Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Machine vision in automotive safety

When cars and pedestrians meet it’s rarely the pedestrian that gets the better of the collision. This is why Continental has announced a stereo camera system designed to help prevent this type of accident. (“Two Eyes Are Better Than One – The Stereo Camera”)

The system uses two CMOS cameras mounted 20cm (8 inches) apart and facing through the windshield. This separation apparently allows the distance of an object in the 20 to 30 meter range to be determined within 20 to 30cm (that’s 8 to 12 inches.) Stereo vision is becoming quite well known for tasks like robot guidance, so I guess it’s a logical extension to move it into an unconstrained urban environment. What’s not clear to me is how the system works at night. Perhaps there’s a passive IR illumination system built-in? I also wonder how it will deal with rain, frost or snow. In fact, why not just go with a Kinect-style IR pattern projection approach?

So many unanswered questions.

Regular readers might also wonder if this is the same system that Volvo has under development: “Machine vision for pedestrian safety.” At the time though, (February 2011,) we were told that Volvo were using a single camera combined with a radar to detect pedestrians. Perhaps the Volvo system was actually being developed by Continental, and perhaps the engineers decided a stereo approach worked better.

An alternative hypothesis is that Mobileye was involved somewhere along the way. Mobileye is an Israeli company that offers the “C2-270” vision-based collision prevention system to the automotive aftermarket. This is a single camera system (so how does it determine distance?) that, like the Continental product, looks through the windshield, and as with the stereo system, I’m puzzled as to how it will work at night. There again, perhaps the assumption being made is that drivers will just turn on their lights.

Whatever the development path (and wouldn’t that make for an interesting Vision Systems Design article?) one thing is clear: vision technology is coming to our cars and before too long drivers will be obsolete.

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