Harman is enabling automakers to implement a new generation of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). To learn more, we caught up with Bernhard Pirkl, Vice President, ADAS, Harman at the 2020 CES.

In terms of Harman’s ADAS technologies, is there a headline message that you would like to put out here at the CES?

Harman is really leveraging its strengths and also looking to the future. Leveraging its strengths, as you can see with our demonstration with Eyes and Ears with the BMW, the full integration of ADAS into the traditional cockpit from levels 0 to 2, and then also future looking to L3 and L4 above with our LiDAR and other sensor capabilities.

The idea of a car watching the driver is not new. Systems that look for signs of drowsiness have been around for a while yet gaining importance as cars offer more ADAS features. How will tomorrow’s car use driver monitoring systems?

We’re actively working on this as well. Last year you might have seen or heard about some of the things like cognitive load that we’re working on, emotional load; we’re really getting into the productization phase of these types of activities by running population studies, product studies with universities to really find the effectiveness of these in the vehicle for both vehicle safety systems as well as personalisation and countermeasures for stress or for any type of other convenience capability.

The main items that we see are the biometrics, being able to understand how stress or emotion, how your emotional state is, and really what your awareness state is and being able to maintain a balanced and engaged driver in the driving experience. Really what matters is you getting from point A to point B as safe as possible, at least from our perspective on the part of the ADAS.

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We understand that first-order biometrics include things like the direction of gaze, head position and pupil diameter. And now we are hearing about second-order biometrics, such as heart rate and breathing measured by auditory sensors to provide indicators of emotional activity and cognitive load. But what does this mean in real terms?

The first order layers, we’re really not concentrating on that. Gaze detection and detection of the facial positions really is done, and it’s done very well by a handful of very good companies. It’s easier for us to buy that and really to concentrate on the second-order and third-order of feature sets. So, we’ve been working with Smart Eye and Seeing Machines to do some of the lower first-order items and then building on top of that with our own Harman activities. However, we do also include Samsung as part of our team, working on driver monitor, in fact some of the driver monitor in the BMW today was based on Samsung technology and some on Harman.

Are you looking for start-ups at this event?

We look at all companies, not just start-ups, and partnering is one of the things that we do very well.

Absolutely. I think most of yesterday morning that’s what I was doing. We look at all companies, not just start-ups, and partnering is one of the things that we do very well, I think you’ve already stated that, but we’ll partner with large companies as well if we can find a mutual advantage in the market for us. Today start-ups are the easiest I would say, because the leverage is a little easier and they really want to take a much easier play on a licence perspective, but we’ll partner with anyone.

Is there an X-factor that you look in a start up?

So of course uniqueness is always a good eye teaser, but really what it comes down to is value, so am I able to extract value from their given proposition, which could be technology, it could just be a very simple business model that gives me an advantage over somebody else. And cost-driven, and we’re seeing that. We’re seeing very creative start-ups providing very similar products but at a different cost model for them and you, and we’re able to make deals that way.

As the automotive industry shifts toward higher levels of driver autonomy, what are the opportunities for Harman?

Initially, and this is what we’re focusing on right now as we build our team, is working on components like LiDAR, which is a next-generation autonomous level sensor. We’re focusing on that, but we’re also building capabilities in the future content to be able to offer those as software products. Like we talked about earlier with the business model, it’s good to have a less traditional approach to these types of applications because what we feel is the OE is really pushing back to tier 1 some of what they have traditionally held as the whole vehicle integration system. They’re asking us to start doing that; what that requires is for us to own and develop the features with either our own sensor technology or in partnership with others.

It seems that this is the year of the LiDAR company at CES …

Yes. How many did you see? I think I’m in triple digits now.

And yet not everyone favours LiDAR. What are the challenges of LiDAR in its current form?

