Brussels, 13 Jan 2006
Vulnerable road users - pedestrians and cyclists - are victims of more then 9,000 deaths and 200,000 injuries every year on the streets of the EU, while those driving cars have never been safer thanks to crumple zones, airbags and seat belts.
The SAVE-U project (Sensors and system Architecture for VulnerablE road Users protection), 50 per cent funded under the information society technologies (IST) section of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), investigated ways in which technology could help to minimise the risk to pedestrians and cyclists. The team needed to be able to track pedestrians and cyclists via several different means, and to then develop algorithms to interpret the data and alert the driver or apply braking to minimise the chances of impact. Should impact become inevitable, the final part of the research looked at ways to minimise the injuries to a pedestrian or cyclist.
'The concept is relatively straightforward,' Dr Marc-Michael Meinecke, one of the lead researchers on the project, told IST Results. 'The main idea is that sensors will recognise pedestrians and if a pedestrian has a high probability to collide with the vehicle then automatic breaking will be initiated.'
Dr Meinecke works for Volkswagen, one of the partners in SAVE-U, along with DaimlerChrysler, Mira and Siemens VDO Automotive. Three different types of sensor - radar, vision and infrared - combine to give an innovative sensing array that can take into account different light and weather conditions.
A working prototype has been on the streets of the United Kingdom. The system calculates the movement of vulnerable road users, in a 'capture zone' up to 30m from the vehicle, and an on-board computer combines the data from the three sources to track the movement of the pedestrian or cyclist.
If the computer decides that a collision is likely, then the computer firstly alerts the driver that a collision is possible, and then goes further and applies the brakes if a collision seems imminent.
The final part of the study looked at ways of minimising injury to pedestrians or cyclists should a collision be unavoidable. Dr Meinecke's research pointed to, 'Active hood concepts, external airbags, automatic braking systems, night vision', as measures sufficient to lower injury levels.
A full demonstration of the technology took place in the UK in August 2005 using two test vehicles. While the benefits of the system are clear, they now need to be adapted for practical use in ordinary cars.
For the mass production of the SAVE-U array, 'The sensors have to be shrunk further in size and price to enable them to be integrated in cars,' explained Dr Meinecke. The software components face the same problem, but 'These pedestrian recognition systems will be the main focus of research activities in coming years,' he said.
Dr Marc-Michael Meinecke