Speeding up The Road to Full Autonomy

Article By : Giorgio Scuro

Vehicles with full autonomy promise to deliver a range of benefits, including reduced travel time, improved passenger experience and improved safety...

For the past few years, there’s been an unending parade of news, hype and enthusiasm about the introduction of self-driving cars with full autonomy. Autonomous vehicles promise to deliver a range of benefits, including reduced travel time, improved passenger experience and perhaps most importantly, improved safety. To be clear, it’s no longer a question of whether we will see self-driving cars en masse; it’s a question of when.

But as the timeline for fully autonomous vehicles keeps getting pushed further out, there’s no need to wait for Level 5 autonomous driving to deliver on these promises, because today’s advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) technologies can already make our roads safer and commutes more enjoyable.

At Micron, we believe that much of the technology available in today’s vehicles — or that we’ll find in next-generation models — can already have a profound effect on improving safety. Not to mention there are other benefits like improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

In the coming years, in-cabin driver monitoring systems, cellular vehicle-to-vehicle (C-V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (C-V2I), and vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) communications will be required because of Europe’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). It probably won’t be too long before we see U.S. automakers offering these features as well.

So how can today’s automotive technologies enable us to build the next-generation cars of tomorrow?

Using today’s technology to control a vehicle speed
With the technology already found in today’s cars, we can make great strides in controlling its speed. Forward-looking cameras can detect the posted speed limit and issue a warning when a driver exceeds it. This warning comes in the form of a red light on the dashboard, an audible alarm or a haptic sensor vibration felt in the steering wheel.

For younger drivers, or alternatively for those with an excessive number of speeding violations, we believe this technology could be taken one step further. Rather than just warning the driver, the technology could actually reduce the speed of the vehicle.

Because millions of vehicles today support drive-by-wire technologies, upgrading this existing feature from a system that simply alerts the driver of excessive speed to a system that keeps the driver from speeding may be relatively straightforward — and could significantly enhance road safety.

Technology can monitor drivers with the help of AI
Europe’s NCAP, which ranks cars based on safety, will require all vehicles in 2024 to contain a camera-based in-cabin driver monitoring system (DMS). The intent of a DMS is to detect a driver’s gaze to understand if they are distracted or drowsy and send an alert to correct the behavior. High-performance artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms are expected to detect driver gaze and the characteristics of drowsiness.

DMS capabilities are already deployed in massive haul trucks. Typically used by mining companies, a haul truck can stand more than 25 feet tall and carry in excess of 400 tons. Mining truck drivers typically work long hours and suffer from fatigue; therefore, DMS technology was implemented to prevent accidents.

The AI technology used in a DMS not only recognizes a drowsy driver, it may even be able to detect the characteristics of an intoxicated one. As DMS technology finds its way into vehicles, this technology could restrict or disable a vehicle if the driver appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. An ignition interlock system based on a DMS will likely be harder to thwart than today’s more traditional breathalyzer system, which can be defeated with help from a willing sober person. Furthermore, a DMS-based interlock requires no additional hardware and can be readily implemented using existing technologies that, in time, will be standard in future vehicle models. This expanded use of DMS technology is expected to have a profound effect on keeping our roads safer.

There are two different emerging DMS architectures: the first relies upon a standalone dedicated processor that is responsible solely for DMS processing. The second architecture shares the DMS processing with other functions typically associated with a multicore system on a chip. Either implementation demands best-in-class automotive qualified storage and DRAM. Whereas the standalone processor may require more modest DRAM performance, typically the second type of architecture drives higher performance DRAM solutions due to the higher compute demands of the multicore system on a chip.

Communicating with other vehicles and infrastructure
C-V2X is yet another innovative technology that will be a mandatory NCAP feature by 2024. C-V2X enables wireless communication between vehicles, roadway infrastructure and pedestrians. Because wireless communication is not typically limited to line of sight, wireless communication should allow vehicles to “see around” corners and understand the intent and actions of fellow drivers and pedestrians.

Because C-V2X will continuously transmit the active driving state of a vehicle and receive the active states of other vehicles in its vicinity, a car aggressively slamming the brakes would be communicated to all vehicles following that car. With that advanced knowledge, a C-V2X-enabled vehicle can apply its brakes significantly sooner than one that relies on a driver. This same concept could be applied to detecting pedestrians and recognizing their intent to cross the street in advance of its actual occurrence. This ability to identify the probable outcome of a given situation is akin to what today’s drivers commonly refer to as defensive driving.

Around the world, drivers lose considerable time each year to congestion. A study foundthat the average traffic jam lasted 41.7 minutes, during which traffic slowed to 7.3 mph. However, the study found that C-V2X technology drastically reduced the effect of traffic jams. When 10% of simulated vehicles had V2X technology, the average traffic jam time fell to 3.6 minutes and the average speed increased to 25.5 mph. These improvements were the result of vehicles accelerating and braking in coordination.

In scenarios like this, the savings in emissions alone can be quite profound, especially in instances where these traffic events occur on densely packed, multi-lane freeways. It is also important to note that the above scenario assumes only 10% of the vehicles contained C-V2X connectivity. The improvements could be even more profound as the rate of C-V2X communication adoption increases. And because the C-V2X module will be typically located in the vehicle shark fin, guaranteed operation at extreme temperatures is essential. There are also large constraints placed on area, which is why automotive engineers are increasingly turning to multi-chip packages, which combine memory and storage into one streamlined, monolithic package that is tested to withstand the extreme heat in vehicles. These compact packages are able to pack a punch with automotive-optimized, high-density, tightly coupled memory and storage in a small form factor, freeing up space for engineers and designers to add further enhancements which might help make the next generation of vehicles even smarter and safer.

Safer roads ahead
For both our personal safety and the safety of our environment, I am a firm believer that we need to push for the broader adoption of C-V2X technologies in addition to the accelerated and broader deployment of the different technologies outlined here. Whether it’s driving adoption of C-V2X and DMS or tailoring existing street sign recognition systems, we don’t need to wait for fully autonomous vehicles to significantly improve the safety of our roadways or the health of our environment. We just need to take a second look at the technologies already designed into our vehicles today.

Giorgio Scuro is Micron’s vice president of the automotive division under Micron’s Embedded Business Unit.

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