Automakers are developing next-generation electronic sensing systems that look for impending accidents and react to potential hazards, making the roads much safer for both drivers and pedestrians.

Honda and Mercedes are developing both driver safety systems and lane departure warning mechanisms that could reduce the frequency and severity of accidents. And while some of these emerging technologies are still works in progress, there are a few that have already made their way into vehicles.

Two of these, according to Robert LaGuerra, senior analyst at ABI Research, are the recently introduced lane departure warning (LDW) technology and pre-crash systems that are being adapted to protect pedestrians

The 2006 Infiniti M mid-size luxury sedan incorporates LDW technology developed by Iteris, Inc., that uses a camera to detect lane markings in front of the vehicle and monitors if the vehicle drifts into another lane The system audibly warns drivers to take corrective action if they appear to be drifting, according to Infiniti.

Driver safety systems — which will be more integrated with driver activities once they are fully deployed — will help motorists avoid crashing into other vehicles and objects through the use of on-board optics, radar and object detection algorithms that warn drivers of impending collisions. As a last resort, they prepare the vehicle for an impending crash by applying a braking force and adjusting passenger safety belts.

The 2006 Lexus GS features a Pre-Collision System (PCS) that uses a millimeter-wave radar system to calculate the direction, distance and speed between vehicles. Similarly, the 2006 Acura RL’s Collision Mitigation Brake System (CMBS) uses radar to anticipate possible accidents based on speed and proximity to the vehicle ahead. CMBS warns the driver to take action through visible and audible cues and can also initiate braking to reduce the vehicle’s speed.

“The combination of Short Range Radar and optic technologies provides good object detection and classification,” LaGuerra says.

According Charlie Baker, vice president of research and development at Honda, the company is looking to adapt the technology to avoid hitting smaller objects such as pedestrians that enter the roadway.

“Systems of this type are a new breed, because they protect pedestrians and not the occupants of the vehicle, and as such, consumer demand is questionable,” says LaGuerra.

More here.