Cars that can “see” have moved successfully from film fantasy into real life in many of today’s high-end and mid-range road cars. Car manufacturers are keen to continue exploring the technology, and safety legislators may soon require any or all vehicles approved for sale to be fitted with certain active safety systems that can bet realised by implementing automotive image recognition systems. This pattern is already established in e.g. the EU, where safety systems such as ABS that were once considered high-end accessories are now mandatory in all vehicles.
Engineers developing vision-based safety systems such as pedestrian detection and collision avoidance now need to consider whether the design decisions they take today will allow them to deliver solutions suitable for mass-market applications in the near future. Some chipmakers targeting this market are already beginning to paint exciting images of tomorrow’s cars as mobile supercomputers, leveraging technologies such as intensive multi-core architectures as currently used in high-performance PC-graphics cards and gaming platforms. However, important factors such as cost and power consumption in particular may demand a more focused approach.
In addition to supporting various types of hazard recognition, visual recognition is expected to complement collision avoidance technologies such as radar and ultrasonic, sometimes even by replacing them. Additional potential safety applications include systems to eliminate blind spots or to replace conventional mirrors for better rearward visibility. Ultimately, vision-based systems will play a major role in autonomous cars that are capable of navigating safely to a destination and parking without human intervention to respond to road conditions, observe traffic signs and avoid numerous types of hazards.