All of us in Singapore are aware of the recent tragedy at Tanjong Pagar, when a BMW M4 Coupe got into a tragic accident in the wee hours of Feb 13th, 2021. Having agreed that the car was going too fast, the 5 young men lost their lives despite having an array of safety features in the car, including
airbags for front/ side/ overhead/ knee impact,
seatbelt pretensioners, and
stability control that automatically helps to regulate engine power once the handling limits of the vehicle are exceeded.
However, for pure thrill of the power and speed, the driver can choose to alter the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) settings. By pressing the DSC button for 4 seconds, the DSC can be disabled and the car delivers maximum power.
Figure 1. Classification of car safety measures
Safety features on a car can be broadly classified into two different categories:
Proactive - Features that monitor safety in the anticipation of an accident
Reactive - Features that ensure safety in a car during a situation of an imminent accident and after
Car manufacturers may allow some of these safety features to be altered by the user according to their preference. Other features which are deemed critical to the safety of the driver and the occupants by law usually remain unaltered under normal circumstances.
NCAP is an organization that helps promote the most important safety features in vehicles worldwide. According to the NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) for ASEAN countries, the major focus remains on AOP (Adult Occupant Protection), COP (Child Occupant Protection), Safety Assist and MS (Motorcyclist Safety).
For AOP, there is now increased emphasis on HPT (Head Protection Technologies). UN R135 is being made a prerequisite which
• Directs car manufacturers to fit more side airbags, and
• Calls for changes in system designs of current airbags to increase their effectiveness in the event of side impacts.
In case of COP, there will be introduction of child presence detection technology in most cars.
Auto emergency braking system and seatbelt reminder for rear occupants will continue to be the most important aspects of safety assist.
Table 1. Calculation Table of the ASEAN NCAP Roadmap 2021-2025
Car manufacturers are obviously following these directives and also investing a lot into R&D to improve safety in cars, however car accidents and casualties haven’t ceased. OECD reported close to 3.58M car accidents involving casualties in 2017 in China, Germany, India, Japan, Korea and the US alone. From 2008-17, the number of casualties in car accidents have mostly remained constant or increased over the course of these 10 years, with the exception of Japan.
The World Health Organization also reported in February 2020, that about 1.35M people die every year as a result of road accidents, which is a combination of driver/ passenger casualties and pedestrian casualties. In financial terms, most countries are spending about 3% of their GDP on costs related to road traffic crashes. 8 major risk factors were recognized which include:
driving under the influence of alcohol and other psychoactive substances,
nonuse of motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints,
unsafe road infrastructure,
inadequate post-crash care, and
inadequate law enforcement of traffic laws.
Figure 2. Number of Accidents Involving Casualties (2008 - 2017) by Countries
HISTORY OF VEHICLE SAFETY FEATURES
Quite a few measures have been explored in the past and as discussed above, we continue to use some of these inventions - the two most basic ones being airbags and seatbelts.
1951/52: We started using airbags as early as 1951.
American John W. Hetrick came up with the specific design of airbags for automotive use cases and filed for a patent some time around 1952. Another patent for airbags was also applied for by German Walter Linderer in the same year. Much later, the Ford Motor Company first introduced airbags commercially in 1971.
1959: The V-type three point seat belt was invented by Nils Bohlin, who was an engineer with Volvo.
This was a welcome change and a technology which was all the more meaningful for Volvo’s then President, Gunnar Engellau,
who had lost his relative in a car accident because of the flaws in the two point seat belt design.
These technologies may still be effective to a large extent, but they are in no way self sufficient.
Can seat belts and airbags actually hurt you?
There are clear indications that seat belt restraints combined with airbags help reduce mortality in motor vehicle crashes by almost 50%.
But, what’s interesting to be noted is that abdominal injuries are highly frequent in drivers and passengers who wear seat belts and get involved in accidents. Diaphragmatic ruptures have also been reported in some cases. Risk of thoracic injuries increase when airbags are deployed during accidents. The possibility of chest injuries increases significantly in case the occupant has both seat belt and airbag in place.
CURRENT INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS
With the shortcomings of the existing technology, a few startups are breaking the barriers of imagination and taking safety to the next level with their revolutionary technology.
Derq is a MIT spin-off with patented AI and predictive analytics capabilities that can detect and predict extremely dangerous vehicle and VRU behaviors with a very high accuracy and enable low latency V2X communications in order to effectively avoid collisions.
Predina’s Deep Learning/ Machine Learning model is capable of predicting the likelihood, severity and cause of an accident by leveraging 28 different factors including weather, traffic, satellite imagery, road traffic etc. and over 2M records of previous accidents.
Zoox goes for redundancy with safety features by including a combination of cameras, radar and lidar for overlapping 360° scanning ability of the surroundings and also combines this with a redesigned airbag that better protects the head, neck and chest.
The general approach for most of these new-age startups has been to move towards being more proactive rather than reactive. However, as we have clearly seen, about 1.35M people are still dying in car crashes every year. GM’s self-driving unit, Cruise Automation, Waymo’s driverless cars, and Tesla’s autopilot system have all failed to deliver a no crash solution. Even with their stellar engineering team and the latest technology in automation, crashes have been imminent.
COMBINATION OF OLD AND NEW TECHNOLOGY
On the other hand, PreAct Technologies is trying to combine the old with the new in terms of technology. Their core technology “TrueSense” is based on image sensing and edge processing. It is an advanced sensing and decision making software.
Processing 500 million bits of data per second.
Providing 360° coverage around the vehicle.
A maximum warning time of 600 milliseconds for an imminent collision. Although, counter measures are deployed 250 milliseconds prior to impact.
The second phase of the technology is the combination with deploying the safety countermeasures, and alerting first responders.
The safety countermeasures include:
Active suspension - To move the vehicle body so that it absorbs most of the impact.
External airbags - To dampen the force of impact.
Active seats - To move occupants away from the point of impact.
Safety restraints - To maintain optimum protective position.
Large multi stage airbags - Deployed safely without explosive force.
The optimization of timing, sequence, force and positioning of all safety systems is what makes the software special. The hardware is already sitting with Tier 1 suppliers, but PreAct is helping bring them together for proper automated execution.
To sum it up, a combination of proactive and reactive measures works the best when it comes to maximising the safety aspects of a vehicle. If the user of the vehicle can interact with some of these safety features and change the working condition, then there should be a proper informative session when the vehicle is being bought, so as to let the user know the implications of altering the working conditions. Coming to the innovative solutions, with the advancements in material science, there is still space to do more with the body panels and doors on cars. Currently, the body panels and doors are just made out of stainless steel and aluminum adding nothing more than standard mechanical strength to the car. However, materials such as CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced polymers) can be utilized to attain suitable mechanical and sensing capabilities (carbon fiber has piezoresistive properties). If you are a car enthusiast and can think of other interesting ways to protect occupants/ drivers inside a car, we will love to hear from you.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: NAVARUN ATRAYA
Navarun Atraya is one of our Senior Investment Analyst in Plug and Play Singapore.