ADAS: A safe investment?
With car manufacturers incentivised to fit more driver assistance tech by higher Euro NCAP scores, Rob Marshall asks whether investing in ADAS calibration now is a no-brainer, or is the technology changing excessively quickly to risk taking the plunge?
The world of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) is confusing, especially when carmaker marketing departments adopt terminology for features similar to those of their competitors. Perhaps this is understandable, because two systems that appear the same may not operate in identical ways. To find out, we liaised with Euro NCAP, which assesses the effectiveness of these driver assistance systems. It turns out that not all carmakers select the best available systems, due (possibly) to cost restraints. For instance, an ADAS feature from one manufacturer might use radar and cameras to assess its surroundings, whereas another one may employ radar alone. Furthermore, as described separately, there is also potentially dangerous blurring between ADAS and autonomous driving definitions, about which you should be aware.
Even so, virtually all of the many ADAS systems rely on only a handful of hardware: cameras, radar, LiDAR and ultrasonic sensors. While the latter does not require calibration, any repair that alters the suspension geometry (even bush replacements) will require a subsequent ADAS calibration. While respected industry figures have emphasised final alignment as part of a garage’s duty-of-care obligations for some time, it is now a mandatory requirement. Garages and bodyshops have had to comply with the Insurance Industry Requirements for the safe repair of ADAS-equipped vehicles since 31st of March this year. More details about which can be found here.
Handing a car back to the driver with a misaligned ADAS camera, LiDAR, or radar can have severe repercussions, especially as no mandated dashboard fault lamp exists to alert the driver, even if the system has stopped working altogether. Consequently, the ADAS systems may misinterpret a dangerous situation as safe, or vice versa. For instance, an Active Lane Departure system may vary the steering angle suddenly during a steady motorway cruise, because it has misjudged the road markings.
Should you dig deep now?
While we have yet to hear of a successful legal challenge brought against a garage for not performing a post-repair ADAS calibration, this is not an excuse to tempt fate, or endanger your customers with an incomplete repair. Of course, one of the primary considerations is payback: can your workshop recoup its investment in both ADAS training and equipment within a reasonable time? Of course, this should not be the only consideration but it cannot be ignored.
Should you be confused about the whole ADAS vs. self-driving topic, you are not alone. Even our illustrious leaders seem unable to grasp the difference, preferring to make grand announcements, which backfire and serve only to highlight their ignorance. On the 28th of April, the Department of Transport announced that motorists could look forward to self-driving vehicles functioning on British roads for the first time during 2021. It reasoned that vehicles, equipped with Automated Lane Keeping, are self-driving, when the technology is really Level Three ADAS. The lack of knowledge did not pass undetected
by the AA, which responded by stating that Automated Lane Keeping systems are a world away from self- driving. Thatcham Research’s response was even more biting. It accused the UK Government of contributing to the confusion and that the frequent misuse of ADAS technology that has led to many tragic deaths already. However, British governmental departments cannot be blamed entirely. Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’, as an example, is only a Level 2 ADAS system and, last year, Germany banned the company from using the descriptive term for cars sold in its market.
As Delphi admits, not making the investment to service and maintain these systems may cause more issues in the long run. Not being able to carry out routine maintenance could mean losing important business, meaning that ignoring ADAS is not an option.
Mahle agrees that investing in ADAS is essential, because it is so prevalent and the potential for selling calibration services is far greater now than before, being no longer just a preserve of body repair shops. It adds that good garages, generally, do not like subcontracting work to third party businesses, which is why Mahle is experiencing a higher level of ADAS enquiries from garages that desire to conduct ADAS recalibration in- house.
Yet, some garages have reported to AT concerns that their ADAS investment would be made redundant quickly with the emergence of self-calibrating systems. Delphi acknowledges that, while a limited number of vehicles can self-calibrate, they may still require manual static calibration, should the auto function fail to complete. Mahle also agrees that self- calibration ADAS should not dissuade workshops from carrying-out calibrations. It explains that dynamic calibration, in which an often lengthy drive-cycle was required, was used on early ADAS systems and it is unlikely to see a resurgence
in popularity. Static recalibration ADAS requires hardware to be positioned accurately in relation to the vehicle. Hybrid calibration is appearing on more recent models, where a static calibration is followed by a short drive cycle. Mahle, therefore, advises garages that a decent ADAS calibration system will be a good investment for many years.
Spending £10,995 with Delphi buys its DS diagnostic tablet (which performs far more functions than ADAS alone), the software licence, and the IMI certified calibration course for one person at the company’s Warwickshire-based training centre. Delphi tells us that, because the average calibration charge is £250, fewer than fifty calibrations are required to achieve payback.
