Forward-facing cameras, integrated with vehicle controls, are being used to recognize pedestrians, signs, and other cars and motorcycles. Automatic brake mechanisms — often connected to a combination of radar, camera, and sensors — can halt a vehicle as it approaches an object ahead. New mounted cameras have the ability to register road markings and keep drivers within their own lanes.

Figure 1. Lane-keeping assist technology integrates a TRW forward-looking camera and electric power steering system to help the driver more intuitively move back into the center of the lane. (Image: TRW Automotive)
Volvo’s new luxury SUV, the XC90, for example, features a front-facing camera and radar in the upper part of the windscreen and behind the rear-view mirror. The imaging and radar capabilities prompt brakes to avoid a collision, or initiate steering wheel torque when a driver veers off course.

These types of automated safety features are examples of a technology called Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). The ADAS mechanisms being placed into cameras, however, are moving beyond the luxury models and into a growing number of mainstream cars. As the migration occurs, OEMs will need to prove the robustness of the capabilities to new customers.

Camera Creep

Although many expensive imaging technologies — like infrared cameras for night vision and backseat monitoring — are still reserved for the high-end Mercedes, Lexus, and Cadillac, an increasing number of cameras and sensors are moving into more conventional cars. Automatic windshield wipers that sense rain, backup cameras, and automated headlight dimmers, for example, have become common features in today’s vehicles.

“We’re seeing cameras creep down in the more mass-produced vehicles because quite frankly it’s getting more affordable for car manufacturers to do so,” said Alex Shikany, Director of Market Analysis for the Ann Arbor, MI-based Association for Advancing Automation (A3) research firm.

Figure 2. Blind Spot Detection (BSD) technology warns the driver when there are vehicles in the blind spot of the side-view mirror. (Image: Continental Corp.)
The safety features, Shikany said, are becoming more familiar and expected by consumers, often because of the heavy media coverage on safety issues and recalls.

“People want to be safe in their vehicles,” Shikany said. “I would say that the average consumer tilts more toward the safety expectations than the bells and whistles of night vision or a driver recording system. Those are more niche.”

Automotive standards and safety ratings have also pushed ADAS imaging technology into a greater number of vehicles, as manufacturers try for five-star scores. Euro NCAP Advanced Standards, for example, include ratings for driver assistance features like blind spot monitoring, lane support systems, speed alert systems, and autonomous emergency braking.

“These kinds of ratings, like the Euro NCap, are driving the OEMs to introduce these features in pretty much all of their cars,” said Shikany, “Not only, let’s say, the expensive ones.”

Staying in the Lane

Lane support is one ADAS technology increasingly finding a place inside vehicles. Traditional lane-departure warnings alert the driver with an audible buzz or rumble in the seat. TRW Automotive, the Livonia, MI-based vehicle safety supplier, has developed a more “active-assist” approach: lane-keeping steering technology that uses a frontward-facing camera, placed in the rear-view mirror mount, to pick up lane markings in the road.

The information is then sent to an electric power steering system, which automatically torques the car in either direction to send drivers back to the center of the lane (see Figure 1). John Wilkerson, Senior Communications Manager at TRW, said that users tend to like the “active-assist” aspect of the technology, rather than the pure warnings of previous technologies.

“You may get a warning, and you don’t realize intuitively what you want to do right away,” Wilkerson said. “So an assist system tends to help you understand what it is that you need to do.”

TRW’s lane-keeping assist system was introduced on the Lancia Delta car in 2008. The technology, Wilkerson said, will be integrated with Chrysler vehicles, including the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, and GM pickup trucks, demonstrating a shift of the technology into more mainstream platforms.

“This’ll really continue to be a trend, and we’re going to see a lot more penetration in the normal vehicle range than we have in the past,” said Wilkerson.