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Signs of the Times: Wider adoption of traffic sign recognition tech on the horizon, says J.D. Power

Toronto, Ontario — The capabilities of the modern automobile are in a seemingly constant state of expansion and having a keen understanding of the latest digital safety features, like Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR), is crucial to being prepared when one of these vehicles rolls into the shop.

J.D. Power released a shopping guide last Wednesday outlining the basics of TSR, how it works and which OEMs are currently making use of the relatively rare piece of safety technology.

TSR, as its name suggests, acts as a second set of eyes by sending a message to the vehicle’s heads-up display, alerting drivers to the presence of roadway markers like speed limit, stop and “do not enter” signs.

The technology aims to take some human error out of driving by preventing a driver from missing any roadway information, regardless of whether they lay their own eyes on a sign or not.

By using forward-facing cameras mounted to the top of a vehicle’s windshield, TSR can scan a roadway for signs and automatically update as a driver passes through areas with changing speed limits, for example.

Once a sign has been spotted, “the system’s software processes the image to establish its classification and meaning” according to J.D. Power, though TSR’s ability to recognize signs on-the-fly is dependent on the vehicle’s speed and its distance from the sign.

“Some TSR systems also work in conjunction with advanced cruise control, which is set to maintain a speed above or below the scanned signs. For example, if TSR detects a 40-mph speed limit, it updates the cruise set speed to 40 mph unless the driver sets the parameters above or below the detected speed limit,” the guide reads.

TSR often makes use of the same camera systems used to operate more common lane-departure warning systems and distracted driver alert systems.

J.D. Power identified the following factors as being limiting to the function of TSR systems:

  •     Low visibility due to poor weather (fog, snow, heavy rain, etc.)
  •     Dirty or improperly adjusted headlights
  •     Foggy or blocked windshield
  •     Warped, twisted, or bent signs
  •     Abnormal tire or wheel conditions
  •     A tilted vehicle due to a heavy load or modified suspension

Among OEMs, TSR is a common feature with luxury brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, while more mainstream brands like Ford, Honda and Mazda equip the tech on higher-end trims of specific models.

Volvo is one of the few automakers to include TSR on every model in its lineup.

The guide concludes by saying that “Traffic-sign recognition is still a new technology but effective in elevating driver awareness of speed limits and other road rules for a safer overall driving experience. More automakers will likely add this valuable technology to their ADAS suites soon.”

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