Sometimes, when you feel someone is watching you, get ready to feel that way all the time. At least if you spend a lot of time in your car. And you'll only get to know a little bit more in the future as automakers find new and more efficient ways to keep track of what's happening in their vehicles. One of the latest tools in this move towards, say, older siblings – comes from Guardian Optical Technologies, an Israeli team that promises a completely new view of what's happening in the car.
This week at CES in Las Vegas, USA Tel Aviv-based startup showed the so-called Optical Cabin Control. The system uses a camera, slightly larger than the one in your phone, which is built into the ceiling. Where to put your sunglasses. This camera is a standard device, says CEO Gil Dotan. All valuable IP values relate to the configuration and the algorithms that sort the images. Thanks to clever machine learning, it recognizes when the driver takes his hands off the wheel and whether the head is facing the road or on a phone or on the children. It works to find out when a driver is holding a phone and when his eyes are closed.
(Guardian creates the training images for these learning systems by hiring various groups of people who gather in different test vehicles in his test fleet to pose with various accessories, including pets. "It's like a train station in our office," says Dotan.
The idea of the driver watching the driver is not new ̵
Guardian's system promises to fulfill those capabilities and provide a broader field of vision. That may not sound like much, but Dotan puts it in the middle of his sales pitch. In addition to the behavior of the driver, the camera can also look at other vehicle parts. Dotan's original use for his sensor checked if there were any children left in the backseat. (The National Safety Council in the US has an average of 37 children died of heat stroke each year, about half of whom are forgotten by their parents or caregivers.) Dotan's ability, as with others, remains: whether the passenger seat is occupied or empty to activate the airbag or not. It can be checked if everyone has put on their safety belt. It may look for behaviors that indicate distracted driving.
Dotan wants automakers to use the Guardian system for all their watching needs, and get rid of today's Hodge Podge sensor suite. He says that doing so could save an automaker up to $ 370 per car – an astronomical sum in an industry where executives differ by $ 1 and $ 2. "The cost per feature is lower and that means they can sell more cars with higher margins," says Dotan.
But big automakers are not making such changes so easy, says Jeff Owens, who has worked for industry supplier Delphi for 40 years, and served as CTO before retiring last year. The pressure sensors, which now detect human impact in seats, are cost-effective and trustworthy – not exactly prone to failure. For a camera-based system, it's not just the profit-hungry auto executives who should be convinced, but also those in charge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is responsible for building and certifying cars. They are not changing their standards fast.
To make it even more difficult, using a single sensor for all of these things means coordinating the work across a variety of engineering groups that deal with different parts of the vehicle. "It's hard for automakers to work at this level," says Owens. "The replacement of all these sensors is a pretty far-fetched dream."
However, a complex system that intelligently records the driver's behavior will only add value, especially if it is capable and affordable. Today's semi-autonomous functions need to know that drivers are watching the road. The next generation will free people to play with their phones – but they also occasionally need them to take back control, that is, the car needs to know if a person is capable of doing so at any given time.
However, this position raises another question: does the public accept cameras in their cars?
"I think there is some frog in the pot in terms of data protection," says Karl Brauer, industry analyst at Kelley Blue Book. Cameras in the car are becoming commonplace, and automakers may be betrayed by the opportunity to sell data on the habits and behaviors of their drivers.
You look drowsy, have you tried Starbucks's new Rock-a-Mocha Latte? Your child has just spilled their soda, here is a coupon for a bottle of tide. You and your spouse have been fighting a lot – looking for recommendations for advising couples?
Today, the systems that Guardian and its competitors offer focus on safety and comfort. I just hope that the technology you can do without the steering wheel does not require the right to privacy.
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