Sure. There’s a technology bridge. Here where we get robust and very cost-effective modules that are in the market, and I think the scale is going to be driving the cost. But what we’re seeing is primarily these technologies coming from start-ups who really don’t have the capability to scale. They are looking for tier 1s who have that capability and are doing this already with other partners or are already capable of doing the optics ourselves. So, we’re definitely looking. When it comes to LiDAR we expect that this is going to happen by a stronger partnership between a start-up and tier 1, whether that be a merger or another form of collaboration.

Regarding LiDAR and some of the sensing technologies, what is the benefit of having both cameras and LiDAR for vehicle sensing?

I think what we end up seeing is like a Venn diagram where we are trying to cover all of the corner cases with the different spectrum of the electromagnetic spectrum – RADAR, LiDAR, infrared and regular visible light spectrum cameras. Those capabilities, LiDAR is a direct measurement, and imager is an estimation, in all honesty, and it’s a passive sensor, so there’s no way for me to see through things like fog, where RADAR is much more adept at that. Where we see the opportunity here with LiDAR, and then in the future with imaging RADAR, those will be very powerful in capturing a great many things, but you still can’t detect road lines, signs, lights. So, there’s always going to be the use case where you’re going to need all three types of sensing capabilities.

Regarding LiDAR and your partnership with Innoviz, what stage are you at?  

Innoviz is obviously working today with another tier 1 on launching in the BMW actively right now. We are working with them, even so, to bring this to market with other OEMs. We’re continuing to develop on that path, however, we look at Innoviz as one option for LiDAR, and right now the concentration with them is to use their integrated software stacks as well as their hardware and for us to develop the system around that for integration with our customers. So, we still have the same model that we had a couple of years back, we’re just further along the path. It takes a while.

But we are looking at other ways, how do we work with other LiDARS? Because the LiDAR that Innoviz is providing today is on the one-use case, there are several use cases for LiDAR, and we are also looking at not just passenger but also a taxi, shuttle, other capabilities that we require LiDAR for.

What is it about Israeli businesses that make them so attractive?

Tel Aviv is a lot warmer than Detroit! Seriously, I’ve been to many start-ups in areas like Silicon Valley, Hungary, Russia; Tel Aviv is explosive in Israel with software and systems technology. Mobileye is one of these success stories coming out of a military application to provide car applications, using the same type of capabilities to drive into everyday markets to provide something that is beneficial.

LiDAR is the same. I see Innoviz as very similar to what the Mobileye model is, where they are providing technology that is honed out of much knowledge from other sectors like defence sectors, but it’s very useful in today’s holistic market. Where I see the explosion happening in Israel is really with software, AI, and really that quick turn start-up mentality. They’re able to scale quite heavily too, and quite quickly, because of the talent pool.

In an autonomous car, is it all about processing power for sensor fusion or are there other aspects to make computing dependable?

Sensor fusion is obviously going to be a prime candidate for making the vehicle system more capable, but there is also alternate decision making that needs to happen to allow for types of voting structures within to make this vehicle system robust. When you start bringing up the higher-order decision making that has to be made, whether I dodge to the left, dodge to the right, brake, don’t do something, when I start making mitigation decisions at the vehicle system level that you and I are usually doing, we’re making those decisions, when the vehicle systems are doing that then you require not just a higher order of fusion at the perception level, now you need decision making that is robust as well as possibly redundant.

Bernhard Pirkl has a deep background in the automotive industry, previously spending 28 years at Bosch where he helped develop and launch several ADAS related technologies such as Pedestrian Detection in Night Vision Systems, the world’s first fusion system for Safety Guard through Bosch’s Vision Camera, and Bosch’s First Stereo Camera. Bernhard has also grown experience with change management, assisting in the merger and acquisition of Swedish company Fotonic into Autoliv’s product development organization. Bernhard currently serves as the Vice President of the ADAS/AD Business Unit within Harman’s Connected Car Division. Bernhard and his global team are tasked with developing the full suite of Harman’s ADAS/AD product portfolio which includes the latest LIDAR, forward facing camera, cabin and driver monitoring systems and more.

Bernhard holds a degree in Mechatronics from George Simon Ohm Fachhochschule Nurnberg and also served in the Germany Military for 10 years.