QUBE is just-auto’s new online intelligence platform, providing real-time information, insight and analysis on the global automotive manufacturing industry. This month we provide extracts from component sectors covered in the new service, starting with Driver 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.”

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.”

Do we need assistance while driving?

While some people believe we can’t do without it, others disagree. A recent internet blog entry read: “What kind of value do you give assistance systems that are currently on offer? Personally, I would rather invest my bucks in nice wheels instead of a lane assist system.” Another blogger wrote: “You can just forget the rest. If you know how to drive then you don’t need that kind of stuff! Didn’t need these kind of gimmicks in the ‘70s, don’t need them today.”

Yet research[1] has shown that driver error is one of the most common causes of traffic accidents. Almost one in five accidents with physical injuries can be attributed either to inappropriate speed (16%) or to insufficient stopping distance (12%). Inattentiveness behind the wheel or inadequate stopping distance contributes to this.

Driver assistance technologies provide a helping hand in times of trouble. Electronic driver assistance systems are increasingly being incorporated in cars across the board, from luxury vehicles to small city cars. Many of these systems are being fitted as standard equipment. The impact of these technologies is helping to avoid accidents and take the stress and strain out of driving. 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 minimise the consequences of an accident for those concerned.

Driver assistance technologies are evolving rapidly. Executives at Continental report that demand for their products is very promising at the moment although this is the expected and forecasted picture. They told us: “It can be expected that the current applications, such as lane departure warning, speed limit monitoring, and intelligent headlamp control and object detection will settle down over the next years and migrate to a variety of vehicles. Of course, on the horizon we see innovations such as pedestrian recognition as a logical evolution of the camera technology today.”

While the camera optics are fairly similar, the additional functions require different computer processing power. Akira Kondo, general manager of Denso Corp’s driving assistance and safety engineering department, told us: “It can be said that applying a multi-functional camera with high computer processing power is more beneficial than adding a dedicated camera. We think it is important for system development to adopt advanced semiconductor technology, as well as evaluating applications’ specification and cost that meet markets’ needs.”

Andy Whydell, senior manager for electronics product planning at TRW Automotive, added that automotive cameras typically use standardised electronic components such as imager chips, digital signal processors and microprocessors, although there is some variety in the imager resolutions and optics design (lens) matched with the imager which provides performance variations in raw sensing capability between cameras. Whydell told us: “The major factor affecting camera functionality is the level of image processing power available to analyse each image. Advanced functions such as vehicle and pedestrian detection require significantly more powerful video processors, due to the wide variety of potential ‘targets’ to search for within a frame and the fact that these can be presented to the camera at any angle – for example a pedestrian may be wearing a hat and carrying a bag, which would affect the human ‘silhouette’ but still need to be differentiated from a road sign. The additional processor requirements for advanced sensing significantly add to the material cost of the camera, while the cost of developing advanced vision recognition algorithms also need to be shared across these cameras.”

1 Accidents in road traffic 2006. Wiesbaden: Statistisches Bundesamt [Federal Office of Statistics], 2007.

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