By Dr. Rajender Thusu, Industry Principal
Sensor technology is enabling the development of advanced systems for vehicle safety, efficiency, and control. Automotive manufacturers are increasingly using electronics systems to improve vehicle performance, passenger safety, and comfort. Integration of sensors and actuators into automotive control systems optimizes the performance of the vehicle by enhancing durability and reliability. Sensor innovation is the key strategy that stakeholders in the global automotive value chain are implementing.
The emphasis, in terms of innovation, has been on key sensing technologies: image-, touch-, gesture-recognition, inertial-, pressure-, micro-electromechanical system (MEMS), anisotropic magneto-resistive (AMR) giant magneto resistance (GMR), gyros, biometric-sensors, and LiDAR.
On 04 December 2015, President Obama signed PL 114-94, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). This significant legislation set funding authorization levels for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) through to the Fiscal Year 2020 and mandated several rulemakings, reports to Congress, studies, and working groups.
Safety Progress Report of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for 2017 shows there were 2,206 fatalities, 42,781 injuries and a total of 78,894 crashes reported as of 30 June 2017* compared to in 4,36 fatalities, 91,618 injuries, and a total of 166,353 crashes involving large trucks/buses in 2016* in US alone. Accidents occur when the driver loses control of vision and is unaware of an unexpected situation. The need for safety systems is high as never before using enhanced sensors to overcome these issues.
Diverse sensors types are used in automotive applications: image sensors, magnetic sensors for position and speed detection, inertial sensors (accelerometers, gyros), touch and touchless sensors, tomographic sensors, gas sensors for environmental emission, and pressure, temperature and humidity sensors.
A large number of sensor manufacturers, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), automotive suppliers and research labs/institutions are innovating and upgrading sensors and technologies to enhance applications in vehicles. Applications powered by image sensing and advanced driver assistance are pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, park assist, blind spot detection, and lane departure warning.
Sensor fusion involves combining sensor input information from different sensors to accurately perceive driving conditions. Sensor fusion is likely to transform advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and highly automated driving (HAD) to the next level. This will provide highly reliable, additional information about nearby objects while driving. It creates opportunities for automotive safety and security, thereby increasing the extent of autonomous vehicle functions.
The automotive market is driven by the demand for autonomous driving solutions. High funding, technological advances in imaging techniques and Internet of Things (IoT) are other contributing factors for fast-paced growth. High cost, strict regulations, aftermarket risks, and end-user perceptions are key challenges for market growth.
Innovation and Transformative Research and Development
Numerous government agencies across the globe do fund sensor technology research and automotive application. Collaborations among various stake holders in the value chain—sensor companies, OEMS, system integrators, research universities and software developers—is leading to development, testing and launch of innovative systems that are integrated into vehicles. With research universities, labs, and technology start-ups emerging as primary developers of sensor technology, initiatives are geared toward driver and vehicle monitoring solutions.
Imagers, especially for CMOS and optical class of sensors, are enablers. A number of innovations have been reported in CMOS image sensors for automotive applications. The recent development of high-dynamic-range cameras (HDRCs) has led to their being deployed to monitor traffic conditions. HDRCs help overcome various driving challenges posed by varying lighting conditions that range from dark shadows to bright scenes. This new CMOS image sensor captures both the dark and bright areas without underexposing or saturating any pixels. New Imaging Technologies, France, specializes in image sensors with a high-dynamic range. The company developed the NSC1105 sensor which is suitable for heavy traffic conditions. The sensor has a wide dynamic range of over 140 decibels (dB), allowing it to capture extreme lighting differences in the same scene
Toshiba America Electronic Components Inc., USA, has dealt successfully with flickering—another challenge—by developing the CSA02M00PB, a 2-megapixel CMOS image sensor for automotive cameras. The sensor minimizes image flickering caused by LED lights and provides clear and accurate images at a faster rate.
Another innovation from ON Semiconductor, USA, was the launch of AR0135 CMOS image sensor which has a global shutter pixel design that allows for effective synchronization with pulsed light sources. This new design will help provide clear images with low noise in bright- and low-light environments.
One of the stakeholders in ADAS is Mobileye, Israel; it has developed an advanced collision avoidance system, the Shield ™ for trucks, buses, commercial vehicles, etc. The system employs up to 4 multivision smart cameras with compact high-dynamic-range CMOS technology to avoid and mitigate imminent collisions. With the help of the image recognition software, images are processed in the system, and unnecessary warnings that can desensitize drivers over time are reduced.
Among the top research institutions, Fraunhofer, in collaboration with Isringhausen GmbH & Co., KG, recently developed a sensor that can be embedded in the car driver’s seat and enable controlling the seat’s ergonomics operations via hand gestures. Piezo-based pressure sensors are used to control the settings which are activated by a motion control system. In addition to pressure sensors, proximity sensors are integrated in the side lining of the seat to detect hand gestures.
