Q&A with Visiocorp

By Matthew Beecham | 5 September 2008

Schefenacker Plc was recently renamed Visiocorp Plc.  The company designs and manufactures rearview mirrors and camera-based environmental sensor technologies.  Visiocorp employs 5,000 people in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Matthew Beecham talked with Alf Liesener, marketing manager, Visiocorp plc about the company’s driver assistance technologies.

just-auto: Could you provide a brief update on Visiocorp’s fortunes with respect to its blind spot detection system?

Alf Liesener: “Visiocorp’s innovative camera-based blind spot detection system on Volvo cars has been well received in the market. The most significant advantage of our system compared to today’s radar-based systems is that ours provides a warning at a speed of only 10 Km/h whereas radar-based systems typically start at 50-60 Km/h, which means they do not react in urban areas. Looking ahead, Visiocorp see a number of advantages of camera-based technology. Images allow interpretation and classification of any kind of object and road marking in the field of view. Combined with the latest development in intelligent image processing technology, this opens a number of potential new applications around the vehicle! As semiconductor technologies are being continuously improved, Visiocorp’s engineers are investigating the advantages and opportunities for additional applications of a new generation of camera modules using latest technologies and components.”

just-auto: Conventionally, sensors such as LIDAR, millimeter-wave radar, and vision sensors were used in driver assistance systems independently to recognize vehicle-surrounding conditions. I guess the emphasis nowadays is on combining several different sensors in order to achieve more accurate recognition. Would you agree? 

Alf Liesener: “Yes, if it allows a better understanding of the environment. But accurate recognition is only one aspect in the combination of sensor technologies. Engineers have to determine what technology should be considered for the next generations of DAS. Radar applications, for example, lead to an increase of electromagnetic emissions. We expect new regulations to come in the near future which might pose a constraint for certain sensor types. A clear roadmap for legal aspects for all sensor technologies would be helpful for engineers.”

just-auto: To what extent is there a move to offer greater functionality and integration of certain sensors for DAS applications?

Alf Liesener: “In principle, the technologies currently available represent the first generation of DAS. Nearly all are standalone features that typically react to just one situation. With the same effort as the development of this first generation, engineers are now working on enhancing performance and integration. We expect tomorrow’s DAS technologies to offer multiple functions and/or provide generic data to other DAS installed on the same vehicle.  That would not only offer greater functionality but also help reduce costs.”

just-auto: In what ways are these driver assistance systems attached to (or used in) the windshield and how do they affect windshield design?

Alf Liesener: “Forward-looking cameras are optimally placed behind the windshield close to the rearview mirror. There are already an increasing number of sensors for a range of applications in this location. However, in order to avoid overloading this area, the industry must develop sensors that are utilized for multiple features. One example is replacing rain and light sensors with cameras that are installed for lane keeping and distance control systems.”

just-auto: Could existing reverse parking sensors play a greater role in partial and full parking assistance systems?

Alf Liesener: “In order to keep cost, weight, complexity and electric current low, it is a clear benefit to keep the number of sensors low. If LIDAR, radar or cameras can guarantee full functionality, we do not see a reason to maintain existing parking sensors and to build complex sensor fusion systems. Cameras, for example, are already capable as exclusive sensors for a full parking assistance system, as recently announced by VW.”

just-auto: Could car navigation systems play an important role in detecting vehicle-surrounding conditions?

Alf Liesener: “No doubt they will play an important role but a high density of applications will be required to guarantee high enough reliability.”

just-auto: While raising awareness about safety is expected to lead to growth in the driver assistance market, I guess key issue going forward will be to reduce prices so that these systems become standard on more vehicles.  How is Visiocorp approaching that?

Alf Liesener: “The best way to save costs is to integrate as many features as reasonable in the smallest possible number of sensors. For this reason, those sensors that can be utilized for multiple applications are in the focus of our innovation roadmap. We consider image sensors to be one of the best technologies to allow cost reduction. We also see cost improvement potential in the following:

 just-auto: Flashing lights and video screens on the dashboard and audible bleeps from the car’s loud speakers all suggest distracting the driver too much. How will the driver respond? Will they use the information correctly? Will it elicit the correct response?

Alf Liesener: “We expect HMIs (Human Machine Interfaces) to be different to what we have today: Tomorrow’s DAS will have to be further tuned to only display information which is critical for the driver without overloading him/her. Combining DAS technologies could potentially reduce the number of required warnings. We even can imagine them reaching a level of individualisation.   Nature could be a guide: each human has thousands of ‘sensors’ spread all over the body – but did you ever feel distracted by the information they provide?”

just-auto: Is there a danger that some drivers will actually drive faster or pay less attention to the possibility of a hazard ahead if they have faith that a gadget will alert them if needed?

Alf Liesener: “There have been always discussions about gadgets that offer more safety. Seat belts, for example, are clearly regarded as safety systems as they can save lives in the event of an accident. But some people might feel safer wearing seat belts and, for this reason, drive faster. We think these discussions are very important to better understand the consequences of introducing new features and identify solutions to avoid negative side effects. For example, by locating the warning lights of the blind spot detection system at certain spots nearby or on the exterior mirrors, our system prompts the drivers to turn and actually pay attention to the mirrors. We have received feedback that our blind spot detection systems even trained people to pay more attention to the blind spot zones, because the systems continuously indicated hazardous situations which they would not have been aware of without such as system.”

just-auto: Which electronic systems will we consider common in five, 10 or 15 years?

Alf Liesener: “Rearview cameras and other camera applications for commercial vehicles and trucks, distance control/pre crash systems for upper price segments, and lane change assist in upper price segments. Sensor fusions or better sensor data fusion will happen which results in a reduction of electronic units but an increase of safety and performance.”

just-auto: As the algorithms for doing image processing is continuously evolving and more and more computer power enters the vehicle, could you foresee that in the next decade, every new car will have a video camera?

Alf Liesener: “Perhaps not every vehicle but certainly most vehicles in traditional markets, probably with even multiple cameras. Emerging markets will follow. Besides OEM strategies and consumer demands, the density will also depend on the development of safety regulations.”

just-auto: For many years, industrialists and academics have discussed the possibility of ‘accident-free driving’.  While we are still some way off from achieving this state, could assistance functions result from the close networking of both active and passive safety systems with predictive driver assistance systems?

Alf Liesener: “For us, the reduction of accidents is a major concern but it is only the first step. The transportation industry will have to face the most significant challenges since invention of the car: lack of energy, increasing environmental constraints, demand for reduction of accidents and a critical density of vehicles in all industrialized countries - confronting exploding demand for mobility. The industry therefore has to find intelligent solutions for increased efficiency in all areas: energy efficiency, traffic flow and also safety. Gone will be the days of unlimited freedom on the road. Electronic systems will offer solutions to accomplish many of the new challenges. But at the end this trend offers also a change to a new understanding of mobility, away from drive machines to comfortable moving rooms that automatically bring you from A to B. We believe that comparable to the brassbound dream of flying just 120 years ago, automatic driving is also a realistic goal - that can only be achieved with DAS technologies. Visiocorp is proud to contribute to the realization of this vision.”

See also: RESEARCH ANALYSIS: Review of driver assistance systems