Active safety systems and driver assistance technologies are a high-growth area of the automotive business. Global OE fitment levels for driver assistance systems (DAS) are forecast to rise sharply, leading to improved safety and an enhancement of the driver experience. Ultimately, the systems arriving now are part of the advancing technology frontier that will lead to the autonomous car. This month we share some of the latest developments in active safety systems, as monitored, analysed and reviewed in our dedicated real-time QUBE research service.

Active safety – the background and the rollout

It’s a grim thought but, on average, someone dies every minute somewhere in the world as a result of a traffic accident.  

A number of manufacturers are pursuing the aim of reducing the frequency and severity of accidents by developing active and passive driving assistance systems. According to Bosch, driver assistance systems aim to make the vehicle capable of perceiving its surroundings, interpret them, identify critical situations, and assist the driver in performing driving manoeuvres.  The object is, at best, to prevent accidents completely and, at worst, to minimize the consequences of an accident for those concerned.  

Driver assistance systems use a combination of warnings and some degree of active intervention to help steer the driver away from trouble.  Although the accent is on giving assistance to the driver rather than take control away, motorists are still wary about cars that supposedly drive themselves.  While active intervention clearly holds many possibilities, it is also fraught with difficulty.  

The most common suite of driver assistance technologies available today includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems, and parking assistance systems.

Radar-based safety technologies such as advance collision warning and blind-spot detection are becoming common place as optional equipment on new vehicles. While the possibilities to “assist the driver” seem endless, is there a risk of information overload?

“We don’t see a problem with information overload,” said Wilfried Mehr, head of business development, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, Passive Safety & ADAS / Chassis & Safety, Continental AG: “At Continental we believe in intuitive interfaces to the driver. Our safety system ContiGuard works in the background as long as there is no imminent risk of collision. In the emergency phase, we support the driver by braking or steering, e.g. with our lane departure warning system. Based on our experience with ESC, such driver assistance technologies are welcome by the driver.”

Mike Thoeny, global engineering director, electronic controls, Delphi Electronics & Safety points out that Delphi’s goal is to enhance automotive safety with innovative technology. That means providing products that help drivers keep their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel and minds on driving. The purpose of a collision warning system, he says, is to provide drivers with information to keep them and their vehicles out of potentially dangerous situations. Alerts must be clear and quickly understood, so a properly designed driver interface is critical. “One vehicle manufacturer using our technology provides the driver alert for imminent forward collisions using a light bar on the dashboard.  It is reflected off the windshield in the driver's forward field of view in conjunction with an audible alert, and is very intuitive.”

Thoeny adds that Delphi works closely across its product segments to offer system solutions to the driver distraction issue, keeping in mind the growing number of nomadic devices being brought into the car, such as mobile phones, portable music devices and personal navigation systems.  “When combined with our radar and vision sensing systems, our connectivity and display systems can provide situationally tailored driver alerts depending on the external traffic situation and driver workload.  External devices linked to the vehicle via Bluetooth or near-field communication protocols may only be accessible by the driver through carefully designed user interfaces based on solid human factors research.  We're excited to see the merger of our safe and connected technologies on future vehicles.”

TRW reckons that as driver assistance systems are designed to help a driver in potential emergency situations, any warnings given by the system must be clearly understandable to the driver in order to allow them to react quickly and correctly in a potential “high-stress” situation. 

TRW executives told us: “Like Electronic Stability Control, some Driver Assistance Systems can operate autonomously and therefore no input needs to be provided to the driver. For example with an Automatic Emergency Braking system, data from a forward looking radar and video camera can be combined to provide a real time image of the road ahead. If a potential collision situation is detected and the driver does not react sufficiently to steer or brake to avoid the collision, the AEB system can automatically apply the vehicle brakes to help mitigate the impact. 

“Other DAS systems provide feedback to the driver, but they are designed to actively ‘coach’ the driver to help avoid a critical situation – providing subtle feedback when they need to be more alert. For longitudinal support this could be a virtual ‘brake pedal tap’ or a quick deceleration of the vehicle if it is deemed to be approaching the vehicle in front too fast. This type of feedback is intended to instinctively warn the driver that they need to brake, and coaches the driver to automatically look forward. Alternatively, for lateral support, TRW’s lane guide technology provides a torque overlay to the steering to gently guide the driver back towards the centre of the lane if the vehicle is about to inadvertently leave its lane on a highway - rather than simply sound a warning tone that the driver needs to correctly interpret before responding.”

Meanwhile, Bosch engineers told us that the HMI [human-machine interface] is “central to our corporate research, product advance engineering and engineering activities.”

Finally, Marc Osajda, Automotive Marketing, Freescale Semiconductor says that the design of the HMI will be key as more and more information becomes available. He believes that the industry may face a learning curve. Driver feedback will be critical, he says. The worst outcome would be to annoy the driver with constant alarms and warnings. “I remember a story I heard recently from someone who’s not part of the automotive engineering community. He said: “Something must be wrong with my car. I have this yellow ESP light blinking all the time when I’m driving in the snow... I need to get it fixed at the next service station.”

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We asked Ficosa about advanced DAS cameras...

As we understand it, multi-function cameras are forming a core technology for advanced DAS.  These cameras will be cheaper, more effective and easier to integrate than radar and infra-red systems.  Is that correct?  

Each technology has their specific advantages and disadvantages. So far there is not "the technology" to solve all requirements in ADAS available. Depending on the present and new aimed applications, only a fusion of different sensors - such as camera, radar and on-board communication - will be required. In order to achieve the accident free vehicle - the old dream of the industries - even the today used technology will not be all required. Nevertheless, camera technology will be key to achieving the next level of performance.

What can these multi-function cameras offer? 

Today, cameras already offer a lot of detection e.g. line detection, vehicle detection, traffic signs detection, pedestrian and bicycle detection. These capabilities will be improved in quality, especially the detection rate but also in information about size, position and speed vector of the detected objects.

[The ultimate goal is that cameras will be able to detect everything a human can. Such] technology will enable the opportunity for an accident-free and autonomous vehicle.

Traffic sign recognition is a clear benefit of camera-based technologies.  How do you see this market evolving in Europe and North America? 

In all industrialised countries, also defined by the existence of a working road-way infrastructure, this technology will develop dramatically. The current increase in traffic is one of the driving forces as well as the reduction of accidents, caused by speeding.

Only the US - due to the non standardised traffic sign - will be an exception for the next period. However, this may change by new technologies in cameras within the next 10-15 years and/or the worldwide standardisation of the road infrastructure.

See also: June 2013 management briefing: active safety and driver assistance systems (1)

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