• Automated Vehicles
  • Automated Driving
  • Sensors
  • Intelligent Transportation Systems

In-Vehicle Monitoring Will Serve Many Uses in Automated Vehicles

Sam Abuelsamid
Jun 06, 2019

Smart Car 2

Any parent that has shuttled children to school, extracurricular activities, and play dates understands that in addition to driving they must also monitor what is happening inside the vehicle. As the age of the self-driving vehicle approaches, the car will be sensing what is happening both inside and outside of the cabin. At the recent Wards Auto Interiors conference we learned more about how our automated vehicles (AVs) will need to watch us as we go along for the ride.

At the conference, I moderated a panel on the design of AV interiors with Rich Matsu, senior director of engineering for Autoliv, and Tamara Snow, director of interior systems and technology for Continental North America. Part of the discussion addressed that automakers are already starting to deploy monitoring systems, even though we have yet to get to fully AVs. 

Sensor Needs for AVs

Since the mid-1990s, we have had sensors in seats to detect the presence of an occupant to manage airbag deployments. Cadillac uses an infrared camera on the steering column of the CT6 sedan to ensure the driver is watching the road while using the SuperCruise system. But these are just the beginning—especially for safety. 

Current interior restraint systems are designed with the presumption that the seats themselves will always be facing forward. However, many of the AV concepts shown in recent years feature seats that can swivel around to enable occupants to face each other when the computer is driving. Some concepts even feature seats that lie flat, like the business class section of airliners.

There is no guarantee of what position occupants will be in. Matsu described the need to design new types of seat-belts and airbags along with the need for sensing systems that go well beyond simply detecting the presence of a passenger. Adaptive restraints will need to understand the exact position and posture of occupants to avoid the risk of injuring rather than protecting passengers. Such sensors are one of the many products produced by Continental. 

Safety and Sensing

Both Snow and Matsu reminded the audience that AVs will likely coexist with human driven vehicles for decades to come and that, even when AVs dominate, the vehicles are unlikely to be perfect operators. While crashes will likely be cut dramatically, the nature of those that remain will probably change, with a higher percentage involving vehicles traveling in perpendicular directions compared to today. 

Snow discussed that, in the next decade, most AVs are unlikely to be owned by individuals as they are today. Instead, the market for AVs would be dominated by robotaxis that have much higher utilization than private vehicles. Safety is paramount for the operators of robotaxi fleets, but vehicle availability and utilization rates are crucial for the business to be viable.  

Today, a human driver can tell if a passenger has lit a cigarette, gotten sick, or left something behind. Without a driver, the vehicle itself must have awareness of the state of the interior. The sensing systems will be essential to ensuring that occupants are properly protected in the event of a crash. But these sensors will also manage when robotaxis need a depot visit for cleaning in order to ensure a good passenger experience. 

The outside of AVs will bristle with cameras, radar, lidar, and other sensors, and so will the passenger cabins.