Eye on the road

European researchers have developed new automotive technology to protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.


European researchers have developed new automotive technology to protect vulnerable road users (VRUs) such as pedestrians and cyclists.


The EU-funded WATCH-OVER project is expected to produce a bespoke system that prevents accidents by using highly advanced sensing systems that track road users.


The system has been realised in two versions. One pre-crash version uses a stereo camera system. The other version uses a warning system that includes a mono-camera combined with communications technologies.


Sensors are effective for pre-crash systems, which usually kick in just seconds before impact. But to track vulnerable road users further away, sensors are not enough. It is essential to back sensors up with other technologies such as communications.


‘This is vital because camera-based systems cannot see around corners, for example,’ explained project coordinator Luisa Andreone, of Centro Ricerche Fiat, the research and development centre for Fiat.


The WATCH-OVER team believes the strength of the warning system lies in its cooperative nature – drivers and other road users effectively working together. The VRUs achieve this by carrying or wearing a transmission device that alerts vehicles of their presence.


The WATCH-OVER team claims the system has been tested with positive results. The team found that the system worked well under most of the cases encountered in urban areas.


The WATCH-OVER team believes this system will only be successful if it can be integrated into existing electronics, such as a mobile phone, or into clothing. For the test, WATCH-OVER developed a wearable device to prove the principle. However, it is still far from commercialisation.


‘You have to remember that this was a scouting project,’ said Andreone. ‘We were pioneering a new area for road safety using communications technologies. We showed that the principle is sound, but more work is needed to make the warning version of the system ready for market.’


Current communications technologies are the main constraint. The chipset used in WATCH-OVER could scan over the distance, but it had limited accuracy calculating angle of approach, and it is not part of the standard for vehicle-2-vehicle (V2V) communications.


Andreone also said it is important that the system can accurately distinguish between safe and dangerous situations, to avoid ‘false alarms’ caused by inaccurate angle-of-approach calculations.


‘You might have a pedestrian walking down the street who has no intention of crossing the road,’ she added. ‘Obviously in this case the driver should not receive a warning. It would make the system useless.’


Andreone said the other issues to take into account are costs and complexity for in-car technologies. Also, she added, the technology used by vulnerable users must be extremely portable, reliable and should require little power.


Andreone suggested this is an area where mobile phone technology could play a key role in implementing WATCH-OVER’s solutions.


The WATCH-OVER project received funding from the ICT strand of the Sixth Framework Programme for research.