Subaru’s EyeSight Collision-Avoidance Technology

By Alexander Stoklosa, Car and Driver
Subaru made mild waves at this year’s New York auto show when it announced it was bringing its Subaru EyeSight camera-based driver-assist technology to the U.S. in the refreshed 2013 Legacy sedan and Outback wagon. The move is significant because EyeSight incorporates many technologies that previously were available only in premium cars-including adaptive cruise control, active braking, and collision warning-plus a few new ones, down to a much more accessible price point. We were given the opportunity to test the system ourselves, and no, we did not introduce a Legacy’s front end to a foam barrier. Even though we really kind of wanted to.
EyeSight employs a pair of forward-facing stereoscopic cameras mounted inside the car on either side of the rear-view mirror, which are connected to the throttle and brakes. The cameras and corresponding software “scan” the road ahead (up to 87 yards ahead of the car) and can initiate a series of collision warnings and avoidance measures if it determines a collision is imminent. EyeSight also includes lane-departure warnings-it can “see” lane markings and determine the car’s position within them. The adaptive cruise control can bring the car to a complete stop from speeds of up to 87 mph, but drivers are prompted to accelerate from a stop-the system won’t get the car going again on its own. A push of a button or a touch of the accelerator resumes the cruise control’s functionality, and the car will accelerate back to the set speed on its own from there.
To test EyeSight’s collision-avoidance chops, Subaru brought us to an open airfield and set up a fairly straightforward course: a long run-up with a roughly five-foot-tall foam barrier at the end. EyeSight’s automatic-braking feature can either bring the car to a complete stop or at least begin slowing it down at closing speeds of up to 19 mph, so that’s the speed at which we drove at the foam barrier. (At speeds above 19 mph, the system can still react in most instances, but likely won’t have enough time to bring the car to a complete stop.) Sure enough, approaching the barrier with the driver’s foot on the gas pedal, our Legacy first sounded a warning, followed by light braking, and finally brought itself to a full-ABS stop just in front of the barrier.
Exhilarating stuff this was not-we were only traveling 19 mph-but the system worked every time. Interestingly, the car will refuse to automatically brake itself after three successive near-misses; the driver must first turn the car off and restart it in order to regain auto braking. Subaru tells us this is a sort of warning for extremely terrible drivers to shape up, and company representatives assured us that the auditory collision-warning feature remains on in such scenarios.
Interestingly, EyeSight also features a neat throttle-management function, which can cut engine power in certain near-collision scenarios. Whereas the collision-avoidance aspect of EyeSight brings a car to a stop, the throttle-management function can prevent the car from accelerating hard if the system thinks you’re about to run into something. To demonstrate this, we were told to stop the Legacy a few feet from the foam barrier and accelerate toward it. EyeSight recognized the impending collision and sounded the collision-warning beep while also cutting engine power-braking is left up to the driver. If the wheel is turned or the driver moves to brake, EyeSight relinquishes control and extinguishes the beeping, and the car will continue to accelerate.
Overall, we found the system effective, though it does have some drawbacks: namely that being camera-based, inclement weather or crud on the windshield reduces or eliminates EyeSight’s effectiveness. The good news is that the system can be mostly turned off, and in the event of an imminent collision, any driver input results in the system giving total control back to the driver-so those worried about the car thinking it knows best can relax a bit. Subaru reps openly told us the system isn’t intended to outsmart the driver, and that the company was careful to design the system to default to the driver when in doubt. EyeSight is available in the 2013 Legacy and Outback’s up-level Limited trim-levels as part of a $3940 package that also includes navigation and a sunroof. Despite rolling out the system only on the most-posh versions of the Legacy and Outback, Subaru plans to spread the tech to more models starting next year.
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