It’s easy to get enthusiastic about projects like Bell Nexus, Boeing PAV and Bosch’ shuttle pod; they look cool and promise a future previously seen just in sci-fi movies. But there’s a long way to go until we reach that point; so what are automotive companies doing NOW to keep drivers safe and pave the way to a mobile office on wheels?
Texas Instruments are pushing the envelope with their driver monitoring solution. Basic DMS employs eye and gaze tracking technology to alert drivers when they get drowsy at the wheel. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for power or performance increase and there’s hardly opportunity for innovation. Alan Rankin, Marketing and System Manager at TI, believes that TI has found the exception to the rule:
“Most DMS providers today write software that’s fairly generic and runs on an ARM core. […]When you want to increase the feature set, you run out of performance head room or you have to increase your power. So, unless you take advantage of specialized cores, you can never achieve the performance and envelope power that you need. Xperi – FotoNation is uniquely positioned to do that because of their experience on our hardware”
By partnering up with FotoNation, Rankin says they have achieved an advanced DMS solution under two-watt power, “almost zero latency, [that can be run] full frame rate, 30 fps or more.”
Latency is of utmost importance when it comes to in-cabin alert systems, where every second counts. Power consumption is also a thorn in the side of many tech companies today, so getting your technology to work with minimum amount of energy is quite a feat!
That’s not the only reason we found TI and FotoNation’s solution impressive and way beyond what we’ve seen at normal DMS providers.
We allow a modular building block system so that tier-ones can put that together in whatever way they need to differentiate themselves
For one, they have added emotion detection to the head pose and gaze estimation; we’re moving from just seeing movement to deciphering moods. I find that critical, since accidents don’t happen only when the driver’s physical state is poor, but when his mental state is affected as well. A DMS that can be triggered by a driver’s angry, depressed or manic manifestations is equally important.
Secondly, the camera tech is embedded in the car mirror, turning it into an eMirror. Not only it’s an eMirror, but one that is adaptive, moving after you: “When you move to a mirror replacement system, based on camera, the camera is fixed which is unnatural. So, we take DMS algorithms to see where you’re looking and then move the perspective to give you a more natural feel. ”
Camera sensors can only do so much. That’s why TI added an extra layer of driver monitoring, with heart rate sensors. Installed in the driver’s seat, they track sudden spikes in your heart beat. Couple that with all the other existent biometric technology, and you have an almost 360-degrees DMS.
Why all this effort to do something custom? “We allow a modular building block system so that tier 1 can put that together in whatever way they need to differentiate themselves”, explains Rankin.
A vehicle tomorrow is going to be a robot on wheels
There’s more than just business smarts there. TI is getting ready for an autonomous future, where the car will become “a robot on wheels”. The different technologies that make up DMS today could apply to all car passengers, not just the driver, tomorrow. The system would make smarter decisions when it comes to safety, like deploying airbags better, says Rankin.
If you ask me, I think they could even help tailor a unique in-car experience for every person inside the car, learning from their preferences and habits. Each passenger could be met with a different sensory experience (from seat temperature to lighting) the moment they’d step in the vehicle. The car could put on their favorite show or greet them with answers to previous inquiries.
Previously a tool in the hands of men, the car would become a companion, and an active one at that.