Pedestrian deaths spawn new lifesaving automotive tech

The improvements are driven by innovation — image resolution has increased from 1.2 megapixels on standard cameras to 1.7 megapixels on ZF’s latest, Whydell said.

They’re also driven by new benchmarks set by Europe’s New Car Assessment Program, designed to better protect vulnerable road users. This year, the program introduced two new scenarios to its testing regimen, including one in which a car turns into a simulated pedestrian.

ZF has added a pair of forward-facing, short-range radars to the corners of automated emergency braking systems that complement camera technology and further stretch the field of view to 180 degrees. They will help detect cyclists and scooters in Asia, where vulnerable road users comprise a greater percentage of traffic fatalities.

“That 6,000 number is terrible here,” Whydell said. “But it’s also a reminder that it’s a lot worse elsewhere.”

At Bosch, Stepper has worked to expand the field of view of single radar units. The company’s fifth-generation system has an improved field of view and angular resolution to detect pedestrians earlier. Radar typically is best used to detect larger, metallic objects, but Stepper says it can be optimized to detect people.

“We are very high in water content, and there is a strong reflection from that,” he said. “But in order to catch that, when you have a laterally crossing pedestrian, you need a wide detection range.”

Detecting is only half the prevention problem. Responding to detections is equally challenging. Along those lines, Bosch has introduced a braking system that, with an electromechanical boost, can initiate full braking in 190 milliseconds from a detection, Stepper says.

Still, the best way to prevent deaths may be to focus on deterring problems before vehicle technology ever needs to be relied upon.

While there is not yet firm data on pedestrian fatalities during the COVID-19 era, Adkins hopes the pandemic may provide an inadvertent silver lining by emphasizing the need for better infrastructure as more people take walks and eat outdoors.

“There’s an opportunity with COVID to prioritize pedestrian space,” he said “Our infrastructure has not kept up with that. So we’re really hopeful these trends of people getting out more will push for more infrastructure — more protected walkways — and being able to get somewhere on a bicycle or on foot.”

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