AUTOMOTIVE Sensing the road ahead

Rob Ashwell looks at how vision fits into the battery of sensors onboard autonomous vehicles


ebruary’s Geneva Auto Show had something a little special. Te vehicle in question may not have looked like much – it was a big

square box on wheels – but those who made their way to the Volkswagen stand will have seen a concept car called Sedric, the first vehicle to do away with the conventional controls and what will perhaps become a glimpse of the future. Te history of autonomous vehicles is longer

than you might think. It is now 131 years since the first ever car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, went into production. It is 101 years since the launch of the Cadillac Type 53, the first car with a modern layout. And it is 91 years since the first driverless vehicle, the Achen Motor, albeit this was managed via a remote control system. And while the concept of the autonomous

vehicle is now arguably most connected to the Google Car project, now rebranded Waymo, research has been going strongly since the 1980s. Before that several attempts were made, notably Ford’s stunning 1956 concept car, the Firebird II, which had an ‘electronic brain’ that allowed it to move into a lane with a metal conductor. Recent years have seen an explosion in those

developing technology for, or actively designing and testing autonomous vehicles. Earlier this year, Intel spent $15.3 billion on Israeli firm MobileEye, which develops vision-based advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). MobileEye’s EyeQ is used in more than 15 million vehicles sold as of 2017, with BMW and Intel announcing in January that it would be developing a test fleet of autonomous vehicles using the technology. In May CB Insights published a list of 44 car

and technology firms developing autonomous vehicles. Add to this the university-based projects like Bristol’s Venturer project, and Statista’s

Lidar is one sensor technology used to give information about a car’s surroundings 16 Imaging and Machine Vision Europe • June/July 2017 @imveurope

predicted market value of $42 billion for partially ($36 billion) and fully ($6 billion) autonomous vehicles seems conservative. Why the surge now? Jim Hutchinson at Bristol-

based Fusion Processing, which is involved in the Venturer project, commented: ‘It’s twofold: [we] think differently about cars today versus a generation ago… with people less bothered about driving and [instead] just wanting to get there. Connectivity is oſten viewed as more important than performance.’ A key reason, Hutchinson said, is technology.

‘We have reached a point where the technology is reaching sufficient maturity and the necessary components such as sensors and processors of a high enough performance can be implemented at a reasonable cost.’ As he also stated, at the heart of this growth will

be sensor technology, with lidar, radar, ultrasound and, of course, camera technologies playing a major role in this.

A million reasons for autonomous vehicles While it may be hard to predict if cars of the future will look like the Sedric, like today’s cars,

or something completely different, the need for these vehicles is pressing. WHO 2017 figures state 1.25 million people die in road traffic accidents each year; a further 20 to 50 million people are injured or disabled, nearly half of these are ‘vulnerable users’ (pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists), and vehicles are the leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 29. Te cause is overwhelmingly human error. US

Department of Transport figures from May 2016 state that 94 per cent of the country’s annual 2.19 million accidents (2.05 million) were caused by driver error. Tis equates to one death every 60 million

miles travelled, albeit in richer countries this drops, with one per 94 million miles in the US. Te first death from a crash caused by an

autonomous vehicle happened last year when, in May 2016, a Tesla Model S controlled by Telsa’s Autopilot crashed into a white tractor trailer which was crossing the road. Te Model S uses a combination of radar and

vision systems, with Tesla’s statement on the crash saying the vision system missed the trailer as it saw ‘the white side of the tractor trailer against


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