Finnish engineers create novel sensor technology to prevent hot car deaths
Finnish engineers have developed a sensor-based system that can help save tens of thousands of children – and even pets – locked up in cars, intentionally or accidentally, from heat-related deaths each year. The new PictM™ technology is a solution to calls from US and European safety regulators' that new rules be implemented mandating child presence detection (CPD) systems in new cars. This will help avoid senseless heat-stroke deaths of unattended children.
A CPD system is a device that detects the presence of a child or pet left behind in the car and sends an alert to the mobile phone of an adult responsible when the driver leaves the vehicle.
With the number of new cars entering the market continuously rising, studies predict that such an automotive sensor market will be worth tens of billions of dollars by 2030, growing at around 10% per year.
Tragically, on average, there are 38 hot car child deaths per year in the United States alone. That is 942 preventable tragedies since 1998. Thus, such technology is highly needed.
– Our PictM sensor technology is anticipated to revolutionize the automotive optical sensing market by bringing a 3D gauge available to car makers for in-cabin and for car surroundings that can measure objects up to tens of meters in the distance.
This in turn offers a dimensionally accurate model of the environment with millimeter accuracy and without distortion, describes Uula Kantojärvi, Director at Finland's Espoo-based PiBond Oy.
According to Kantojärvi, the PictM technology adds micrometer-scale movement to each 3D point detected by a camera.
– This happens in real-time, with a latency of a few milliseconds, producing up to 200,000 3D-measurement points per second, Kantojärvi explains.
According to Kantojärvi, the system can detect a child's breathing in a vehicle. The technology illuminates the target with a laser dot pattern and detects any signal variation seen with the camera. Thus, it can distinguish living objects from luggage and other inanimate objects inside the car.
Growing demand for new car safety features
The number of sensors attached to cars is growing as manufacturers introduce new safety features. Many car manufacturers are developing autonomous vehicles that need accurate situational awareness of the car's environment and the people inside.
Starting from 2023, if a car manufacturer wishes to get a five-star rating for its new car model from Euro NCAP, it must include the CPD system as standard. This is stated in the new protocol developed by Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Program) that assesses the safety of new cars.
– In many countries, there is, or will be legislation to require new cars to have a method to warn the driver if they forget a child in the back seat. We believe that the PictM sensor will add value with more accurate detection, Kantojärvi notes.
– This technology could potentially end up on the automotive market when we can do this in collaboration with major automotive sensor suppliers, he continues.
At what stage is the development of such CPD technology – when could we start seeing PictM sensors installed in new cars?
– The development work has progressed to the first compact instrument that will be used for various application trials and the gathering of customer needs. At the same time, we are designing other next-generation devices and solutions to meet the identified industry needs.
Development work continues in Finland, Kantojärvi stresses.
– We have received support from both Business Finland and the European Union. We also have received assistance from Finnish small- and medium-sized enterprises, research institutes, and universities. Finland has a lot of expertise in the development of complex optical devices.
MANY APPLICATION AREAS – INCLUDING INDUSTRIAL MAINTENANCE
Uula Kantojärvi adds that an intriguing future possibility for the new technology is to have a measuring device that can also detect a living object while the car is moving. Currently, this is a major technological challenge, he admits.
The main markets for such technology are in developed countries with legislation for this type of security application. According to Kantojärvi, the potential customers for such an application are sensor suppliers to the automotive industry. However, other industries could benefit from such technology – including the industrial maintenance sector. These include autonomous robots, industrial precision surface measurements with displacement data, human physiology measurements, and 3D modelling of faces and bodies.
– We see many application areas where the PictM sensor adds value to its user by providing an accurate 3D model of the surroundings and a vibration map. This example, where we measured a child's breathing in the back seat, is an excellent example of what PictM is capable of.
– The future for such technology looks bright because there are many applications where the real environment around us needs to be digitized in a reliable 3D as many applications are moving to the virtual world. We are currently looking for partners in different application areas, Kantojärvi concludes.
Text: Nina Garlo-Melkas Images: PiBond
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