ADAS – The new boss in the modern car

        Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in vehicles is 
becoming increasingly more popular. It’s been reported that by 
2020 40 to 45% of the vehicles on the road will have some form 
of ADAS as a standard feature. By 2025 that number could reach 
well over 50% of the vehicles on the road. 

        These systems rely upon cameras, lasers, and radar, Often with 
the camera mounted just behind the windshield, front grille, or in the 
outside mirrors and are highly sensitive to any changes in the cars 
geometry and the windshield conditions. With that being said, there’s 
no doubt the ever changing repair industry has a new assignment to 
tackle, and that’s diagnosing and repairing, and re-calibrating the ADAS system.

Reasons for Calibrating

        There are many reasons why a car will need to have the ADAS system re-calibrated. Some will be for obvious reasons such as a broken windshield that is now obstructing the cameras view, or to repairs that normally wouldn’t have anything to do with other systems but now are affecting the ability of the car to see and understand its surroundings properly. Such as, wheel alignment, tire size change, or perhaps the suspension angles have changed. Even tire pressure can change the calibration (view point) of the camera to such a degree that the camera is looking too close in front of the car or is staring into space and can’t detect anything in front of it except for low flying aircraft and the occasional bird diving by the front of the car.

Which Cars Have It?

    It's actually getting to the point that you start to wonder what new cars don't have some sort of advanced detection system as part of its list of features. It's probably more to the point of which cars are going to need future ADAS related system repairs and to what extent are those repairs going to affect the bottom line at the repair shop. Right now, less than 25% of the ADAS equipped vehicles are capable of “in car” (Dynamic) diagnostics and calibration. That leaves at least 75% of the systems that will require an in house (Static) camera alignment and diagnostics by a repair shop. If the vehicle is equipped with any number of these types of technologies, chances are you’ll have a camera mounted in behind the windshield, in the side mirrors, or somewhere in the front grille area. Which means at some point, either through a collision or physical changes to the vehicle, it will need to be re-calibrated.  

    Adaptive cruise control (ACC), Auto high beam, Adaptive light control (auto curve following headlamps), Navigation system with typically GPS, night vision, Blind spot monitor, Collision avoidance system, Crosswind stabilization, Driver drowsiness detection, Emergency driver assistance, Forward collision warning, Intersection assistance, Hill descent and hold control system, Lane departure warning system, Lane change assistance, Pedestrian protection system, Traffic sign recognition, Turning assistant, Wrong-way driving warning, are just some of the systems that require the camera to be properly aligned and calibrated.

Future Self Awareness 

    Soon, adaptive learning or what is sometimes referred to as “machine learning” will allow the vehicle to actually learn its own environment. Vehicle to vehicle communication systems will allow one vehicle to interface with another vehicle and learn everything from each other in an "on time" road condition analysis. The vehicle will learn the difference between certain objects such as a road sign or person standing under a road sign along the side of the road. For example, if one car passes a sign and captures an image of something standing below the sign but couldn’t distinguish what it was, the very next car will know to look for that same object and see if it has moved. This would tell the vehicle the object was more than likely a person or animal.  Infa-red technology (LIDAR) would confirm it. All of this information would be stored in a data farm that all the other vehicles on the network would go to and share the gathered information to all of the other vehicles on the road.

Testing and Calibrating

    The methods for re-calibrating, whether it is from a collision based repair or cracked (stone chipped) windshield replacement, the procedure is similar. If you’ve done any type of front end alignment using the black and white dots mounted onto the wheels you’re more than half way there in understanding the setup on an ADAS system.  

    To start the process you first need to have the vehicle on a flat surface with all of the fluids checked and filled, IE… fuel tank, oil, coolant, etc… All the doors need to be closed and the tire pressure adjusted. No loads in the car (and trunk) as well as no person in the vehicle (unless specified by the manufacturer). Be sure the lighting in the test area is adequate and also not so harsh or glaring as to affect the laser light from the testing apparatus.

    Set the vehicle up at a prescribe distance from the sensor plates as laid out in the manufacturers and scanner specifications, center the tester, then follow the procedures to align the axles to a 90° angle to the scanning device. Finally a height adjustment is made. The height adjustment is generally from front to rear and from side to side. Once all the angles and specifications have been made you’re ready to perform the calibration. Use the scanner to initiate the calibration. Generally, the whole process can be done in an hour or so. Some system requirements may lengthen the process to as much as four hours. 

Where’s The Equipment?

        Outside of the manufacturer’s equipment there are a several sources for calibration scanners and the needed alignment tools. Bosch, Autel, Hella/Gutmann, OPTI-Aim, and TEXA, are just a few of the companies that offer scanning equipment with a complete diagnostic package to handle re-calibrating of the ADAS and ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) systems. Some of the manufacturer’s equipment is actually the same equipment sold to the independent market side as well. All of them rely on a laser beam or infa-red type alignment system that aligns all four wheels off the center point of the vehicle for a very accurate camera calibration and alignment.

Why Calibrate?

            You may be wondering why a car needs to be re-calibrated at all. Or better yet, why a windshield replacement causes an issue. This is because car windshields are not just a piece of glass. Even though you can’t see it, there are built-in sensors and special areas of tint, heater elements, rain sensing areas, and a whole lot more going on that the human eye can’t see. If one of these special areas changed position by just a millimeter or a single degree, it may throw the entire system off. This is why re-calibration is essential after a windshield replacement.

        Keep in mind, a camera is the eye of the car, and is fixed to look in one direction at one specific spot. If we change the cars physical suspension alignment, leave the tires under-inflated, have a bad coil spring on one side, or fill the trunk with more than the car is rated for there’s a good chance that “eye” isn’t looking where it’s supposed to be looking. Not to mention if the windshield is dirty, cracked, or because of a recently replaced windshield the focus isn’t sharp enough to allow the camera to properly see. All of these factors play into the overall condition of the ADAS systems evaluation of its surroundings.

        Moving up the scale, ADAS can also assist drivers by utilizing night vision technology and sensing vehicle blind spots. Think about it, your average human with all five senses working overtime and even if you could swivel your neck like an owl, you still would have difficulty watching everything in all directions like the ADAS system can.  ADAS at its most advanced state is less of an assistance type system for the driver, but rather more likely to lead us into the realm of the fully autonomous vehicle. Right now, this is just a small stepping stone into future possibilities. These systems we have today are the cars of the future we heard about when we were younger. They’re out there right now on the road with, lane departure control, adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance systems, back up alarm with pedestrian avoidance and stopping systems, self-parking, and so many other features that let the driver sit back, relax while enjoying the ride. What will they think of next?

        These systems are here to stay and they’re becoming more advanced with each new model release. They utilize radar, infa-red, LIDAR, computer imaging and analysis, sensors for motion, heat, and sound, and soon car to car networking with stored data about every conceivable road condition down to the millimeter and with real time accuracy. All of this to create a safer driving experience.

        ADAS, as far as I’m concerned, has taken over as the real boss in the car’s electronic jungle. The big difference is who’s going to repair all of these sophisticated systems? This ain’t your fathers repair shop anymore. This is a new era of diagnostics and technology to a degree that no one from just a few generations ago could have ever imagined in the hands of an automotive mechanic. Let alone that they would be dealing with. It’s not advanced technology that we’re waiting for anymore, it’s already here. 

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