A team of students from the Institute of Technology of Cintalapa has prototyped a breathalyzer device called AlcoStop‖ which comprises sensors embedded in the vehicle’s steering wheel, seat, and shift lever to detect (in real time) alcohol concentrations in a person’s sweat. The engine motor is disabled if the result is positive (when alcohol content is detected). The automotive driver system works synchronously with a mobile application developed by the team, which sends a text alert of the data to a family member or friend.
Researchers from Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), in collaboration with BMW Group, have developed a sensor system that monitors the driver’s heart rate, skin conductance, and oxygen saturation level. Two sensors are integrated in the steering wheel. While one sensor emits infrared light and strikes the driver’s hand for measuring heart rate and oxygen level (measured through reflected light), the other sensor measures electrical conductance levels by way of contact with the skin.
SmartCap Technologies has developed a smart wearable technology, SmartCap, which measures a driver’s fatigue status and alerts him/her. The operator’s alertness is measured from brain activity using an electroencephalogram (EEG) test.
It is imperative to mention that sensing accuracy of conventional CMOS image sensors integrated in the vehicle is hindered when recording LED traffic lights and signs because of LED flickering. In addition, such sensors may be unable to record high-precision images in bright- and low-light conditions, creating demand for high-resolution image sensors in the automotive sector.
Depth Information Time-of-flight image sensors may fail or become inefficient in distinguishing the correlated light (illumination) and non-correlated light (sunlight and other sources), leading to an error in calculating the distance of an object or recording the correct depth information of an object, as in the case of 3D imaging. 3D imaging sensors that provide in-depth information on the surroundings are required.
FLIR Systems, Inc., USA, has collaborated with US-based Movidius to develop the next-generation thermal imaging device, the Boson camera core. This device employs a Myriad 2 vision processing unit by Movidius, along with its expandable infrared video processing architecture, XIR. The device embodies a cost-efficient and simple thermal imaging system.
Regions Contributing Innovations
North American stakeholders are very proactive in research and development innovating new sensors and technologies. Researchers in North America are developing a system to track occupants in a fixed environment and under variable illumination; mirror-less vehicles with image sensors mounted on windows; intensity variation in headlamps; forward-looking imaging systems; driver drowsiness detection; steering control apparatus; and a back-gate-modulated image sensor (which can provide benefits such as high fill factor). Some companies with a North American presence and with patents are Schott AG Innova Electronics Inc., Rockwell International Corporation, Aptina Imaging Corporation, and Bluetechnix Group GmbH.
Europe is another region where a large volume of companies’ research is focused on developing a system to detect white lines on roads, obstacle display, 3D measurement of obstacles, ADAS, lane recognition, fingerprint recognition, and multibeam occupant detection. Some companies with European patents are Ford Global Tech LLC, DENSO Corporation, Nissan Motor, Ford Motor Corporation, Delphi Technology Inc., General Motors, and Texas Instruments.
Asia-Pacific (APAC) is a region with a large growth potential. APAC researchers are focused on developing a tear line for the interior trim, adaptive cruise system, object detection, and a dynamic range display for rear-view images and parking. Some companies with APAC patents are Robert Bosch GmbH, Tekville. com Inc., SCHOTT AG, Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd., Sumitomo Precision Products Co. Ltd., and Great Wall Motor Company Limited.
The automotive sector will be driven by miniaturization of sensors and system suppliers that can provide a comprehensive solution using different sensing technologies and sensor fusion platform. The growing preference for autonomous driving will be a critical success factor driving growth.
Collaborative research between universities, labs, sensor manufacturers, OEMS and system integrators collaborate will foster an innovation culture and speed up the pace of sensor developments. This is one of the unique industries where OEMs both fund the R&D of sensor and device companies and work closely with system manufacturers, as successful automated systems require integration of highly reliable sensors and communication technologies. Key markets for automotive sensors include North America, Europe, and Japan. Large volume of vehicle production in APAC (especially China, Japan, and South Korea) has ensured that these countries are now large installers of innovative vehicle sensors.
To speed up commercialization of autonomous vehicles, extensive use of sensors in vehicles with functionalities such as wireless communication and 3D vision depth sensors is beneficial. Combustion pressure sensors that operate at high temperatures can detect pressure in the cylinders to optimize combustion and improve combustion efficiency. Such sensors can be wirelessly monitored in the vehicle on-board diagnostic platforms. Connected systems and the Internet-of-Things (IoT) are expected to impact the automotive sector. By 2025, all vehicles are likely to be outfitted with V2V, V2I and V2X and other communication technologies to track the presence of the car on road accurately.
With technology advancement, the future of the mobility ecosystem will give rise to new battery and fuel-cell-powered electric vehicles that offer higher efficiency and low emissions. Smart mobility employs automated controls to monitor and cut back on energy consumption. There will also be greater use of energy harvesting (including harvesting vibrations) in vehicles. For rapid commercialization, automotive manufacturers need to adopt collaborative business models to integrate sensor technologies into their vehicle and passenger safety systems.