Cameras, sensors and networking of vehicles have been developed primarily for the comfort and convenience of the drivers. Now the vehicle safety experts are calling for access to this system. Their goal is to prevent accidents and protect the lives of pedestrians and cyclists.
“In 50 percent of accidents involving pedestrians, motorists could have seen the pedestrians – with the help of cameras and sensors, these accidents would never have happened,” stresses Thomas Herpich. He is responsible for the functional integration of safety sensors in cars at TRW Automotive . However, he must limit that the technical implementation is not as easy as the concept sounds at first.
Volker Schindler , professor at the Technical University of Berlin in the field of motor vehicles, explains that “cameras and sensors deliver images and data from outside”. Based on this information, the vehicle constantly calculates a model of the environment. “In addition, the vehicle must produce something like a picture of itself, which moves within this model.” Only then it could not only recognize pedestrians or cyclists, but also understand their movements and warn of a possible crash.
While cameras only ever see and calculate the people within their own field of vision, the researchers are already thinking a few steps ahead: In order to make pedestrians and cyclists visible for the on-board computers of the cars, they could be equipped with their own transmitters. The vehicles would then perceive them and incorporate them into the model of the environment – even if they invisibly drive for cameras behind other cars or stand between parked vehicles.
Researchers or automakers are turning to the question of how to equip pedestrians with transmitters. One possibility is RFID chips in clothing. This is already part of everyday life, because many apparel manufacturers have RFID chips sewn into their products. They use the data from these chips primarily for logistics and goods delivery in the shops.
The advantage: RFID chips transmit their information over a distance of several meters. For the sensors of the vehicles, a signal from an RFID chip could be a clear indication that a pedestrian is moving in the direction of the road, which is hidden by another vehicle for the driver and the camera. However, critics point out that even an RFID chip in clothing represents a massive intervention in the informational self-determination of a person.
Researchers at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at Technische Universität München are taking a different approach . They have developed a procedure that uses mobile phones as transponders. The locating system of the car receives the signals from the transponders and uses this data to calculate a “trajectory”. “They recognize whether pedestrians or cyclists are moving directly in front of the car and, if necessary, initiate emergency braking,” explains Erwin Biebl, professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology .
As part of her research work, the scientists have succeeded in reducing the measurement errors to a few picoseconds – that is, trillionths of a second. “We achieve an accuracy of a few centimeters for the distance measurement. Together with the code-based process, this is the reason for the extraordinary performance and a significant unique selling point of our system, “says Professor Biebl.
However, Klaus Kompass, Vice President of Vehicle Safety at BMW , points out that the systems are significantly weaker. “When a warning comes from the vehicle, it means that there is a pedestrian nearby. The conclusion that there is no pedestrian in the vicinity in the case of any warning is, however, wrong. “Thus, digital support only makes sense for purposeful control of the drivers’ attention. She will not take the responsibility for his car from the driver.
“We should always keep in mind that the automotive industry can not handle any of these fields of action with success alone,” says Professor Schindler. “It is always a social consensus and reliable framework conditions required.” In his view, the responsible people should change the reasoning and methodology. And they would have to re-evaluate the auxiliary systems built into the vehicles. “The cameras and radar systems are built into the cars and are mainly used for the comfort of the occupants. Now we should also use it for security. “