Driving is a sight-response game and as the line between robots and cars begins to blur, cars will develop ever more advanced vision systems. Computers will initially aid and one day inevitably replace humans in ensuring cars are driven safely. Subaru began fitting a stereoscopic “EyeSight” system to some Japanese market cars nearly two years ago and has just announced a major upgrade. By using two cameras, one each side of the rear view mirror, the system can judge distances and hence assist with a number of driving functions, such as all-speed range adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking management and lane departure warning. Recent developments with its 3D image processing engine mean it has become far more adept at recognizing pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.

Fuji Heavy Industries has now announced a “New EyeSight”, the latest iteration of Subaru’s stereo camera driving assist system. Based on the EyeSight system introduced in Japan in May 2008, the safety device was upgraded with new features to improve driving assist functions, automatic braking management system and user-friendliness. The new system has an advanced, safer “Pre-Collision Braking Control” feature that stops the vehicle if it detects the risk of frontal collision, thereby avoiding the collision or reducing collision damage. The “All-speed range adaptive cruise control system” is claimed to significantly reduce risk at all speeds, particularly in slow or congested traffic. There are several major enhancements in the new EyeSight system.

When your car gets close to another car (cyclist, pedestrian etc), the Pre-Collision Braking Control sets off an alarm to warn you of a potential hazard. If the speed difference between your vehicle and the vehicle in front is below 30 km/h, and you’re not slowing, it automatically slows your car. If the speed difference between your car and the one in front is more than 30km/h, the system will automatically reduce the vehicle’s speed. The all-speed Adaptive Cruise control enables you to cruise safely on the freeway by monitoring and adjusting speed to maintain a safe distance to the vehicle in front. The new EyeSight system will be available on Japanese-market Subaru Legacy models from the middle of May.

It will be an interesting time for automotive development over the next few years as such automated functionality becomes commonplace. We’ve already seen what happened to the previously stellar reliability and safety reputation of Toyota thanks to a software problem which it had difficulty debugging.

The Subaru system’s functionality will, once you’ve grown reliant upon it, become critical. We’re already seeing the problems associated with talking, texting and twittering on the roads. In slow traffic or traffic jams, the automatic emergency braking function of Subaru’s system will stop and hold your vehicle until the vehicle in front starts moving again, even if you are pressing the accelerator. So what happens if the system, wiring, microprocessor or the code goes wrong?

Microsoft’s once infuriatingly regular blue screen of death is not that distant a memory, and as frustrating as it once was, the worst that could happen could be almost entirely mitigated by good back-up procedures and a few hours of your life being wasted.

Once you become reliant upon automotive safety systems actively managing your driving, the potential for expensive accident repair, injury and worse will be dependent on factors that are beyond your control. Will the presence of such systems encourage driver inattentiveness?

We’re presuming that the imagery from the stereo cameras will be stored, so at least when problems occur, we’ll have stereo imagery to give to the lawyers.

Throw in the contents of the black box (speed, driver input, the car's roll, pitch and yaw) and all we need is a camera facing the driver for a fascinating new era in personal accountability on public roads.