Grey wave behind the direction of ADAS development: Part II

(If you missed Part I catch up here)

What erodes situational awareness is usually distraction but not always. Sometimes the problem is the complete lack of it. Diesel trucks engines are very noisy beasts and for this reason for the big rigs are usually specially designed to reduce noise, vibration and harshness, so the long haul drivers get a chance to hear themselves think and not all go deaf in the process. The problem is, the designers have turned out to be just a little too good at reducing noise. When you couple it with the cab interior's inherent limited visibility, you end up with an operating environment that can seriously the driver's situational awareness.

Volvo Technology of America has recently concluded a study, managed by the Transportation Research Board and funded by the Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA) programme, which explored the use of 3D sound as a way of augmenting situational awareness among truck drivers. The researchers created a number of different simulated traffic situations using different audio icons, representing cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.

During a series of test clinics that the researchers conducted, they found that the drivers could recognise the 3D auditory icons and match them to what they were representing, whether a car, bike, motorcycle or pedestrian. They could also determine its location and direction of movement with a high degree of accuracy, which the researchers interpreted as an indication of its intuitiveness and high potentiality for effectiveness. They noted that all the participants in the project felt that a system of this sort could be beneficial

Augmenting awareness with technology

There has probably never been a generation as maligned and despised by their juniors quite like the “Baby Boomers.” For forty years now, they've hogged the jobs and the opportunity and endlessly take credit for having generated all the really great rock bands. They've driven fashion and innovation and even now, as they migrate en-masse into their sixties, they continue to lead with their fancied youth and   generally resist buying cars other than those designed for the much younger demographic which still largely cannot afford them.

But now the baby boomers will probably be the ones providing the economic impetus that is driving all the innovation in driver assistance technology. Even if they don't hotdog like they did back in the day, older drivers still enjoy driving. They are, however, increasingly aware that their faculties aren't what they used to be. “Most baby boomers plan to “age in place,” says Jodi Olshevski, chief gerontologist and executive director of the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence. “Most older people are aware of the changes that occur as they age and the adjustments they have to make. They want technologies that help them change lanes safely and park more easily.” Olshevski puts their top five preferred driver assistance technologies as: blind spot warning, crash warning, emergency response assistance, drowsy driver alerts, and reverse monitoring and warning of objects behind cars. “Blind spot technology reflects their desire for a technology that can help with issues relating to flexibility and range of motion,” she adds. Olshevski believes that automotive technologies that help older driver stay safe and driving nearly as well as when they were younger will likely gain importance as this key, car-buying demographic continues to age. 

Object detection software

The Kids and Transportation Safety Act requires that all American cars built from May 2018 have  rear view cameras as part of their standard fitment. This will likely spur the spread of TV cameras to other points on the car. This will, in turn spur the proliferation of object detection software to assist drivers in detecting and identifying cars, pedestrians and other moving objects. Fujitsu is set to introduce a system on a chip (SOC) with a proprietary graphics device called an 'Approaching Object Detection Library,” which uses images captured by the different vehicle cameras and compare them with stored representative images in order to properly identify and categorise them.

Alpine is developing its own innovative camera system which links multiple on-board cameras with a navigation database which offers the ability to “see around corners” by seeing multiple overlapping aspects of the vehicle's surroundings, and eliminating blind-spots.

Adding haptics

While the Volvo 3D sound study's researchers reported very positive results, they noted certain potential problem areas; namely that some of the 3D sounds might not be readily distinguishable from other in-vehicle cab sounds or from those created by other potential interfaces. This could cause confusion or increase annoyance levels, which, if anything, would cause a reduction in driver situational awareness. That’s because sound and visual signals enter the brain via the cerebrum, where higher level cognitive functions take place.

The problem is that the cerebrum also tends to filter out stimuli it deems unimportant. This often includes sound and visual feedback signals. By themselves, 3D sound signals might stand out but when other sounds get mixed in, the brain is more likely to dismiss it. Had the researchers augmented the sound with a haptic element, this potential area of confusion would likely have been eliminated.

Haptics is the science of applying touch feedback. It promises to be extremely useful in the automotive space because they provide an extremely compelling user interface. According to Chris Ullrich, vice-president for User Experience at Immersion Corporation, touch is a much more immediate sense than either sound or light because it loops in to a very old part of the brain that is basically reptilian. “It's a part of your brain from a long time ago, your defence mechanism. If someone touches you or pokes you, you'd better pay attention. Touch has that unique property over audio. Audio can also have that impact but it requires things like lack of background noise. A touch creates some kind of tension for the user. So from our perspective, touch has that unique property which is quite interesting, especially in situations where you're driving, where you might need that level of reaction time or that level of attention.”

Ullrich believes the best way to augment situational awareness is to combine the audio inputs with a haptic one. “Multi-modal is the way to go,” he says. “Tactile added to sound is massively better than sound by itself.” Though scientists have known about the power of the tactile for years, this awareness has only recently started making its way into the connected-car space. It is likely to shape up into a much larger participant as a force multiplier in different awareness augmentation applications in the near future.

Of course haptics has challenges of its own. Ullrich says that for multi-modal to work it has to be tightly synchronised with the sound input. A lag-time of as little as 500 milliseconds would be enough for the human brain to interpret it as two separate events. With wearables becoming increasingly commonplace inside the connected car, such a gap would likely occur.

Older drivers want technologies that help them to keep up their driving game. But autonomous control does come with certain risks. If the driver's workload is too much, it will end up reducing their focus.  “Drivers need to have some kind of regular demand in order to remain attentive,” says MIT AgLab's Bruce Mehler. “The challenge is to understand the individual driver's capabilities and having the vehicle make the supportive adjustments.”

Chuck Gulash says that having successfully fulfilled CSRC's founding mandate, Toyota has decided to bring it into its second phase, which they are calling, “CSRC Next.” Though they have yet to pick any of the next batch of research projects, he says they will probably focus more on the future of mobility and the challenges the connected car space will encounter as it progresses more and more toward driver assist and autonomous driving. “You don't change the car park overnight,” says CSRC Director, Director of the Collaborative Safety Research Center, Chuck Gulash, concluded: “Chances are, there will be confusion on the roadway. Whether you go down to you garage in 2022, you'll have one of two different vehicles built over different time spans. Or you're going to go to a car sharing lot. How will you know what the car's going to and how will the car know what to expect from you.

“So our focus for the research for CSRC Next is really going to be aimed at where are the gaps going to be? What will our needs be for things like safety integration? How do we use the active safety sensors more, even in passive applications?”

You can catch up with all the latest developments at Active Safety: ADAS to Autonomous 2015 at Novi, MI, October 12-13.

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