Although advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are increasingly fitted to new cars as drivers request them, Euro NCAP's tightened safety requirements will boost such installed equipment rates over the next few years. In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with executives of Ficosa to get a better understanding of the market for certain camera and sensor based ADAS, namely lane departure warning systems, cruise control systems and traffic sign recognition 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?

The technology itself does not cause any driver distractions. The assistance function - the application - we need to categorise, depending on the speed and manoeuvre domains (e.g. parking, low-speed manoeuvring, highway, city, etc.) as well as in indicative or acting such as parking camera and emergency braking functions.

Acting systems are per se not distracting the user.  Where indicative, systems need to come with intelligence of object detection and/or scene interpretation in order to inform the driver only in a relevant case, e.g. pure night vision versus pedestrian warning.

Driver assistance technologies are evolving rapidly.  Just looking back, say 3 - 4 years ago at what was predicted in terms of the application of camera-based technologies, how has that now played out in Europe? 

The prediction becomes true. In the meantime, low- and mid-class cars are equipped with ADAS and especially with camera systems, e.g. the VW Golf is offered with a choice of 12 ADAS systems.  The legislation is also pushing in the same direction, e.g. EU-NCAP.

We are at the beginning of a new area of ADAS in automotive. Especially intelligent systems with active actions e.g. steering and braking will replace the first generations with simple indications and displays.

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.

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE research service