For the past few years, there’s been a great deal of enthusiasm for a car that can drive itself. And rightfully so! Autonomous vehicles promise to deliver profound benefits — improved fuel efficiency, reduced travel time, enhanced passenger experience and productivity, freedom for elderly and handicapped people who may be unable to drive, and perhaps most importantly, better road safety.
While the public anxiously waits for an affordable, fully autonomous vehicle, technological complexity, cost and regulatory challenges continue to push out the time frame for when self-driving cars become mainstream. To be clear, it’s not a question of whether we will see these cars en masse; it’s a question of when.
At Micron, we believe that much of the technology you find in today’s vehicles or will find in next-generation vehicles can already improve the safety of our roadways, reduce travel time, improve fuel efficiency and lower emissions. At this point, extending the use of these technologies can achieve even greater benefits. There’s no need to wait for Level 5 autonomous driving — today’s advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) technologies can already make our roads safer and our environment cleaner.
Examples of technologies found in today’s high-end to midrange cars include forward-looking camera systems with street sign recognition. And soon, in-cabin driver monitoring systems and cellular vehicle-to-vehicle (C-V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (C-V2I) and vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communications will be mandated by Europe’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). Through software configuration, these technologies can combined to assume an even greater role in improving safety, fuel efficiency and vehicle emissions.
With technologies found in today’s vehicle, we will see great strides in the possibility of controlling a vehicle’s speed. Mid- to-high-end vehicles employ forward-looking cameras to detect the posted speed limit; these can be configured to warn when the car is exceeding the speed limit. This warning typically consists of a red light on the dashboard, an audible alarm or a vibration in the steering wheel. In most of today’s vehicles, this warning can be disabled.
For younger drivers or perhaps even those who have too many speeding violations, this technology could be taken further. Rather than just warning the driver, the technology could be used to restrict the speed of the vehicle to the speed limit. You can envision an “administrative mode” that would allow this capability to be enabled or disabled, either by a parent or a court of law. This administrative mode could also prevent a driver without privileges from disabling the feature.
Because many vehicles today support drive-by-wire technologies, extending this feature from a system that simply alerts the driver of excessive speed to one that keeps the driver from speeding may be relatively straightforward — and could significantly enhance road safety.
In 2024, NCAP, which ranks a car based on its safety level, will require all vehicles to contain a camera-based, in-cabin driver monitoring system (DMS) to achieve a five-star safety rating. The DMS can detect drivers’ gazes to understand whether they are paying attention to the road and alert them if their attention wanes or they get drowsy. High-performance artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are typically used to detect driver gaze and assess drowsiness.
DMS capabilities are regularly employed today in haul trucks. Typically used by mining companies, a haul truck can stand over 25 feet tall and carry more than 400 tons. Mining truck drivers work long hours and can suffer from fatigue. A DMS that prevents an accident involving a haul truck has obvious and meaningful benefits.
The AI technology used in a DMS not only recognizes a drowsy driver, it may also be able to identify an intoxicated driver. As DMS technology finds its way into consumer vehicles, this technology could be used to restrict or disable a vehicle’s operation if the driver appears to be intoxicated. An ignition interlock system based on DMS will likely be harder to thwart than breathalyzer based ignition interlock systems. Furthermore, a DMS-based interlock requires no additional hardware and can be readily implemented using existing technologies. This expanded use of DMS technology — soon to be standard in most vehicles — will also have a profound effect on keeping our roads safe.
Communicating with Other Vehicles and Infrastructure
C-V2X is yet another innovative technology that will be a mandatory NCAP feature by 2024. C-V2X enables wireless communication among vehicles, roadway infrastructure and pedestrians. Because wireless communication is not typically limited to line of sight, wireless communication could allow vehicles to “see around” corners and understand the intent and actions of fellow drivers and pedestrians.
Because C-V2X will continuously transmits the active driving state of a vehicle and receive the active states of nearby vehicles, the action of one car aggressively applying the brakes could be communicated to all vehicles behind the braking car. If these vehicles are C-V2X-enabled, they can apply the brakes significantly sooner than those that rely on drivers to decelerate. This same concept could be applied to detecting pedestrians and recognizing their intent to cross the street or to knowing that a car is going to run a red light before these things events actually occur. This ability to identify the probable outcome of a given situation is what we commonly call “defensive driving.”
Beyond making roadways safer, C-V2X could also improve fuel efficiency through better coordination of traffic. Urban driving is a case study in inefficiency. Each time a stoplight turns green, the line of cars waiting to cross the intersection must recognize it’s time to go and then accelerate, one by one. The process could be much smoother if each vehicle accelerated in unison. C-V2X can enable this simultaneous movement and much more, including coordinated braking at red lights, accidents or other traffic obstacles. All of this functionality holds true not only for city driving but also for highway driving, where a single car, braking abruptly, can cause all cars to come to a complete stop before driving can resume.
Drivers lose considerable time to congestion. A research group found that, in certain conditions, the average traffic jam lasted 41.7 minutes, during which traffic slowed to 7.3 mph. However, the study found that C-V2X technology drastically reduced the effect of traffic jams. When just 10% of simulated vehicles had V2X technology, the average traffic jam time fell to 3.6 minutes and the average speed increased to 25.5 mph. These improvements resulted simply from vehicles accelerating and braking in coordination.
In the example above, the traffic jam lasted roughly 4 minutes with C-V2X vs. almost 42 minutes without C-V2X — a savings of 38 minutes during which vehicles would be idling and producing exhaust. The savings in emissions alone can be quite profound, especially when these traffic events occur on densely packed, multilane freeways. Notably, the above scenario assumes only 10% of the vehicles contained C-V2X connectivity. The improvements could be even more profound as the adoption rate of C-V2X increases.
For both our personal safety and the safety of our environment, we need to push for broader adoption of ADAS technologies and a faster, more widespread deployment of these technologies. Whether adopting C-V2X and DMS or tailoring existing street sign recognition systems, we don’t need to wait for fully autonomous vehicles to significantly improve the safety of our roadways or the health of our environment.
Micron is the leading memory solution supplier to the automotive industry. With over 29 years of commitment to delivering the best-in-class and most robust memory and storage portfolio, Micron takes great pride in the role we play and our influence in today’s automotive market. We are also proud to lead the industry in enabling some of the greatest innovations in the automobile’s future.
A longer version of this content first appeared on EE Times.