Allison Ridder and her team are working on in-cabin monitoring - and providing an important solution for the era of autonomous driving. Here, the project manager explains how it all came about and what they are planning for in 2021.
I never thought I would have the opportunity to oversee this kind of project. I only started working at Continental in 2018 – initially on the team for interior innovations. After only two months at Continental, my boss approached me about a project opportunity to expand our use-cases for in-cabin monitoring to include object detection. We then soon decided to pitch this idea to co-pace - Continental's innovation program.
The company created co-pace to support whatever innovative idea you have. The type of ideas that you would like to start your own company with. So, my boss asked me: “Would you like to do this?” And I said: yes, sure. She added that there was only one problem: I would have to move to Berlin, Germany for a few months. I answered, “sure, why not?”
Technology for the age of autonomous driving vehicles
What is the idea behind in-cabin monitoring of objects? Before the pitch, the ridesharing provider, has approached us with the question of whether the Continental cameras would also be capable of interior monitoring for objects. The background to the question was simple: ridesharing works like a cab and guests regularly forget their belongings in the vehicle. That is where our prototype started. It was just showing that you could develop an algorithm that can determine if something is left behind in the vehicle. And you can also train it to classify what that object it is – a backpack, wallet, cell phone, etc.
We won the co-pace pitch, so in-cabin monitoring for objects became a stand-alone project. Since then, we have kind of accelerated it to also include additional classifications for people. It is not about whether people are left behind but seeing what kind of position a person is in inside the vehicle. Where are their eyes focused on? Is the driver looking out the window?
These are important questions when it comes to autonomous driving. For example, if the vehicle wants the driver to resume driving, how does the vehicle know if the driver is ready? In the future, we can determine this and other key factors with our in-cabin monitoring system by looking at where the driver is positioned, where they are looking, etc. Another example is intelligent airbag deployment: if a passenger is seated in a way that it might be dangerous for an airbag to deploy, preventing deployment in this case would also enhance the safety system. These are just two examples – we are discovering many more possibilities than we originally thought.
Global experience for better products
One of the real big trouble spots for this project at the beginning was that there were always people – maybe in different regions of the world or different parts of Continental – making prototypes or algorithms for in-cabin monitoring, but it was never combined into one project. It was never shared between people. So, we collected all the individual projects and made improvements based on our findings from analyzing and evaluating. And now, these projects are no longer operating on individual PCs - they are now integrated in one system - which is pretty impressive considering where we started.
Where we are headed in 2021
For us, 2021 will be about getting our system demo into vehicles to validate the algorithms for factors in the vehicle interior environments.
What motivates me along the way?
The satisfaction of the users. For me, that is a huge motivation, knowing that my very end user is pleased with my products because they know they can trust it. When I used to work on engines, the only time someone would know or care about my product was when their engine breaks down.
But when I work with interiors, people have a much more positive association with my product because they enjoy using it and appreciate the quality. I have so much more of an impact on people's just day-to-day life, like the things that they interact with in the vehicle, how safe their vehicle is, how safe they feel in public transit. That is what I really appreciate.
This article was written by our employee.