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Technology giant Panasonic recently unveiled its new and improved “artificial intelligence-enhanced head-up display” that senses whether the driver is speeding, swerving, or approaching a “roadway hazard” like a human being on a bike. If the new augmented reality windshield technology works as designed, this could mean less pedestrian and cyclist lives lost on the roads, and an improvement on distracted driving.
Panasonic reportedly said the system’s ultra-advanced 3-D radar cameras take in more of the roadway than its competitors, and can even sense things that human drivers either can’t see or frequently miss, like a person walking across a road without street lights or someone walking into a vehicle’s blind spots. Moreover, the sensors that power the display also sense whether the driver is aware that they are endangering others. And if not, they project an unmissable visual warning directly onto the windshield where the driver should be looking, accompanied by a vibration or auditory alert.
It essentially, the new technology works in this way: if a driver is looking at themselves in the rear view mirror and a child walks into the street in front of the car, the alert system will bleat extra loud and flash a warning directly into the motorist’s field of vision to give the driver an alert to stop. But if a driver is doing the right thing and giving the roadway their full and undivided attention, the system will give a gentler warning.
Andrew Poliak, chief technology officer for Panasonic Automotive reportedly said: “A lot of drivers are so inundated with all these non-contextual warnings from their ‘smart’ vehicles — all these bells and chimes and beeps — that they don’t always really hear them … We need to make sure we build systems that people do not turn off.”
The city of Los Angeles is infamous for pedestrian accidents— it’s the top worst city for pedestrian deaths in the U.S. Over 65% of all severe and fatal traffic collisions involving people walking occur on just 6% of our city streets, and it’s known as the High-Injury Network. Of the 86 traffic collision deaths in Los Angeles by May 2020, 50 victims — nearly 60% — were pedestrians killed by drivers.
And on the bike end, it’s not that much safer. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2018 California was the second state with the most pedalcyclist deaths in the country. In 2017, the city of Los Angeles experienced a total of 1,918 bicycle accidents that resulted in 17 fatalities, according to the California Highway Patrol’s Annual Report.
Panasonic has essentially created a head-up display that is designed to minimize safety warnings to drivers, while offering them more straightforward luxury features, like a turn-by-turn navigation system that can digitally draw a blue line on the windshield to show drivers exactly where to go without needing to rely on aural cues. But that same fancy navigation system could also help a driver better judge whether they are actually giving a cyclist at least five feet of passing space — and it could provide optimized safety alerts to which drivers will actually pay attention.
However, experts believe that human drivers are still generally better than an AV at making nuanced decisions about how to most safely pilot a vehicle in bad weather, in chaotic urban environments, or when something truly unconventional happens on the roadway that a computer can’t possibly be programmed to predict.