Q&A: Minimizing the distraction of safety alerts

Q&A: Minimizing the distraction of safety alerts

Tejas Desai began his professional career at Optimax in 1987 and began to focus on electronics for the automotive industry in 1992, as he worked at UTA, Ford and Siemens Automotive. In the course of his career as a designer of electronic components, he has been awarded 40 patents, with many more, as well as trade secrets, pending. At Siemens, he was in charge of developing wireless products for the Body Electronics line of business. In 2002, he was appointed to lead Wireless Product Development in North America for the Body & Security business unit of Siemens VDO Automotive, including global responsibility for Immobilizer and Reader products.

Moving to Continental with its acquisition of Siemens VDO, he led Interior Electronics Solutions for the emerging market in India and Asia. In 2012, he returned to the United States to lead Interior Electronics Solutions for North America, while continuing to work on Affordable Car activities. (For more on telematics in India and Southeast Asia, see Industry insight: Telematics and emerging markets.)

At the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, he demonstrated a system that combines an infrared driver analyzer camera positioned in the vehicle’s steering column with an in-cabin optical guidance feature that is integrated with both the interior infrared camera to assist with driver distraction and with ADAS technologies to alert the driver to critical situations. Desai discussed what it would take to make this technology widely available with TU’s Susan Kuchinskas.

Tell us about your role at Continental.

I'm responsible for interior electronics solutions for North America, looking at all the different interior electronics and how they can interact together with the different systems in the car.

What did you unveil at the Chicago Auto Show?

We're showing a concept vehicle called the Driver Focus Concept Car. We've integrated many of the different technologies already on the car, like radars, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, together with interior technologies like a driver analyzer camera and the Halo system, to address the problem of driver distraction.

One of the key things we have at Continental is Vision Zero, meaning zero fatalities. How do we get to that? Even when we add more and more sensors onto the car, there's a limit to how much we can improve things. One thing that limits us is driver distraction. That's not just cell phone calls or texting, it's many things—changing the radio station, a billboard. I can't stop all of them.

At the same time, I don't want to give one more alert that makes me look at the cluster and crash into somebody. Alerts should be relevant: Don't do all these things when I'm already looking at the road. For example, consider the lane departure warning. Say there's a pothole, so I'm skirting the lane a bit; all those warnings bother me. But I want those warnings when I'm distracted, and I'm looking away, and I'm going to be gliding over to the wrong lane. How do we balance the two?

Does your technology act as a switcher to all the different networks for safety devices?

We already know what's already going on outside the vehicle, with all the different sensors and radars. We don't know what the driver is doing. We said these should be stitched together to make all these warnings relevant. We take all of that data into a central unit and process what that output should be. What things should we activate on the HMI side to give that alertness back to the driver?

And you came up with the Halo system?

We did some studies with the University of Darmstadt to look at what the building blocks should be for alerting a driver and to bring his focus back to where we want it to be. One thing we did is Halo, a single-line display that goes around the shoulder line of the car. We put in what we call a comet. It starts where you're looking and it goes to where the danger is. There's an instinct for people to follow it.

How does the face recognition work?

We're looking at the driver's gaze. Only when his gaze is off the road, do we guide him back. The camera is looking at is critical features on the face, the eye sockets, nose and chin. From that, it knows where my gaze is, how much I'm deviating from eyes on the road, and whether I'm deviating to the left or the right.

How much would this add to the cost of a car?

If you see a huge proliferation of some of the other sensors, once those systems are already in the car, it's a matter of tying them together with the driver analyzer camera and Halo to have an integrated approach to safety. Integrating them together isn't the cost driver; it's all the individual building blocks, which we already getting in our vehicles.

What is the next step for Continental? Are you ready to sell this to an automaker?

We now want to get real world data with real people. How much reaction time do you save? What else do people want to see? How else can they benefit from it? Where else do they happen to look? We want to make sure we have the fullest data set to take to OEMs. Having the data set makes it much stronger and faster for implementation. If we have our homework done up front, we can bring it to market that much quicker.

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on driver distraction, visit Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on April 17-18 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Data Business for Connected Vehicles Japan 2013 on May 15-16 in Tokyo, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Russia 2013 on September 9-10 in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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