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The FCC Grants Waiver Requests to Six Developers of Radar-based Vehicle Cabin Monitors, Including Tesla

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【Summary】The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology granted six waiver requests from equipment manufacturers and automakers to supply and operate in-cabin millimeter wave radar systems operating in the 60 GHz spectrum band. Millimeter wave radar technology is being used to develop advanced occupant monitoring systems designed to prevent a child or pet being left behind in a hot car.

FutureCar Staff    Apr 14, 2021 4:45 PM PT
The FCC Grants Waiver Requests to Six Developers of Radar-based Vehicle Cabin Monitors, Including Tesla

As the development of self-driving vehicles ramps up in the auto industry, most of the focus is on sensors outside of the vehicle such as lidar, radar and cameras to support perception systems for navigation. 

There are also camera-based driver monitoring systems being developed for level-2 autonomous driving systems to make sure a driver is paying attention when the vehicle is operating in autonomous mode.

But more recently millimeter wave radar technology is being used to develop advanced occupant monitoring systems designed to prevent a child or pet being left behind in a hot car. 

However up until now, the deployment of these short range radar cabin monitoring systems required a waiver from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which closely controls the frequency ranges that these types of radar systems can operate in. Now the FCC has cleared the way for cabin monitors to occupy the 60 Ghz bandwidth in the auto industry. 

The FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology granted six waiver requests from equipment manufacturers and automakers to supply and operate in-cabin millimeter wave radar systems operating in the 60 GHz spectrum band.

The FCC formally granted the waiver requests to Brose North America, IEE Sensing, Infineon Technologies Americas, Tesla, Valeo North America, and Vayyar Imaging.  

Today's actions by the FCC grant limited waivers of the agency's Section 15.255 technical and service rules for unlicensed operation in the 57-71 GHz band.  

The FCC said its technology and engineering experts determined that the applications receiving today's waivers "constitute a reasonable and narrowly crafted exception to these rules due to the benefits and life-saving potential of this technology."

"Technology is providing new ways for families to help keep their children safe," said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. "That's why I'm proud that the FCC can play a role in protecting kids from the avoidable danger of deadly heat stroke. With summer fast approaching, these waivers are a first step toward implementing a more permanent policy framework for promoting innovations like these life-saving auto safety technologies."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), children dying from heatstroke in cars, either because they were left behind or became trapped, has increased in recent years.  

There were over 50 deaths in both 2018 and 2019 in hot vehicles with the windows closed. The majority of these deaths are due to someone forgetting a child in the car, according to the NHTSA. 

In 2019, more than 20 leading automobile manufacturers committed to implementing some type of rear seat reminder systems as standard equipment in their vehicles no later than the 2025 model year. But the deployment of these systems that use radar requires a waiver from the FCC.

Radar-based cabin monitors are also being developed that incorporate cameras, where it's used to supplement a camera-based vehicle occupancy monitoring system. These types of imaging radar sensors can be mounted seamlessly into the headliner or above the rearview mirror facing the vehicle occupants.  

"Combining both camera and radar offers significant improvement in accuracy under low-light, noisy environments," said Vinay MK, Vice President of R&D of PathPartner, a company working on radar-based cabin monitoring systems for the auto industry.

How Do Radar-based Cabin Sensors Work?

Millimeter wave radar represents the next generation of radar technology. It works very much like the flash of a camera that momentarily illuminates the subject before taking a picture. However, instead of using light from a camera flash, millimeter wave radar uses pulses of radio wavelengths, explained Anthony Freeman, Manager, Planetary Science Formulation at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.

In a traditional camera, the light from the flash is reflected back through the camera lens to capture a scene in low light conditions. Whereas millimeter wave or "imaging radar" uses an antenna and static random-access memory (SRAM) memory to record its images. The radar only captures the light that was reflected back towards the radar's antenna. 

This reflected light is known as a "point cloud" and each frame shows the dimension, shape, location and movement of any vehicle occupants. From these radar images, deep-learning algorithms can be used to determine what they are.

When used as part of a driver or passenger monitoring system, radar can be used to detect subtle movement or even a person's breath in a vehicle's interior, such as a sleeping child under a blanket or the presence of pets.

"Detection of infants in baby seats, even when covered under blankets, is possible only by a radar module," said Vinay. 

Millimeter-wave radar for in-cabin monitors is ideal due to its smaller wavelength, higher resolution, accuracy and the ability to distinguish between two objects. It's being considered by automakers due to its small size and robust performance.

Now that the FCC has cleared the way for radar cabin monitors operating in the 60 Ghz range, expect to see them introduced in new vehicles in the near future.

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