Mike Godwin is Director of Automotive LED Marketing at OSRAM Opto Semiconductors, North America. He is presenting at the WardsAuto User Experience Conference Oct. 1 in Novi, MI.
As we move closer to the reality of autonomous driving, safety remains a primary concern. With the advent of newer and better advanced photonics and driver-assistance systems, drivers have less to do. As a result, they will be tempted to take their hands off the wheel and let their eyes wander. Yet, until fully autonomous driving truly arrives, drivers still will need to tune out distractions and focus on the road.
That’s why occupant-sensing technology like facial recognition, eye tracking and gesture controls, though still in their infancy, are increasingly important. These technologies can monitor the distraction and drowsiness levels of the driver to ensure greater safety while behind the wheel.
In fact, some vehicles now come equipped with infrared cameras that are embedded in the steering wheel. These cameras automatically track the head position of drivers to make sure their eyes are focused on the road and are not looking down at a mobile device or at another passenger. If the driver looks away from the road for more than a few seconds, the system sends a warning to the driver to snap to attention.
Another important technology for occupant sensing is facial recognition. Today’s 2D facial-recognition technology captures an image of a face with an infrared (IR) camera and then compares those facial features with images stored in a database. 2D facial-recognition systems match up features like distance between the eyes and length of the nose to decide if two facial images are the same. However, more sophisticated 3D systems using VCSEL (vertical cavity surface emitting laser) technology could soon make their way into vehicles. The faster speed of VCSELs enable 3D imaging techniques to be used, which results in better resolution and more accurate image identification.
If your car is shared among family members, an infrared-LED-based system with Over-the-Air (OTA) capability in the vehicle could recognize who’s driving: you, your spouse or your teenage daughter. If the system doesn’t recognize the driver’s face, the car won’t start, thus acting as a potent anti-theft feature. The system can even adjust various settings within the vehicle, from lighting to temperature, to accommodate the driver’s preset preferences, depending on who is behind the wheel.
Another important driver safety use case for infrared LED technology is gesture controls. Carmakers are putting the pedal to metal in their quest to introduce more technologies and infotainment features to make the driving experience more enjoyable. But, as a result, there are more distractions than ever inside the vehicle.
In 2017, 3,166 people across the U.S. were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.
That’s where gesture control technology comes in. It can make it easier for drivers to take advantage of infotainment systems, while at the same time letting them keep their eyes on the road.
Today, drivers must reach to interact directly with a touchscreen or track pad if they want to adjust the temperature or change the radio station. But what if these actions could be done with a simple hand gesture? Indeed, with infrared-based technology, drivers can change any setting within the vehicle just by waving their hand.
However, for hand gestures to work properly, there must be instantaneous feedback. There can’t be any latency or delays.
For instance, a 2- or 3-second gap between the time a hand gesture is made and the time it takes for the stereo volume to increase will frustrate drivers and add to distraction rather than diminish it.
The beauty of infrared technology is that the processing speed is fast and intuitive, allowing for the successful application of gesture control. The road ahead for autonomous vehicles looks very promising. A variety of critical technologies are emerging that can help ensure our self-driving future is both safe and enjoyable.
Mike Godwin is Director of Automotive LED Marketing at OSRAM Opto Semiconductors, North America.