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The role of affordable sensor systems in road safety

23 August 2012

As the everyday mobility of people becomes more and more important, will road safety rely on increasingly expensive and sophisticated systems?

Graphic courtesy of the ADOSE partnership
Graphic courtesy of the ADOSE partnership

EU-funded researchers are currently developing a suite of smart systems that will make our future driving experience safe, while keeping it affordable.

Car makers apply their best knowledge and capabilities to safety systems, so everything from ABS brakes, electronic skid protection and the soon-to-be-standard eCall emergency communication system all use the latest developments in smart sensor and control systems

A project, funded through the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), is currently supporting researchers and car makers in developing next-generation safety-oriented products. 

Breakthrough technologies 
The ADOSE partners have adopted five sensing technologies to build prototypes with higher performances or lower costs compared with currently available technology. The sensor prototypes have been integrated into pilot systems which can detect obstacles, measure distances and assess visibility. 

The Far Infrared (FIR) imager and a batch moulding process for FIR optics were developed to lower the cost of key components in car night vision systems. Night vision is only an option for high-end cars at present, but the aim is to make this technology available for a broader market. 

The ADOSE team has also developed a 'multi-functional optical sensor' (MFOS) which measures environmental parameters (such as fog, rain, twilight). This information can complement driving-related data (such as spotting oncoming vehicles) in real time. The MFOS device is based on a low-cost plastic optical light guide coupled to a standard CMOS imager. 

The third device is a low-cost 3D range camera (3DCAM) which can recognise and measure distances to objects travelling at high speed such as oncoming vehicles. It is suitable for pre-crash warning systems. 

Road safety is not just about protecting drivers, of course; pedestrians and cyclists - who typically come off far worse in collisions - will also benefit from ADOSE research. The project has developed a radar system that locates obstacles and unambiguously identifies road users equipped with passive and active transponders (RFID tags). The project has successfully integrated signal processing into the radar system to help remove background 'noise' and mask poor weather conditions. 

Another prototype - the 'silicon retina stereo sensor' (SRS) is a low-cost sensor, inspired by biology, for very fast and less power-intensive object detection. The sensor can pinpoint objects moving quickly relative to the sensor (and vehicle) in real time, due to a 'stereo-matching' technique similar to the way our binocular vision allows us to judge distances. 

Some of the ADOSE prototype sensors were tested in November 2011 on two test vehicles at the Centro Sicurezza test track in Orbassano. The tests allowed validation of installed devices in realistic outdoor conditions.

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