New technology gives smart cars ‘x-ray’-like vision to improve road user safety.

Australian researchers at iMOVE have developed disruptive technology that allows autonomous vehicles to track moving pedestrians hidden behind buildings and cyclists obscured by larger cars, trucks, and buses.

The game changing technology allows an autonomous vehicle to “see” the world around it, utilising “x-ray” style vision to penetrate pedestrians in blind spot areas and to detect cyclists obscured by fast-moving vehicles.

The iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre-funded project, collaborating with the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics and Australian connected vehicle solutions company Cohda Wireless, has just released the new findings after three years of research and development.

The technology’s applications, which are being commercialised by Cohda, involve an emerging and promising technology for Intelligent Transportation systems (ITS) called cooperative or collective perception (CP).

Using roadside ITS information-sharing units equipped with additional sensors such as cameras and lidar (‘ITS stations’), vehicles can share what they ‘see’ with others using vehicle-to-X (V2X) communication.

Being connected to the one system allows autonomous vehicles to access various viewpoints; significantly increasing its range of perception and allowing connected vehicles to see things they wouldn’t normally.

The system even alerts users to vehicles which may be about to run through a red light.

The engineers and scientists behind CP believe the technology could benefit not just those connected to the system, but all road users.

“This is a game changer for both human-operated and autonomous vehicles which we hope will substantially improve the efficiency and safety of road transportation,” Professor Eduardo Nebot from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics said.

“The connected vehicle was able to track a pedestrian visually obstructed by a building with CP information. This was achieved seconds before its local perception sensors or the driver could possibly see the same pedestrian around the corner, providing extra time for the driver or the navigation stack to react to this safety hazard,” he said.

“Using the ITS system, the connected autonomous vehicle managed to take pre-emptive action: braking and stopping before the pedestrian crossing area based on the predicted movement of the pedestrian,” Professor Nebot added.

“The pedestrian tracking, prediction, path planning and decision making were based on the perception information received from the ITS roadside stations. CP enables the smart vehicles to break the physical and practical limitations of onboard perception sensors.”

Lead project researcher Dr Mao Shan said the research confirmed that using CP could improve awareness of vulnerable road users and safety in many traffic scenarios.

“Our research has demonstrated that a connected vehicle can ‘see’ a pedestrian around corners”, said Dr Mao Shan.

“More importantly, we demonstrate how connected autonomous vehicles can autonomously and safely interact with walking and running pedestrians, relying only on information from the ITS roadside station,” he said.

Dr Shan’s prediction is one backed by Cohda Wireless Chief Technical Officer Professor Paul Alexander, who said the new technology has the potential to increase safety in scenarios with both human operated and autonomous vehicles and consecutively, curtail the cost of Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV) technology.

“CP enables the smart vehicles to break the physical and practical limitations of onboard perception sensors, and embrace improved perception quality and robustness,” Professor Alexander said.

“This could lower per vehicle cost to facilitate the massive deployment of CAV technology”, and using CP for manually driven connected vehicles, “also brings an attractive advantage of enabling perception capability without retrofitting the vehicle with perception sensors and the associated processing unit”.

iMOVE Managing Director Ian Christensen said the CP project is a great example of industry collaborating with scientists to unleash new innovations for commercial and public benefit.

Not just for Australians, but road users (including pedestrians and cyclists) across the globe.

“When we bring industry and scientists together, we can achieve many great things as a nation”, Christensen said.

“iMOVE CRC is proud to have initiated this exciting project and many others like it – which are all about getting our best and brightest minds working together to develop new technologies and innovations for real-world problems and needs”.