Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed and tested a laser-based ranging system to assess the performance of automobile collision warning systems. Industry and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will use the technology to develop safety systems that alert drivers to multiple potential crash hazards, both from forward or side collisions as well as from running off the road.

To evaluate the performance of crash warning systems, which generally use radar, researchers needed an accurate measurement tool based on entirely different principles. NIST developed an independent measurement system (IMS) consisting of a camera and microphone in the cab to detect the driver warning, calibrated cameras to measure the distance to lane boundaries, and laser scanners to measure the distance to obstacles in front of and to the side of the vehicle. The system can be mounted on cars or trucks with trailers and requires no modifications or connections to the warning system being tested.

The NIST system can detect an object to within about 33 inches at a distance of 197 feet and speeds up to 56 mph. The IMS revealed some warning system problems in detecting whether forward vehicles were in-lane or out-of-lane on curves or during lane changes. Such problems are common in automotive crash warning systems that must operate in real- time, at highway speeds, and use multiple low-cost sensors to measure complex three-dimensional scenes.

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