When you're driving your car, you might be distracted by something or even feeling sleepy, moving out from your lane or forced to brake suddenly to avoid an imminent collision. Radar technology exists to help you, but it's too expensive to be installed in ordinary cars. So what about some assistance from a single camera on a chip? This is what has developed Prof. Amnon Shashua of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "The chip operates in conjunction with a video camera that is mounted on the dashboard of a vehicle and that sends information on what it sees to an on-board computer containing the EyeQ chip." Shashua is currently working with major car manufacturers to integrate the technology into production, for example to send warning signals to drivers shifting from their lanes or to lock their seat belts and add extra pressure on the brake pedal in the event of an imminent crash. And one day, such cameras might become standard safety gear for cars, like air bags or seat belts.
Here is what will look like a car equipped with such a system (Credit: MobilEye N.V.).
Now, let's look at the genesis of the project.
EyeQ arose from an earlier system developed by Prof. Shashua for controlling manufacturing processes and providing quality control that combined optics and computer analysis. However, that system was relatively simple to implement, due to its operation in a controlled environment, compared to the challenge of "teaching" a computer chip to analyze the thousands of variables that the human driver sees and takes into consideration while driving. These variables include different lighting and weather conditions, lane markings, immobile objects, pedestrians and vehicles moving at various speeds and in different directions -- the list is almost endless. The work of collecting and interpreting this visual data was done in both the laboratory and under actual driving conditions.
What kind of applications can we expect from this technology?
Proposed applications of EyeQ include a warning signal for drivers straying out of their lanes, automatic cruise control to regulate the speed of the car depending on traffic movement, and automatic tightening of seat belts and extra pressure on the brake pedal in the event of an imminent crash.
While there are a few systems already on the market for dealing with some of these safety functions, they are based on expensive radar technology, which is more limited in its scope than the camera-computer analysis method of MobilEye.
He expressed the expectation that at least some of the safety apparatus that will come out of EyeQ applications will soon become standard safety gear on cars, as did such earlier developments as seat belts and air bags.
For more information about this system, you can read a previous article from the New York Times, "For the Multitasking Motorist, a Third Eye" (free registration, permanent link). Here is the introduction.
In an ideal motoring world, Amnon Shashua acknowledges, there would be no need for the EyeQ chip, a processor that analyzes signals from automobile-mounted cameras to warn drivers of potential collisions or other dangerous situations.
"If you're very vigilant and very alert, you don't need a thing to help you," said Dr. Shashua, the chairman and chief scientist of MobilEye, a company based in the Netherlands that produces EyeQ. "Your visual processing is much better than any computer."
Sources: Hebrew University of Jerusalem news release, June 27, 2004, via EurekAlert!; Ian Austen, The New York Times, February 19, 2004; MobilEye website