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Camera-based lifesaver: Bosch helps cars keep an eye on their passengers

Tim Wieland

Tim Wieland >

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More safety and convenience, thanks to artificial intelligence

  • The interior monitoring system detects driver drowsiness and distraction, providing driving assistance
  • Harald Kroeger: “Bosch is using cameras and AI to turn the vehicle into a lifesaver.”
  • Bosch is developing a new car and driver symbiosis for automated driving
  • New safety technology that warns drivers of drowsiness and distraction is expected to save 25,000 lives over the next 20 years in the EU

Stuttgart, Germany – Drowsiness, distraction, a seatbelt left undone – many things that happen inside a vehicle can have far-reaching consequences. To avert critical driving situations and possibly also accidents, future cars will use their sensors not only to monitor the road but also the driver and other passengers. For this purpose, Bosch has developed a new interior monitoring system featuring cameras and artificial intelligence (AI).

If the car knows what its driver and occupants are doing, driving will become safer and more convenient.

says Harald Kroeger, a member of the Robert Bosch GmbH board of management.

The Bosch system may go into production in 2022. In that year, the EU will make safety technology that warns drivers of drowsiness and distraction, for example, a standard feature in new vehicles. The EU Commission expects the new safety requirements for vehicles will save more than 25,000 lives and help prevent at least 140,000 severe injuries by 2038.

By tracking what is happening inside the car, technology can help solve a fundamental problem of self-driving cars. For example, if responsibility for driving is to be transferred to the driver following an automated drive, the car needs to be able to prove the driver is neither sleeping, nor reading the newspaper, nor writing emails on their smartphone.


A smart camera constantly monitors the driver

If a driver dozes off or looks at a smartphone for just three seconds, a vehicle traveling at approximately 30mph can cover about 130 feet completely unsupervised, and many people underestimate the associated risk. International studies state that nearly one in 10 accidents are caused by distraction or drowsiness, which has prompted Bosch to develop an interior monitoring system that detects and alerts to this danger and provides driving assistance. A camera integrated in the steering wheel detects when drivers’ eyelids are getting heavy, when they are distracted, and when they turn their head toward passenger or rear seats. Thanks to AI, the system draws the right conclusions from this information: it warns inattentive drivers, recommends a break if they are getting tired, or even reduces the speed of the vehicles – depending on the automaker’s wishes, as well as legal requirements.

“Cameras and AI will turn the vehicle into a lifesaver,” Kroeger says. To achieve this, Bosch engineers have used intelligent image-processing algorithms and machine learning to teach the system to understand what the person in the driving seat is doing. For driver drowsiness, the system is trained using recordings of real driving situations, eyelid position and eye-blink rate to learn how tired the driver really is. This allows the system to give an alert that is appropriate to the situation, so driver assistance can be used to intervene.

Warning systems that sound the alert, in the case of distraction and drowsiness, will be so important in the future that NCAP, the European New Car Assessment Program, will include them in the roadmap for its vehicle safety assessment by 2025. Further, only the software in the vehicle itself evaluates the information provided by the interior monitoring system – the information is neither saved nor shared with third parties.


Like a relay race, responsibility for steering passes from car to driver and back

At the very least when cars start driving automatically, it is important that they understand their drivers, as cars will drive along freeways without driver intervention. They will also have to hand back control to their drivers in tricky situations such as construction zones or when the exit ramp is drawing near. Drivers need the option to safely take the wheel again at any time during the automated driving phase. The camera makes sure they don’t fall asleep, and if their eyes remain closed for a prolonged period, an alarm is sounded. The system also interprets camera recordings to establish what drivers are currently doing and how ready they are to respond. The transfer of driving responsibility is then timed accordingly. “Bosch driver observation will be essential for safe automated driving,” Kroeger says.


When the car keeps its camera eyes open

The new Bosch system keeps its eye not only on the driver, it also tracks all the other passengers, whether next to or behind the driver. For this purpose, a camera mounted above or below the rearview mirror monitors the entire passenger compartment. It notices when children in the rear seats have carelessly unfastened their seat belts and warns the driver. If someone sitting in the back is leaning too far forward, at an angle, or with their feet up on the seat next to them, the airbags and belt tensioner will not be able to protect them properly in an accident. The interior monitoring camera can tell what position they are sitting in and set the airbags and belt tensioner to ensure the best possible protection.

On the subject of children, it is a sad fact that parked vehicles can be dangerous for them. In the United States in 2018, parked vehicles claimed the lives of more than 50 children (source: KidsAndCars.org), either because they had been left in the car for a short while or had clambered in unnoticed. The new Bosch system can recognize this danger and warn parents quickly by sending a message to their smartphone. In an emergency, it also can alert the emergency services. As the Hot Cars Act currently being debated in the United States shows, legislators are interested in technology solutions to address this challenge.


A camera for more convenience

The Bosch interior monitoring camera can recognize preset driver preferences, such as seat position, rearview mirror adjustment, steering wheel height and infotainment profiles, for increased driver convenience. The camera can be used for eye- and hand-gesture control of the infotainment system as well.

Mobility Solutions is the largest Bosch Group business sector. In 2015, its sales came to 41.7 billion euros, or 59 percent of total group sales. This makes the Bosch Group one of the leading automotive suppliers. The Mobility Solutions business sector combines the group's expertise in three mobility domains – automation, electrification, and connectivity – and offers its customers integrated mobility solutions. Its main areas of activity are injection technology and powertrain peripherals for internal-combustion engines, diverse solutions for powertrain electrification, vehicle safety systems, driver-assistance and automated functions, technology for user-friendly infotainment as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, repair-shop concepts, and technology and services for the automotive aftermarket. Bosch is synonymous with important automotive innovations, such as electronic engine management, the ESP anti-skid system, and common-rail diesel technology.

Having established a regional presence in 1906 in North America, the Bosch Group employs 34,600 associates in more than 100 locations, as of December 31, 2019. In 20189Bosch generated consolidated sales of $14.4 billion in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. For more information, visit www.bosch.us, www.bosch.ca and www.bosch.com.mx

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