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Sensors See the Light

Human eyes are sometimes just not enough on today’s busy roads. Assistance systems can help reduce stress and improve safety by monitoring traffic conditions and warning drivers of potential dangers. Siemens VDO has developed pro.pilot, a system that unites a number of automotive assistance systems. The technology was showcased at this year’s International Motor Show in Frankfurt.

I t’s a nightmare scenario for any driver. There you are, peacefully driving along a dark country road, and all of a sudden a pedestrian or a deer appears in the head- lights, right in the middle of your path. With adrenaline pumping, you brake and swerve to avoid contact.

In today’s vehicles, systems such as ABS and ESP already help drivers deal with such situations. Moreover, with the advent of new and more powerful assistance systems, such situations might be prevented altogether. A night-vision system, for instance, can recog- nize an obstacle on the road long before it ap- pears in the headlights, and warn the driver accordingly. Recently, in the context of the 2005 International Motor Show in Frankfurt,

Siemens VDO Automotive presented a car featuring a total of ten ground-breaking assis- tance systems.

Such systems enhance the driver’s view, prevent the car from wandering from one lane to another, and maintain a constant dis- tance from the next vehicle. The one thing they don’t do, however, is to relieve the driver of responsibility for controlling the vehicle.

“Even in ten or twenty years, assistance systems will still be there to support drivers — but not to replace them. The driver will always have the final say,” says Dirk Zittlau, head of Driving Assistance Systems at Siemens VDO Automotive in Regensburg. Zittlau, an electri- cal engineer, also rejects the fear that these technologies could somehow take control of

vehicles. “The driver will always be able to overrule such systems. Besides, it will proba- bly be possible to deactivate some of them as well, if drivers feel distracted.”

Cutting Fatalities by Fifty Percent. Behind the push for advanced driver assistance sys- tems is the stated goal of the European Union to halve the number of road fatalities by 2010, based on the 2001 figure of around 40,000. Experts agree that this is barely feasi- ble without the use of electronic assistance systems. Indeed, experience with the Elec- tronic Stability Program (ESP) already con- firms this. According to a study by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administra- tion (NHTSA) covering the period between

1997 and 2002, the number of single-vehicle accidents — i.e. accidents that don’t involve another road user — and fatalities involving large SUVs equipped with ESP have both fallen by two thirds. Similarly, the number of single-vehicle accidents involving passenger cars with ESP has fallen on average by 35 per- cent in the U.S.

What Consumers Want. Demand for driver assistance systems is also coming from con- sumers themselves, primarily because the average age continues to edge upward (Pic- tures of the Future, Spring 2005, p. 8). “In the future, more and more older people will want to keep driving, despite increasing physical impairments and slowing reactions. Here, our

Advanced sensing systems en- hance safety. A night-vision sys- tem can detect pedestrians (large image) better and sooner than full-beam headlights. Sen- sors for blind spots (bottom right), for automatic parking as- sistance (center), and for traffic- sign recognition — and combi- nations of these (left) — provide drivers with crucial safety-re- lated information.

S E N S O R S : D I F F E R E N T W AY S O F S E E I N G

CMOS sensor:

Lidar sensor:

Radar sensor:

Infrared sensor:

Thermal imaging camera:

Video cameras equipped with a CMOS sensor are cheaper and more heat-resistant than the CCD systems currently in use. This highly flexible system also adjusts effortlessly to large differences in brightness. Lidar stands for light detection and ranging. A laser emits light pulses. The system then analyzes the light reflected back from objects and thereby calculates their range (to around 150 meters). Emits electromagnetic waves in the gigahertz range. The reflection or echo of these waves is then analyzed. On this basis, it is possible to calculate the range and speed of the object reflecting the waves (radio detection and ranging). Today, some cars feature 77 GHz and, most re- cently, 24 GHz sensors. Almost all objects are good reflectors of radio waves, particularly metallic ones. Such sensors have a range of between 50 and 150 meters. Detects reflected electromagnetic waves in the spectrum between visible light and microwave radiation. Uses a special photosensor to detect heat sources and is thereby able to recognize the shapes of living beings.

Pictures of the Future | Fall 2005


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