In-Vehicle Radar is Sensing a Victory in Safety

By Ken Briodagh

Senior Technology Editor

Embedded Computing Design

May 31, 2024


In-Vehicle Radar is Sensing a Victory in Safety

In the world of computer sensing and IoT, vision is the current hot number. Although vibration, weight, scent, and other sensing are extremely useful in their niches, vision is more widely applicable to lots of solutions and uses.

There are many ways to approach vision sensing, from simple light meters all the way up to high-definition video paired with AI object detection, but many applications require something in between. The problem with vision for environmental and object detection is that it’s often expensive in both cost and resources, or users trade out fidelity for lower cost.

For the ability to get vision-like fidelity in object sensing, while not spending AI algorithm money, many developers are using radar systems. These use sound waves to detect objects and can even render them into visual-like maps of areas and even detect motion.

As an interesting new radar use case, NOVELDA has announced a new application for its X7 Ultra-Wideband In-Cabin Sensor radar system that adds seat occupancy detection capabilities. NOVELDA is a company that builds ultra-wideband (UWB) radar sensors, and it demonstrated the new multi-target seat occupancy detection functions at Embedded World 2024 back in April.

NOVELDA says its X7 radar chip is already capable of performing the world’s lowest power presence detection, child presence detection (CPD), and vital signs monitoring. To that, the company has added seat occupancy detection capability through a software upgrade. Now, reportedly, a single UWB sensor can detect human presence in each seat within the car cabin. NOVELDA also demonstrated other solutions with its design partners, including a vital signs monitoring sensor created by Xandar Kardian and a gesture recognition demonstration with TrueSense software running on the NOVELDA X7 UWB system-on-chip (SoC) and module.

NOVELDA says the X7 can fulfill multiple use cases with a single X7 system-on-chip (SoC), including ultra-low power presence and intrusion detection, child presence detection, seat occupancy detection, vital signs monitoring and gesture recognition.

This occupancy sensing paired with the vital signs can prevent pediatric heatstroke and may serve further lifesaving applications by detecting car crash survivors through its heartbeat detection functionality, according to the announcement. X7 has a reported field of view (FoV) of nearly 180 degrees to allow OEMs to reduce the number of sensors in the vehicle, leading to cost savings compared to other solutions, including 60GHz radar, NOVELDA says.

Since this solution doesn’t use traditional weight sensors, NOVELDA says it can differentiate between people and objects, which will prevent people from needing to buckle in their groceries (Yes, I’ve done that, and so have you!). It also leads to fewer false seat belt alarms. The solution senses the occupant’s tiny motions, including breathing and heartbeat, even if a person is motionless or there is a baby in the seat, so it’s easy to tell the difference between people and pasta. You might need to strap in your pet rabbit though.

UWB frequencies reportedly also enable simpler mechanical integration than competing in-cabin sensing radars because UWB can sense through car seats and other materials via centimeter wavelengths. It’s also low-power, consuming less than 50 microwatts in a 1 frame-per-second configuration, outperforming any other existing radar integrated circuit (IC) on the market today, the company says.

“By optimizing our X7 radar chip with software enabling seat occupancy detection, we ensure our NOVELDA X7 UWB In-cabin Sensor can serve additional automotive applications through robust reliability and precision,” said Dag Wisland, CTO and founder, NOVELDA. “NOVELDA’s groundbreaking UWB sensing technology has proven its diverse utility by delivering lifesaving CPD capabilities in the automotive sector and vital signs monitoring in the digital healthcare sector, and now sets a new standard for seat occupancy detection and other in-cabin sensing capabilities.” 

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about vision with our eyes and start listening with our (subsonic) ears.

Ken Briodagh is a writer and editor with two decades of experience under his belt. He is in love with technology and if he had his druthers, he would beta test everything from shoe phones to flying cars. In previous lives, he’s been a short order cook, telemarketer, medical supply technician, mover of the bodies at a funeral home, pirate, poet, partial alliterist, parent, partner and pretender to various thrones. Most of his exploits are either exaggerated or blatantly false.

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