By on November 12, 2013

2013 Mazda CX-5. Picture courtesy

When the year 2025 comes around, and your sons and daughters purchase their autonomous commuter pod sans steering wheel, you may want to check the automatic brakes just to be sure they’re able to stop your children from smashing through the commuter pod in front of them, much like what happened to one customer during a test drive at a Mazda dealership in Japan over the weekend.

A customer and a dealership employee were putting a CX-5 equipped with the Smart City Brake Support through its paces when said braking system crashed through a urethane testing barrier, resulting in a severe neck injury for the hapless test driver, and a fractured arm for the employee. Normally, the braking system would have sounded an alert while applying the brakes and curbing engine power were the driver to approach a detected obstacle, all through automation.

The Smart City Brake Support was introduced in the automaker’s home market as an option for the crossover in 2012, only to become standard last month on all CX-5s in Japan for the 2014 model year.

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33 Comments on “Mazda Test Drive Ends in Crash Due to Automatic Brake Failure...”

  • avatar

    oooops. Seems like these things aren’t ready. Didn’t something similar happen at a recent Volvo event?

  • avatar

    This automated world we’re apparently headed toward will bring some very interesting (complicated) legal questions when people are killed because of the future gadgets like this. I’m sure the automakers will put a label on the visor saying “Don’t rely on ____, (that we so heavily advertised to get you to buy the car)…” And I can see automatic braking being a handy backup device, to the ‘aware driver.’ But of course, the Darwin Effect can’t be denied, and will overrule such sticky-notes. The legal future of things like this will make the Audi and Toyota acceleration investigations look like child’s play.

    An automated car has sensible limits, after that: Just take the bus.

  • avatar

    OK, the brake system screwed up and it crashed….into a *foam* barrier and there still were injuries?!

    Seat belt? Air bags? What the hey? Why were there any boo-boos at all here?

    BTW, insanely lustrous paint in that photo. Wish I understood the tech there.

  • avatar

    Mazda – “Well, it is supposed to work.. your problem is that the barrier needs to be of a certain height and density to be picked up and processed by the onboard computer. The foam barrier had the same reflective qualities as rain or snow. Therefore, no engagement of the auto brake.”

    Ok, I am being facetious but releasing products like this to the masses has to be perfect. No ifs, ands or buts.. We lived without all of this crap before didn’t we?

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly, Halftruth: these things have to be absolutely flawless and work 100% of the time. There is no room for error. Personally, I’m shocked that the automakers are embracing these automated systems as rapidly as they are.

      On preview: for those concerned about autonomous cars taking over the world I tend to think that America’s litigious society will put a stop to that quickly enough. ;-)

      • 0 avatar

        Absolutely, these systems have to be perfect. When I was working on an aviation ground/airport collision avoidance system, we never forgot that one mistake could cause a disaster. We obsessed over minutia with the FAA looking over our shoulder.

        I suspect the automotive systems are being driven by naive marketers that don’t understand the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to create a system that meets the public’s expectations. Sometimes you create a prototype out baling wire and chewing gum to give management a preview of what can be done, but once they see it seemingly working, they have a difficult time getting past the smoke and mirrors and understanding the amount of work that needs to be done in order to deploy a robust product into the wild.

    • 0 avatar

      So low density and so remarkable injuries? How does that add up?

    • 0 avatar

      No mention of tin whiskers?

      (Too soon?)

  • avatar

    Detroit-X and hreardon have it right: our legal system is our best bulwark against half-baked innovation. The car companies that drag their feet and trail the pack on these “features” will reap the rewards for their sluggishness. It’s like my uncle once told me: you learn more from mistakes than success, but it’s easier to learn from others’ mistakes than your own.

  • avatar

    The fact that there were injuries makes the whole thing suspicious. These systems can be overridden by hitting the accelerator.

    We get the government we deserve. If tort kills the autonomous car, our species is likely doomed. I was thinking the other day about welfare versus science spending. Is it possible we can coddle 10 billion idiots on the dole and still afford to colonize mars?

    • 0 avatar

      >If tort kills the autonomous car, our species is likely doomed.
      What? Is an autonomous car a NECESSITY FOR SURVIVAL? If so how did we make it THIS far?

      >I was thinking the other day about welfare versus science spending. Is it possible we can coddle 10 billion idiots on the dole and still afford to colonize mars?

      The claim that NASA made for the moon program, was that the spinoffs from basic research improved everyones life.

      “10 billion idiots”? There aren’t 10 Billion people on EARTH, never mind the USA.

