As a society, we are soon reaching a future where the responsibility of road safety will be in the hands of AI. At OMRON Research institute, we have a designated international division working on developing technology to sense the drowsiness of drivers. Internal research shows our newly developed AI technology has the potential for decreasing car accident rates by up to 45.7%. The market outlook for this new technology is bright, as it not only differentiates cars which possess it in the market, but also contributes to society.
What do we really need to know to allow an AI to make decisions about driver safety? Dr. Suwa's adaptive sensing technology allows an AI to decide, based on factors including the direction the driver is facing and what is in their line of sight.
This data comes from sensors and is fed into the AI. The AI is a picky eater, however. Insufficient or irrelevant data can lead to very poor performance and, in the case of automotive sensing, real time results are required. OMRON's world class sensors ensure the AI gets what it needs.
Dr. Suwa says, "The brain evolved due to the quality of data fed to it by the body's sensors; eyes, ears, mouth, etc. It is our aim to provide our AI's with as much relevant data as possible, to produce evolutional development in them similar to the human brain." Sensors are the irreplaceable link between an AI and the real world and, just like a human brain, feeding an AI with good information will lead to better development.
OMRON's revolutionary driver concentration sensing technology, announced in 2016, embodies this idea. The fusion of Dr. Suwa's exceptional sensors with OMRON's cutting-edge AI systems led to an assisted driving system that, for the first time, was capable of real time threat classification and decision making by combining and analyzing the data from multiple sensory inputs.
One of the key challenges faced by Dr. Suwa and his team was that of the human factor. Relying on visual input alone for the system was insufficient, so the researchers at OMRON decided to factor in physical measurements from the driver themselves. "Someone may look like they are fully alert but their blood pressure or pulse may indicate otherwise" said Dr. Suwa. Even if a driver looks fully awake, the system knows the truth from the physical measurements. "We can alert the driver before they know they are even feeling sleepy, or the car can be safely brought to a halt in the case where the operator ignores the warnings and dozes off." Thanks to Dr. Suwa's team at OMRON, a future depicted in Sci-fi movies is possible today.
Ability to operate a vehicle is assessed through facial recognition and deep learning.
Reading is simple for humans, but has long posed a challenge for computers. Through research carried out by Dr. Suwa, OMRON has developed a number of systems to apply AI based character recognition to real world problems.
The first draft of the technology perfected an AI's reading on a 2D surface. Thanks to our systems, it is now possible for computers to read and understand, for example, the license plate of a speeding car, the expiry date on a pack of food or the lot number on a product at a factory.
The breakthrough in the technology came when Dr. Suwa's team decide to use two cameras to give the AI system a 3D view of the world. Use of two cameras gave the AI stereoscopic vision, allowing it to see objects in three dimensions. Where before with the 2D system, it was only possible to tell whether another car was in front of the driver's vehicle. Now, with the 3D upgrade, the AI knows the direction and speed of all traffic in front of and around the car with an accuracy of over 97%.
The development of a system that could sense, in real time, in an outdoor environment was revolutionary but of course, Dr. Suwa did not stop there. Applied to the electronics manufacturing industry, the high speed, accurate input from our state of the art sensors allows our AI to check the quality of solder joints and component mounting placement at up to 100x the speed of a human eye which was the previous industry checking standard. This technology led to a revolution in the electronics manufacturing industry making it possible to produce high-quality circuitry onsite at the manufacturing facility with unparalleled speed.
For 20 years, Dr. Suwa has been a pioneer of sensor technology. "We have an obligation to nurture the seeds of our discoveries into something that can benefit society," he says. His motto is, "A constant rubbing with a rope can cut down a tree, a constant drip of water on a rock will etch out a hole." His determination, like that of the rope or the drip of water, has led to these breakthroughs. He stresses, however, that stubbornness and monotonous application of effort is not part of his mantra. "It is due to the great diversity of areas we are permitted to experimentally apply our theories on that lead to these amazing discoveries. Without the freedom OMRON gives us to apply ourselves, we may never have made such breakthroughs."
Cars, people and bicycles inform each other of their positions.
As a word of caution, Dr. Suwa states, "It is not always good to fully automate everything. In fact, I believe that it is essential in the case of the driver and the car that it be viewed more as a communicative partnership with input from both sides leading to a safe, efficient journey. Cars will play a role as our partners in communication. Input from both the car and the driver are essential for the future of safe travel."
Steps on the Road.
In order to realize Dr. Suwa's vision of the future, there are still a number of hurdles to overcome. Paramount among them, there are three things he wishes to resolve in the near future: how to see things which are not physically visible, how to sense the inner details of a human and how to think of the future as an axis of time. A good example of the first is how bats use echolocation to detect insects their eyes cannot see. "Maybe by looking at other strange sensory systems in the animal kingdom we can discover new, novel ways to feed more information to our AI," muses Dr. Suwa.
"In my future, everyone will be able to drive without fear of accident or danger, OMRON is helping me to realize that future today."