Driver And Occupant Monitoring Systems

2022 blog header driver and occupant monitoring

The potential to have interior driver and occupant monitoring is creating a variety of opinions in the industry. The range of opinions include:

  • We have reached a point where there is simply no reason not to have systems like these, which could dramatically improve safety and reduce accidents on the road.
  • Commercial truck fleets are already using driver monitoring for business purposes and not due to any regulatory push.
  • Only Level 2 to Level 3 driving scenarios need pure driver monitoring, and the need will disappear in autonomous driving. However, the slowing launch timelines to Level 4 autonomous driving are accelerating the interest in Level 2 to Level 3 driver monitoring in this extended interim period. It is precisely the growing reliance on semi-automated driving that paradoxically creates a lack of attention among drivers.
  • In the passenger vehicle market, the OEM Evergrande New Energy Vehicles points out that some consumers may be concerned about privacy and cover up the monitoring. In 2021, Tesla’s shift to in-car cameras is attracting attention from consumer agencies due to the potential as a privacy risk.

The earliest monitoring systems focused on monitoring the driver; then expanded to include a side passenger, and now with the inclusion of rear-seat monitoring, the need expands to all-inclusive cabin monitoring. In addition, the potential to consolidate ECUs for driver monitoring with exterior ADAS sensing was recently viewed as being achievable many years in the future. However, Qualcomm already targets this integration with a platform that now includes vision perception, parking, and driver monitoring. All of this has happened before the application has reached critical mass in production vehicles.

The available strategies for driver monitoring include basic pressure sensing, radar, ultrasonic approaches. However, the dominant interest area is infrared-based systems. In detail, the approaches include:

  • Pressure or torque sensing: Steering wheel sensors can, in a fundamental sense, monitor pressure indicating driver control or measure EKG functions to monitor heart rate. Tesla has also employed torque sensors in the steering wheel to monitor attentiveness.
  • Interior radar: Radar is attractive to the industry as a low-cost to camera that can detect respiration and heart rates. Supplier IEE in Luxembourg is currently proposing radar in the headliner to distinguish living and inanimate objects. Vayyar Imaging’s radar is also proposed for the headliner and offers a wide field-of-view and high resolution with forty-eight transceivers in its sensor. Vayyar hopes to earn ten in-cabin points on the Euro New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) ratings from 2024 onwards. In addition, child presence detection (CPD) will be worth up to four points in the NCAP scheme, while the existing requirement for front and rear seatbelt reminders (SBR) will become a precondition for achieving three different occupant status (OS) points. Hyundai’s 6V70 launched a radar-based system in 2020.
  • Ultrasonic sensing: Hyundai currently offers two types of rear occupant alert systems, one of which utilizes ultrasonic sensing. A door-logic system detects if rear doors opened or closed before or during start-up and then reminds the driver to check the rear seat with a message on the center cluster when exiting the vehicle. Its ultrasonic variant uses door-logic technology combined with an ultrasonic sensor to detect the movements of children and pets in second-row seats. If the system detects movement in the second-row seats, it will alert the driver after leaving the vehicle.
  • Infrared (2D Near Infrared Cameras or 3D Time of Flight Systems): The primary use cases of near-infrared light in driver monitoring or occupant monitoring applications began with simple pupil-center corneal reflection algorithms, but the industry desires a more comprehensive understanding of driver position, recognizing gestures within the appropriate contexts as well as detecting occupant presence throughout the vehicle. The main components of infrared systems include emitters, a PCB, and a camera. An infrared emitter that can create wider fields of illumination, greater than 100°, paired with a camera that measures the same wider field of view, creates the potential to monitor more spaces in the vehicle: not just the driver but other occupants.

At Western OEMs, the two leading driver monitoring suppliers are algorithm-based Tier Two companies with more than a decade of experience: Smart Eye AB from Sweden and Seeing Machines from Australia. A third competitor, Cipia, formerly Eyesight Technologies, also has a promising future based on design wins in China. But, beyond these, the rest of the aspiring driver monitoring startups are struggling. For example, Toyota’s Tier One supplier Aisin launched one of the earliest driver monitoring systems in 2006 at Toyota, but the system is brittle and unable to meet requirements, and Aisin is still working on it. Meanwhile, Toyota’s other supplier, Denso, has taken on the Tier One role at Aisin’s expense through Denso’s work with Seeing Machines and Qualcomm.

Seeing Machines developed a leadership role in Australia over a decade ago with monitoring systems in the lucrative market of multi-million-dollar mining trucks. After slowly adapting its product for automotive, Seeing Machines now enjoys relationships at General Motors, Ford, Stellantis, BMW, Daimler, and Toyota. Notably, Seeing Machines is the only Tier Two software player to sit on the Euro NCAP’s advisory group, which will become key to comparing monitoring performance in ways consumers understand

Despite the guarantee of a driver monitoring market in Europe, there is no ubiquitous monitoring technology until the margins are reduced. Some OEMs are simply waiting for one design cycle until the costs become cheaper, while others are trying to get involved in supply and demand to reduce costs actively. It is telling that Volkswagen pursued an augmented head-up display in the iD.3 and iD.4 instead of a driver monitoring solution.

ITB has surveyed global OEMs regarding their cabin development goals and unmet needs. ITB’s customers are developing solution sets that will be applied to advanced interiors in electric vehicles and new mobility as their volumes increase. Contact The ITB Group to gain insights and construct strategies for solution development and commercialization

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