Chris Van Dan Elzen, vice president, radar at Magna (left) and Tom Herbert, director, product strategy at Magna
By Junko Yoshida
Chris Van Dan Elzen, vice president, radar at Magna International
Tom Herbert, director, product strategy at Magna International
“Saving people’s lives” shouldn’t be a marketing tagline saved for robotaxi companies.
Human-driven vehicles are still best positioned today to save people’s lives — both inside (drivers and passengers) and outside their vehicles (pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles sharing the road).
Listen to Podcast:
We talked to two Magna International Inc. executives about the auto industry’s big rush to make their cars see in the dark, trigger automatic emergency braking, monitor “the driver state,” and surveil the wellness of passengers, including small children and pets.
Historically, safety regulations and the New Car Assessment Programs (NCAP) five-star ratings dwelt on crashworthiness — how well the vehicle’s structure protects its occupants in a collision.
Today, automakers are paying closer heed to how accidents happen and what they can do about them. The industry’s efforts – matched by government attention – are focusing on prevention. “Pedestrian accidents at night are a big concern. Children left in cars is a big concern,” said Chris Van Dan Elzen, vice president, radar at Magna International.
Such discussions often lead automakers to purchase new sensor technologies. But that’s not enough, cautioned Tom Herbert, director, product strategy at Magna International. “The challenge here isn’t about the question of what sensors I can have for a specific application.” He explained, “We must first understand what problems we are trying to solve.”
Sensors are just a part of the holistic view. For example, if the “problem” is a small child left in a car, questions to ask should consider seats, seat cushions, seat mats, or underneath blankets. Technologies like cameras, millimeter wave radar and touch sensors could all come into play.
A system-level approach becomes even more important in ensuring vehicle safety and preventing accidents. Take the example of driver state.
“… the ideal way to monitor driver state is with a camera. But we must control the lighting in the environment so that we don’t get shadows. We can tell where the drivers are looking if they’re starting to fall asleep, because there are some patterns that might be indicative of driver state,” said Van Dan Elzen. More important actions include: “to tie this together with exterior sensing. We see a pedestrian stepping out into traffic ahead of us, while the driver’s looking at their phone.” That should trigger the vehicle to behave a lot more differently “from what we normally act with a Forward Collision Warning,” he explained.
Ownership vs. being driven around
Today, vehicles are split into those “owned” by human drivers for the pleasure of driving, and those designed for passengers to be driven around. While autonomy is often discussed in association with robotaxis, expect more autonomy in human-driven vehicles.
“On the ownership side, we’ve had a cruise control button for a very long time,” said Van Dan Elzen. “We have come a long way, when it comes to what you get when you push that cruise control button.”
Cruise control need not just lock the throttle. It can also provide exterior control, keeping speed steady on hills and maintaining safe distance between cars, he explained. Further, “We’re starting to see cruise control do things like taking over the gas and the brake, and even a little bit of the steering. … They could even take the on- and off-ramps, if they knew that’s what you wanted them to do. If vehicles take the off ramp, there’s probably a stop sign at the bottom, or maybe a traffic light. Vehicles can stop when we add a camera.”
What’s important for “owned” vehicles is to know what the driver wants to do. Vehicles should be capable of picking up where drivers leave off, and handle driving correctly. Perhaps more importantly, vehicles “should also know when to stop,” Van Dan Elzen added.
Our discussion with Herbert and Van Dan Elzen includes how a car you can own today with a $200-$250 monthly subscription model should look like in 10 years.
Given that eating and alcohol are the two biggest causes of fatalities in the United States, Herbert noted that technologies already exist to prevent accidents caused by this sort of driver impairment. “ Magna has been working on this issue, Herbert said, and “we’ve been showing” regulators that it’s possible for carmakers to continue improving vehicle safety.
Junko Yoshida is the editor in chief of The Ojo-Yoshida Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright permission/reprint service of a full Ojo-Yoshida Report story is available for promotional use on your website, marketing materials and social media promotions. Please send us an email at email@example.com for details.