Microsleep, distraction, a seatbelt left undone – many things that happen inside a vehicle can have far-reaching consequences. To avert critical driving situations and possibly also accidents, it is planned that cars will in the future use their sensors not simply to monitor the road but also the driver and other passengers. For this purpose, Bosch has developed a new interior monitoring system featuring cameras and artificial intelligence.
“If the car knows what its driver and occupants are doing, driving will become safer and more convenient,” says Harald Kroeger, a member of the Robert Bosch GmbH board of management. The Bosch system may go into production in 2022. In that year, the EU will make safety technology that for example warns drivers of drowsiness and distraction a standard feature in new vehicles. The EU Commission expects that, by 2038, their new safety requirements for vehicles will save more than 25,000 lives and help prevent at least 140,000 severe injuries. By keeping an eye on what is happening inside the car, it is hoped that a fundamental problem of self-driving cars will be solved. If responsibility for driving is to be transferred to the driver again following an automated drive on the freeway, say, the car needs to be sure that the driver is neither sleeping, nor reading the newspaper, nor writing e-mails on their smartphone.
A smart camera constantly monitors the driver
At 50 kph, a vehicle will cover 42 meters completely unsupervised if the driver dozes off or looks at their smartphone for just three seconds. Many people underestimate the associated risk. International studies state that nearly one in ten accidents are caused by distraction or drowsiness. This has prompted Bosch to develop an interior monitoring system that detects and alerts to this danger and provides driving assistance. A camera integrated in the steering wheel detects when drivers’ eyelids are getting heavy, when they are distracted, and when they turn their head toward their passenger or the rear seats. Thanks to AI, the system draws the right conclusions from this information: it warns inattentive drivers, recommends a break if they are getting tired, or even reduces the speed of the vehicles – depending on the automaker’s wishes, and also on legal requirements.
“Cameras and AI will turn the vehicle into a life-saver,” Kroeger says. To achieve this, Bosch engineers have used intelligent image-processing algorithms and machine learning to teach the system to understand what the person in the driving seat is actually doing. To take the example of driver drowsiness, the system is trained using recordings of real driving situations and, on the basis of recordings of eyelid position and eye-blink rate, learns how tired the driver really is. This allows it to give an alert that is appropriate to the situation, and to use the driver assistance systems to intervene. Warning systems that sound the alert in the case of distraction and drowsiness will be so important in the future that NCAP, the European New Car Assessment Program, will include them in the roadmap for the Euro NCAP assessment for vehicle safety by 2025. On the subject of monitoring, only the software in the vehicle itself evaluates the information provided by the interior monitoring system – the information is neither saved nor passed on to third parties.