Satellite cameras provide more visibility around the car

Satellite cameras provide more visibility around the car

Feature articles |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

An application example of an intelligently networked camera system is the “transparent bonnet” function. This function went into series production for the first time at the end of 2018 in an SUV of a European automobile manufacturer (presumably Jaguar Land Rover). When driving slowly – for example when parking or off-roading – the screen in the vehicle shows the surface beneath the engine compartment. With the help of the optical information, a vehicle can be precisely maneuvered in narrow parking spaces with high kerbstones, over road thresholds or over rocks and furrows when driving off-road. The driver gets the impression that the bonnet and the engine compartment underneath are transparent.

Smart video stitching algorithms make the bonnet appear transparent – 
a potential benefit in rough terrain and when parking in confined spaces. © Continental

The image of the terrain below the vehicle is provided by the satellite cameras already installed in many vehicles today, which are located at the front of the radiator grille, at the rear and one each in the foot of the side mirrors. However, the cameras themselves cannot display the area under the vehicle. An image processing algorithm developed by Continental that takes various vehicle sensor data into account reconstructs the image below the vehicle and inserts this image into the panoramic view displayed to the driver.

The “transparent bonnet” is a further extension of what experts call “human vision” systems, which are based on camera displays and support the driver. Basically, this extends the Surround View system to include a view under the car. “We are now combining this ‘Human Vision’ with the so-called ‘Computer Vision’. This term encompasses all camera assistance systems that go beyond mere display to provide a warning or intervention function such as accelerating, steering and braking,” says Sascha Semmler, Head of Camera Program Management at Continental.

Computer vision systems include intelligent front cameras that not only detect traffic signs, traffic lights, lanes or obstacles, but can also recognize and evaluate them. The driver then receives the appropriate acoustic, visual or haptic information and warnings – for example, if the car threatens to leave its lane. The camera can also be used as an emergency brake assistant: If the system detects another road user in front of the vehicle, it automatically initiates emergency braking in order to avoid a collision as far as possible. Continental expert Semmler announces that this intelligence will no longer be linked to the front camera alone, but to several satellite cameras. The system will implement functions that automatically brake the vehicle even when reversing, for example if it comes too close to a person behind the car.

If all four satellite cameras, which in any case permanently record the car’s surroundings, are connected to a central control unit that can evaluate the image information and trigger the corresponding functions, remote or valet parking functions can also be implemented. The driver can then get out, and the vehicle finds its way into the gap by itself at the push of a button and parks in and out again.

Parking is a good example of how Continental’s new satellite camera system has a modular design and is scalable in terms of performance and functionality. From the purely optical support of the driver by means of a 360° all-round image of the vehicle environment to automated parking to a completely autonomous parking process after the driver has already left the vehicle, all stages of parking support can be implemented by the system.

Currently, satellite cameras with an image resolution of 1.3 megapixels are being installed on the car, a new camera generation with a resolution of 2.5 megapixels and distinctive night vision features is about to start series production. And for future applications, Continental is already developing a camera with 8 megapixel resolution as the next expansion stage. With these high-end cameras, it will be possible in the future to replace the classic rear-view mirrors and interior mirrors. They not only deliver a sharp image, but also the necessary data to detect a motorcyclist approaching quickly from behind early and precisely, even in difficult lighting conditions. In such a case, the system could warn the driver or prevent the vehicle from changing lanes as planned.

Networked satellite cameras not only depict reality, they also evaluate the optical information in combination with a central control unit and support an appropriate response. Not only the camera technology is decisive, but also the central computer unit Assisted & Automated Driving Control Unit (ADCU) in combination with the appropriate software.

At CES 2020, Continental will present its latest automotive innovations and technologies in a private exhibition area in the Renaissance Hotel.

Related articles:

Tools and processors for computer vision

Autonomous cars learn to drive with foresight

Porsche invests in TriEye for increased road safety

Continental abolishes rear view mirrors

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