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Applications: Developing a Dream Car

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2009
Rebecca C. Jernigan, rebecca.jernigan@laurin.com

Photonics technology touches many aspects of our lives – from medicine to lighting – but one of the most “futuristic” effects it has is on our vehicles. No, we don’t have the flying cars we dreamed of decades ago, and we still haven’t solved the pollution problem, but there are some amazing developments.

Crash avoidance and lane departure warning systems, automatic headlight dimming and night vision all attempt to keep drivers safe, alert and on the road. Developments in these areas may not be implemented in consumer vehicles within the next few years, according to Dr. Tom Hausken of Strategies Unlimited in Mountain View, Calif., but keeping abreast of the technology can help to predict where it eventually will take us.

One major trend is toward the prevention of accidents, rather than mere protection from them. The I-WAY project, funded by the European Union, is researching and building a system that will alert drivers to potential hazards by using information from the car, other road users and the roadside infrastructure to prevent accidents. External video ensures that drivers stay in the lane, and car-to-car communication enables vehicles to determine hazards such as lane closures, road conditions and traffic jams. The researchers usedoff-the-shelf technology for the majority of this project to minimize cost and shorten implementation time.

CN_Auto.jpgA group from Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing IITB in Karlsruhe, Germany, and from Karlsruhe University has begun testing a software program that could help coordinate the movements of several vehicles. This would enable the computer to take control of vehicles in different lanes, forcing them to perform evasive maneuvers.

The vehicles involved are equipped with car-to-car communication and integrated sensors such as cameras, and global positioning and radar systems that enable them to autonomously recognize their surroundings and react appropriately. Although the systems are attached to the outside of the vehicles in the current test models (see image), they are expected to be part of the interior once implemented.

Katharina Bölsterl, a spokeswoman for BMW Group in Munich, Germany, said that cameras will become an integral part of vehicles, especially when used in driver assistance systems. They will have higher resolution images, each will be able to perform multiple functions and overlays, and object detection will be added.

Hausken’s predictions are less bold but just as confident. He expects to see steady and deliberate development over the next few years.


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