Automotives include an increasing number of safety features. Like the airbags based on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), most of these safety features are electronic in nature.  And an increasing amount of these safety innovations are rooted in RF and microwave engineering. Freescale Semiconductor looks at where the market for automotive safety features currently stands and the technologies that are currently shaping them in a five-page white paper dubbed, “Automotive Safety Innovations: When Will Zero Fatalities Become a Reality?”

The paper begins by explaining the need for such features. Road deaths are currently the number-one cause of death for young people worldwide. With the economic cost of automotive deaths estimated at close to $100 billion per year for developing countries, the document points out that making vehicles safer is an economic imperative as well as a moral one. Electronic systems are the optimal way to improve vehicle safety. In developed countries, fatalities have already been greatly reduced by airbags and active safety systems like electronic stability control and radar.

One of the fastest-growing safety application areas is advanced driver assistant systems (ADASs). They require state-of-the-art, cost-effective RF technology that can be embedded in the vehicle. To make the system efficient and reliable for the driver, great computation power also is needed. This document provides a very helpful overview of ADASs and where they currently stand.

ADAS features can be divided into comfort and active categories. Among the comfort ADASs are applications that provide warnings or information for the driver, but do not adhere to safety requirements described by the ISO 26262 standard. They include blind-spot detection using short-range radar; lane detection; and parking assistance using multiple cameras with a panaromic view and potentially ultrasonic technologies.

In contrast, active ADASs are standalone, autonomous systems that actively influence the car. They have high functional safety requirements on a system—not a sensor—level. Among these applications are adaptive cruise control using long-range radar and lane keeping, which performs active steering using a front-view camera. In addition, collision-avoidance systems provide full-stop emergency braking using a fusion of long-range radar and a front-view or stereo camera.

In the collision-warning system from Freescale, for example, a 77-GHz silicon-germanium (SiGe) chipset transmitter emits signals that are reflected from objects ahead of the vehicle—as well as to the side and rear of it. These signal reflections are captured by multiple receivers integrated throughout the vehicle. The radar system can detect and track objects in the frequency domain, warn the driver of an imminent collision, and initiate electronic-stability-control intervention. The document closes by sharing Freescale’s vision of automotive safety: each car being its own small network, with systems exchanging information about everything from road conditions to tire pressure or driver fatigue. These in-car networks, in turn, will become elements of a larger network of vehicles.

Freescale Semiconductor, Inc., 6501 William Cannon Dr. West, Austin, TX 78735; www.freescale.com.