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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Safety: Victory for Vehicle and Vision Vendors

Figure 1: The BMW 7 Series offers a forward-looking infrared safety system that is designed to cut down on accidents involving pedestrians or impediments.
Figure 2: It's easy to see how a pedestrian who crouches or bends down is in serious danger because of the sightlines on late-model cars.
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By Lee J. Nelson
Contributing Editor

Pedestrians account for more than eleven percent of all domestic roadway fatalities. In general, one-half of those deaths result from pedestrian inattention or error while the other half are the driver’s fault. The US Department of Transportation (DOT; Washington DC) notes that despite some trial countermeasures, no focused effort exists to understand how to apply technology in a coordinated and integrated manner to address this critical safety issue. The DOT’s Federal Highway Administration and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office are exploring further field-testing initiatives for vehicle-based detection and warning systems.

While government agencies ponder the next logical step in promoting safety through technology insertion, automotive industry engineers already are investigating systems that sense impending danger—like a collision or a rollover—and alert the driver accordingly.

Capabilities presently in development merge such logic with computerized control of vehicle braking, steering and suspension components; even sensing a person or an animal in the way. This combination introduces the opportunity to create powerful, automatic collision-avoidance systems with the promise of a dramatic increase in safety on our roadways. Liability concerns and consumers’ desire for improved safety make new protective features a high priority for automakers, both domestically and abroad. Various sensing technologies already underpin applications like adaptive cruise control, parking assist and pre-collision mitigation. Each application includes specialized technology (infrared, LIDAR, RADAR, ultrasonic, etc.) that generally provides either a ranging or a recognition function.

The Road Ahead, Literally

BMW AG (Munich, Germany) recently announced availability for its 7-Series, later this year, of a far-infrared-based night vision system. Night Vision is purported to offer a considerable enrichment of the nighttime driving experience but stops short of attempting to identify image content.

Even given Night Vision’s potential for automatic object identification, the application is very complex: object sensing— especially pedestrian detection and avoidance—requires both ranging and recognition. Combining the two disparate operations can be expensive, difficult to implement and pose important developmental hurdles.

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