Safeguarding the future of vehicle safety


"The word ‘standards' is a mantra for automotive engineers, and many are repeating it every day of their lives." [Jean-Michel Henchoz]

Rayan Jawad: Denso Automotive has certainly made quite a name for itself as one of the industry leaders in automotive technologies. Tell me more about Denso's involvement in vehicle safety.

Jean-Michel Henchoz: Denso has teams working on ADAS systems, particularly map-based ADAS systems – the Electronic Horizon. We believe that integrated map technology is the crucial element to truly achieve safety. After all, it's what's round the corner or out-of-sight that the driver needs to know about. Radar-based technology has its obvious benefits, and we work with manufacturers in producing there, but collision preventative technology is developing to go further beyond the driver's direct line sight.

RJ: How far have you got with it?

JMH: Not as far as we would like to. Map precision needs to be further developed for use in safety systems. With navigation systems, there's a degree of flexibility on the consumer's part. While it can be annoying if a personal navigation device shows a road that doesn't exist, or omits a road that does, the overall benefits of this technology are great enough to allow these inaccuracies to be somewhat overlooked – and quite fairly so. But for safety applications, these inaccuracies may cause accidents rather than prevent them. This is a major challenge for map-based ADAS systems at the moment, and all eyes are looking towards map providers.

RJ: So it's just about the technology. Once that's done then we'll see map-based ADAS systems being commercially deployed?

JMH: There's also an issue with responsibility. It will take time before such technologies are proven failsafe, and there are still liability issues that need to be resolved.

You have the driver, car manufacturer, ADAS manufacturer and map provider: with intelligent systems, especially those that may have some automatic response, who is responsible if a collision or a malfunction occurs? How will this affect the division of liabilities? This has been the focus of one of the PREVENT's subprojects, RESPONSE, but the legal debate still continues."

RJ: What are the next steps to develop this?

JMH: There are obviously technological developments needed, but another very important structure that needs to be implemented is a feasible method for map errors to be rectified or for road infrastructure changes to be accurately communicated with map providers. When it comes to technology that is going to save lives, accuracy cannot be compromised.

It's the same for integrating road geometry – angles of bends, hill gradients – all vital information that must be precise for ADAS systems. Road infrastructure administrations must maintain a precise GIS database of their network and share the data with map providers. The industry is therefore looking closely at the development of high-precision maps.

Suitable real-time traffic information transmitted directly to each vehicle continues to be actively researched. Reducing congestion means reducing the potential for collisions to occur. Again, this data must be accurate.

All these initiatives have a direct impact on car manufacturers. If they aren't relevant, precise and useful, then people aren't going to blame tier 1 providers; to be completely blunt, they're going to hate their car manufacturer. So it's imperative that all these technologies are failsafe before being deployed. Few are willing to take this risk, and quite rightly so, but it's just a matter of time.

RJ: Do you believe more standards would help the industry?

JMH: In some ways, yes. In the automotive industry, the cost of sensors and other electronics are high compared with consumer electronics. At the moment, small quantities, longer product life and quality constraints mean higher cost. The whole industry is moving from mechanics to electronics, and safety technologies are no exception. With these elements in common across the entire industry, car manufacturers have a strong incentive to find the best concepts to squeeze prices, retain flexibility of the platform, ensure updates are possible, and allow tier 1 solutions to compete within these set boundaries of industry standards.

The word ‘standards' is a mantra for some engineers, and many repeat it every day of their lives. But the reality is a compromise between the cost reduction generated by standards and the simplification of the work it creates for the developers against the need to respond to specific demand. There really is no black and white answer.

RJ: So the stage is basically set and everyone's chanting about standards. What's the hold up?

JMH: There are projects and consortiums set up for discussing and promoting standards for V2V communication, such as the car2car consortium or CVIS project. But not everyone is keen on standards. Competition means that there's a notion of control being exercised by car manufacturers and their partners. Each wants to develop and improve their own solution.

As for standards, it's important to clarify that the EU's priority objective is to improve road safety in general. The EU has a difficult task when pushing for standards or pan-European solutions, since the automotive market, wherein lies a big part of the prospective improvement in safety, is in the hands of the automotive industry and the willingness of consumers to pay for safety systems.

A good example is eCall. It's not easy for the EU to push for a mandatory implementation as it implies another level of responsibility for public authorities that is not easy to handle, not to mention financial issues.

RJ: People are talking about standards for V2X too – the whole thing is pretty much a hot topic in the industry. What is Denso doing?

JMH: Through being a member of the organising committee of ITS in Europe Geneva 2008, I certainly agree that V2X is a big issue. We are early in these developments. Denso has produced a new radio module that is currently being used in different projects and field operation tests in Europe and the US. This product is much appreciated as it provides an integrated and flexible platform to conduct all the required tests in the field of V2X. But, along with the discussions on the car2car standards, the question of the security of the networks is surfacing. How safe are they? When will hackers start interfering with traffic management systems or sending hoax emergency messages to other vehicles?

RJ: What are the biggest challenges in V2X that need resolution at the moment?

JMH: The challenges are like those for most ITS issues – not technological but industrial and business issues. ITS systems don't require the development of new core technologies, but rather the development of transport-specific applications. There, standards play a key role since the market will only develop if pan-European or pan-continental solutions exist.

Deployment is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue. If the final benefits are clear for all, reaching the level of equipment where benefits begin is a tough issue.

RJ: What will the industry look like in five years' time? The way things are going, will the EU achieve its target of cutting 50% of collision-related deaths by 2010?

JMH: Achieving a 50% reduction in fatalities is certainly not going to be realised. But the constant efforts of all stakeholders are likely to get close to 35% by 2010. Unfortunately, ITS/ADAS systems will only contribute in a minor way to these results. As for the ABS, it takes quite a long time for these systems to become mainstream and the benefits observed.

In terms of the industry itself, I'm reasonably optimistic. Real-time traffic information services, such as the one offered by TomTom, are likely to develop strongly. eCall will eventually come through.

This should trigger interesting developments, as all cars will have four key components that are essential for further developing the industry: GPS, computing power, two-way communication and, most likely, a touch screen.

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