vehicles to receive a five star Euro NCAP rating if they are not fitted with an AEB system. What's your view on the prospects for increasing fitment of such technology?

Although AEB will be a significant part of achieving a five star rating after 2014, most vehicle manufacturers also recognise the wider benefits and are now developing systems of their own. Hence, it is not only the preserve of the established providers like Volvo and Daimler. Additionally, now that the test procedures for AEB car-to-car have been published, vehicle manufacturers are focusing on systems that function at both low and high speed. This further speeds their proliferation.

How has Thatcham responded to the AEB requirement in terms of testing?

Thatcham has worked with a number of key global stakeholders to develop test procedures that evaluate the performance of AEB systems across the entire speed range. To ensure consistent test results, these procedures require the use of expensive robots and specialist track test engineers and therefore represent a considerable investment on behalf of the UK insurers.  We have also supported the development of a standardised test target that represents a typical family car, but is robust enough to be repeatedly contacted without damage to it or the test vehicle.

Thatcham is now busy developing the next generation of test procedures around pedestrian and vulnerable road users and will use a similar robust and impactable target to represent a pedestrian, but mounted on a robot controlled platform that can be driven over. The design and implementation of vehicle specific braking profiles that consider both force and stroke onto the brake pedal by the braking robot has been particularly difficult. Since all vehicles are unique, attaining a uniform, repeatable and fair test has been challenging.

Following the phasing in of AEB, what are the issues for insurers?

UK insurers continue to monitor the performance of AEB systems on the road, but at present there are simply too few AEB equipped cars to make a definitive judgement over the effectiveness of the policy. However, they are pleased to see a significant increase in the fitment of these systems, especially to lower cost, high volume vehicles.

As with a number of other collision avoidance systems, is there a danger that cars fitted with AEB will make the driver that little less attentive?

Driver adaptation, where a driver takes greater risks believing the technology will compensate, is an ongoing risk and one that researchers are keenly studying. To date we only see positive benefits of AEB systems with up to a 27% reduction in crash frequencies, therefore any adaptation issues are hidden by the huge reduction in crashes. It's also important to note that AEB systems are designed to intervene at the very last moment, applying maximum braking at a point way beyond where most drivers would have any possibility of reacting. However, as drivers and car buyers become more used to such systems we may see more risk taking which is why we need to ensure a high level of system robustness.

Where do you see the greatest growth potential for brakes suppliers in the next few years?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE research service