Between the current advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and the future, the completely autonomous car rests in some potentially treacherous semi-autonomous territory. Renault has enlisted the help of gesture-control experts at gestigon to help ease the transition from vehicles taking care of driving tasks to humans taking over driving duties.
This transition is more difficult than you might imagine. When vehicles reach SAE Level 4, they can do most of the driving themselves, but will still require human drivers to take over in tricky or unpredictable situations. But if the vehicle has been cruising along without any input from the driver, the driver may not be fully ready to drive.
“Just think about all the things you might be doing in a self-driving car and then the situation that the external sensors recognize that the driver needs to take over control in a 3-4 seconds, e.g. due to a crash on the highway or cattle crossing the countryside road,” said gestigon co-founder and CEO Moritz v. Grotthuss in an email interview.
“If you have a coffee mug in your hands, that might be possible. A laptop might be more fragile. Newspapers? You might have put the back of the seat in a lying position and you can’t even reach the steering wheel. You might not be in the driver seat at all, or breast-feeding, or sleeping, or wearing VR glasses. The car needs to know if you are able to take over control or not!”
There are vehicles on the road today that monitor driver awareness, usually via cameras that provide a 2D image. Gestigon uses depth sensors that tell the system the distance from the lens to each pixel. Grotthuss said it works like the Xbox Kinect in that way.
“Skin color, noisy background, light conditions, etc. don’t matter,” with this technology, he said. “You get the same results in bright sunlight as well as the darkest night.”
While gestigon’s technology can track just about anything a person does, in this particular application with Renault, the focus is on the seating position of the driver.
“What are they doing? Where is their head and where are they looking? Where are their arms and hands? Do they have an object in their hands?,” he explains. All of these factors will tell the vehicle if the driver is prepared to actually drive.
Renault and gestigon aren’t yet saying when this 3D mapping of drivers will be available in vehicles, but the transition of power from vehicle to human is going to be an important safety hurdle to clear as cars become more — but not entirely — autonomous in the near future.