      • 0 avatar

        A society that halts progress over fear is doomed. Would we allow Curtiss and the Wrights to sell airplanes today, or would they be regulated and sued into bankruptcy? (Inside scoop, the cost of tort and regulation on a new light plane design is many times the the cost of a single model, and the world market for all light aircraft is now less than the number of Cessna 172’s sold in 1978 alone.)

        Will we reach a point where those on the dole are so numerous that we use all our resources keeping them happy and no one can leave the planet because they can’t get the resources? It’s not a spectacular question.

        What country today would and could fund a Columbus? The population won’t stop growing, the demand for ever and ever greater standard of living for the unproductive isn’t stopping. Do we not reach a point where we get stuck on this single planet because we were too worried someone might get hurt if we tried to grow beyond it? Are we not doomed if we don’t expand?

        • 0 avatar

          Trust me Landcrusher, I get your argument and agree with the sentiment.

          That said, in this example we’re dealing with a technology that really does have to be idiot-proof considering all the…well…idiots who will be driving it and expect it to do the thinking for them. I think it’s a case of the marketing and product planning guys getting ahead of the technology a bit.

          Funny you should mention this as I was just having a conversation with a co-worker about the importance of a solid space program if for no other reason than as the last best hope to get me off of this rock once the morons take over. ;-)

          • 0 avatar

            Oddly, the socialization of US healthcare may have a silver lining. The life expectancy numbers will likely level off. This will reduce pressure from growing populations.

  • avatar

    Do you guys remember the video of equivalent Volvo system failing? The car crashed into a truck in front of assembled press.

  • avatar

    Brake Pedals! Use them!

  • avatar

    Our 2004 Sienna XLE Limited has a feature that uses laser beams to control the speed of the van and adapt to other vehicles ahead. I purchased this van used with 60K on the clock. I was excited about this feature that also promised to apply the brakes when needed-no necessarily to stop the car but ..well…get a start on the braking process I guess.

    My drive home with the van I used this feature and while going up an incline that curved to the left I was about to pass a slow moving semi. The bells chimed, and it activated the brake-even though there was no one in front of me in my lane. Fortunately there was no one behind me or that could have been the end of the car. Since then I limit my use of this feature to two lane roads with limited passing opportunities.

    I also find that since it is laser based, cars with smoked taillights, older cars, cars with snow or dirt in the tail lights, lifted pick-ups and a host of others it will not “see”.
    I think Toyota ditched this technology a couple of years later and now uses a radar based system.

    My point is that no matter how good any of these systems are at “seeing” what is ahead, there will always be factors outside of the capability of the system and thus, require the attention of the driver.
    We now have over 350K on this van and the laser cruise works no better or worse with that much use. Thankfully, the engineers had the foresight to include standard cruise control also-although it is not the default setting which, after each start-up goes straight to the laser cruise.

    • 0 avatar

      “…engineers had the foresight to include standard cruise control also-although it is not the default setting…”

      Ah, and therein lies another pitfall. You, sir, either invested the time and effort to read your owner’s manual (or the time and effort to learn how the your vehicle’s features function). That simple-yet-crucial act elevates you above a significant portion of the motoring public.

      You’re probably the same type of character who, upon getting into a rental car, adjusts your mirrors…

  • avatar

    Car manufacturers are proposing to combine existing lane-departure systems with existing electric steering. The goal is for the cars to maintain their lane unless the driver has signaled a lane change.

    Knowing that Toyota Prius, Highlander and Camry hybrids have been recalled because of failures of the electric steering, and that Ford Escape Hybrids have this problem without a recall, it gives me the creeps to hear about the adoption of systems like this.

  • avatar

    Automatic brakes with no manual option is a stupid idea. The Japanese have come up with some brilliant ideas, but also some very bad ones. Automatic brakes are one of them.

  • avatar

    I was at a Mazda3 ride and drive on the weekend, and part of the course was set up to show off this system. They were still pretty adamant that you had to keep below a certain speed, and you couldn’t touch the pedals or the steering wheel (because the car assumes you’re in control of that’s the case). Naturally, as I’m walking out, one car plows right into the soft obstacle they had set up (I’m assuming the driver panicked and did something).

    I don’t know if that’s the case here, but at the same time, in the real world, a failure of this system just means it’ll fail to stop an accident that was going to happen anyhow. And, considering it’s only currently supposed to be effective in low speed incidents (re. not likely fatal), it could help weed out a couple incompetent drivers who expect their car to save their bacon.

    I’m not saying I trust computers, but our fellow motorists aren’t setting the highest bar to beat.

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