No technology is more important to the future of automotive safety than vision. Vision systems - ranging from CMOS imagers and radar to laser scanners and ultrasound - will one day make it possible for vehicles to anticipate and steer clear of accidents. They'll "see" the terrain in front of them and steer around rocks, debris and other vehicles.
Many vision technologies are available today. The key, engineers say, is for costs to keep dropping.
"The Holy Grail is to bring all these technologies to production vehicles," says Jeff Wuendry, product marketing manager for LMS Sensors at Sick Inc., a maker of laser scanners and other vision-based products. "But the prices of the technologies will have to come down and the features will have to go up."
Some technologies - such as CMOS imagers and ultrasound sensors - are already in such systems as lane departure and adaptive cruise control. Others, such as Sick's well-known laser scanners, are building their reputations in research projects and autonomous vehicles like those in the DARPA Grand Challenge.
"When those systems make it into cars, people will be able use their Blackberries or watch TV or surf the Net while their vehicles do the driving," Wuendry says.
Here, we offer three brief profiles of automotive vision technologies. They should provide a good starting point for the design of future automotive safety systems.
Sensata's CMOS Image Sensor
Known as Avocet, Sensata Technologies' CMOS-based image sensor is available in monochrome, RGB and in the company's new NightBrite version, which delivers high-sensitivity color video, even at night. Sensata offers the product in three configurations: single-box solution, standard video camera for two-box solutions or as an imaging module for engineers building their own camera. The system is targeted at such applications as lane departure warning, night vision, collision mitigation and blind spot warning systems.
Ibeo's Laser Sensor
Ibeo Automobile Sensor GmbH's LUX Laserscanner is a robust, all-weather device that scans and measures simultaneously on four parallel layers. The four-layer design is well-suited for the pitching movements of a vehicle or for detection of slopes. The sensor delivers data from surrounding objects and from the environment. It enables fast and simultaneous realization of all front-end applications. The LUX is targeted at such automotive applications as automatic emergency braking, pre-crash sensing, pedestrian protection, ACC stop-and-go, traffic jam assist and intersection assist.
Sick's Laser Measurement Sensor
The Sick LMS211 Laser Measurement System Sensor is a non-contact measurement system for automotive and outdoor industrial applications. The system performs a two-dimensional scan of its surroundings with a radial field of vision using infrared laser beams (laser radar). The measured data can be processed in real time with external evaluation software for determining multiple objects' size, position and relative speed. The LMS operates by measuring time-of-flight laser pulses. A laser beam pulse is emitted, reflected and then registered by the LMS' receiver diode.