Mahle offers a modular ADAS solution and so prices vary. However, one of its typical digital ADAS systems costs approximately £16,995. Mahle highlights that the main advantage of its Digital ADAS is speed, which can facilitate up to eight (or more) daily calibrations. Despite the potential for carrying out more, the company reasons that a workshop making just one calibration per week should recoup the investment within 12 months. Yet, a more advanced system can cost over £20,000 but, because workshops that require this level of equipment are more likely to complete more calibrations, the payback period is likely to be similar.
While such ADAS systems offer favourable payback times, many smaller all-makes garages may still be dissuaded by the upfront cost. An exciting alternative is provided by asTech (www.asTech.com), which has introduced a ‘pay as you calibrate’ digital ADAS calibration option. Obviously, the main advantage is no upfront cost. Instead, repairers pay a fee, based on a small number of calibrations conducted per week, with the option of remote assistance for an additional monthly charge. It sounds terrific but only hard facts will allow garages to evaluate whether a pay-as-you-go system suits their needs, or not. We tried several times to prise actual figures from asTech but no prices were forthcoming. The reasons given to us were provided in the following statement, meaning that interested readers are left to make their own enquiries:
“Because pricing for this offering is highly sought after information by our competitors at the moment, we believe it’s fair to say that our pay-as-you-calibrate option from asTech is competitively priced in the marketplace, which enables businesses, whether they are a single site or a large group, to effectively add the service to their offering. This in turn opens sales avenues that previously would have been closed to them.”
ADAS pricing: Have your say…
While we are grateful to the specialists that contributed to our research, we are intrigued by the payback figures being based upon a typical ADAS calibration charge of between £250 and £400+. The burning question is whether you think your customers would accept this not insignificant figure in addition to a typical repair invoice.
In a bid to shave repair costs, owners could select a garage that would either not perform an ADAS calibration, or choose one that charges significantly less. The result could be ‘a race to the bottom’, where the market will set a much lower charge for ADAS calibrations. This could lengthen your payback times. We are starting to hear about this already; a source told AT about two insurance companies that are setting prices that they expect to be charged for ADAS calibrations. The rates are considerably below those mentioned earlier in this feature. We would be interested to hear your views on our Facebook page about whether these charges are realistic, or not… www.facebook.com/Autotechmagazine.
In an attempt to cut-through carmaker marketing hyperbole, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has sought to define automated driving technologies in its J3016 standard, which is evolving continually. As you can see, ADAS crash avoidance features and automated driving can co-exist but ADAS technology in isolation do not define autonomy. As ADAS systems intervene occasionally in potentially hazardous situations and not continually, a human being is still required. Even so, for vehicles possessing higher-level autonomy (i.e. Level Three onwards), ADAS technology becomes part of the automated systems’ crash avoidance. It is worth noting that J3016 is being revised continually and so the definitions are likely to change, as new technologies emerge.
Level Zero – Zero automation
While various ADAS systems can warn, or even assist the driver momentarily (such as Emergency Brake Assist), it cannot take over, because human attention and interaction is required at all times.
Level One – Driver Assistance
These technologies control either the speed, or steering. However, these must vary according to conditions, meaning that basic cruise control would not be considered, unlike Adaptive Active Cruise Control. As Lane Assist controls the steering, dependent on conditions, it can also be categorised as Level One technology. Notably, the driver retains control and can decide to deactivate these features.
Level Two – Partial Automation
As with technologies that fall under the Level One category, the driver remains in control. However, these systems control both the steering and speed, instead of just one, or the other. The driver can still decide whether to switch these functions off, or not. Tesla’s Autopilot counts as a Level Two system.
Level Three – Conditional Driving Automation
While the driver is not required to touch the controls, he/ she must be poised to regain control at any point. The vehicle assesses the surrounding conditions and takes over driving but only in certain conditions. Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot system was due to debut in 2020 but legislative and development costs saw it abandoned, possibly temporarily. As discussed earlier, the UK Government is keen to introduce Automated Lane Keeping as the first Level Three technology.
Level Four – High Driving Automation
While the driver can take control and ‘drive’ the vehicle, human input is unnecessary. Should the car develop a fault, it will come to a safe halt. This level may operate in limited conditions, including traffic flow, geographic boundaries, or speeds. AT understands that the Volkswagen Group is aiming to sell a Level 4 commercial vehicle by 2025.
Level Five – High Driving Automation
The car is fully automated and traditional controls, such as steering wheel, pedal and even mirrors are not required. Interestingly, the system can override any passenger request to switch off the self-driving functions temporarily.