As automotive technology gradually advances towards autonomy, it is of the utmost importance that automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM's) pay special attention to Vulnerable Road Users (VRU) in future product development. The classification of "Vulnerable" describes individuals who are at increased risk due to the lack of a "shell" (protective structure), task capability, resilience, and velocity. These individuals are then subdivided into mode-of-transport and age. Children, the elderly, and the disabled are at the highest risk because of their low task capability and, in some cases, lower physical resilience.
According to the Institute for Road Safety Research, VRU's comprise over half of all traffic deaths worldwide, and the risk is more than 3 times higher in developing countries (World Health Organization, 2018). In 2019, 29 people died while riding bikes in New York City. Of which, 25 were killed by drivers behind the wheel of large trucks, buses, SUVs, or vans. On January 7, 2020, an elderly-woman was walking directly in front of a truck stopped at an intersection in New York. As the light turned green, the truck rolled forward, killing her. Just hours earlier, a 10-year-old boy was also killed by the driver of a city sanitation truck in Queens (NYC Streets).
Many solutions for the VRU problem have been suggested and incorporated into existing and future vehicle technologies. Everything from the use of:
- Energy-absorbing materials in the front of vehicles
- Airbag systems which deploy outside of the vehicle around the hood
- Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) use Blind-Spot Detection, Automatic Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, etc. to alert the vehicle operator and/or slow or stop the vehicle autonomously
- Many municipalities have also lowered speed limits in mixed-use city traffic areas where VRUs are at increased risk or in large concentrations
Validation testing of ADAS systems has been simplified and made safer through the development of pedestrian test platforms produced predominantly by 4Active Systems, AB Dynamics, and Humanetics. These systems utilize a "dummy" target mounted on a moveable platform (surfboard), which is triggered to move, stop, or change directions precisely in terms of distance, time, and velocity. Targets range from child and adult-size pedestrians, moped riders, motorcycle riders, bicyclists, and even other cars. Made of materials that allow them to be impacted by test vehicles without damaging the target or the vehicle-under-test, these targets have the same characteristics of VRUs for detection capabilities (natural movement, articulating limbs, rotating wheels, surface reflectivity, and Radar Cross Section).
States such as Michigan (American Center for Mobility, Fowlerville Proving Grounds, Mcity at the University of Michigan College of Engineering) and Arizona (Exponent Test and Engineering Center and the future Institute for Automated Mobility) have built, or are developing, Proving Ground Test facilities. These Proving Ground Test facilities specifically cater to testing of ADAS and Autonomous vehicles with roadways, purpose-built to resemble city and highway roadways used to simulate real-world traffic situations.
The severity of injury and the likelihood of a commercial vehicle vs. VRU incident resulting in a fatality increases exponentially as vehicle mass does, which is the most severe consequence within the commercial vehicle sector (large trucks, buses, agriculture, and heavy equipment). For this reason, the advancement of ADAS technology and VRU protections are more critical within this Commercial Vehicle segment.
At PRECO Electronics, we are committed to safety and have adapted our sensors to not only aid in vehicle blind-spot-detection but also detection of these Vulnerable Road Users within the Commercial Vehicle Category. Our development of millimeter-wave RADAR systems (76-81GHz) allows enhanced ability to accurately detect multiple targets, distinguish targets, and provide enhanced detection capabilities, warning the operator that there is an object in their blind-spot through the use of an audible and visual reference driver display.