Toyota’s Toyota Connected North America (TCNA) subsidiary is the company’s independent software and innovation center of excellence, tasked with taking on Silicon Valley-like tasks for the automaker.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that the company used a Silicon Valley activity to solve the problem of children and pets getting trapped in cars. TCNA Chief Engineer Simon Roberts hosted a 36-hour hackathon for engineers to brainstorm solutions to the problem of detecting children and pets in cars and educating drivers so they can be rescued before the car heats up inside.
The result is Toyota’s Cabin Awareness concept, which relies on a Vayyar millimeter-wave radar sensor to detect the presence of living things through the micro-movement of their heartbeats and breathing. This is the sensing part of the concept, and Toyota uses its Toyota Connected Services to immediately relay this information to the driver, and to others too if needed.
The 4-D radar sensor mounts under the roof of the car, out of sight behind the headliner fabric, from where it provides a bird’s eye view of the entire cabin. From there, the radar can detect the movement of living things inside the car, whether they are in the seats, floors, or cargo area of SUVs and vans. Toyota demonstrated the concept in one of its Sienna family vans. He even spots children who are covered with a blanket.
Toyota came across this solution when Roberts spotted the Vayyar sensor at the Consumer Electronics Show. Radar has key advantages over other presence sensing solutions, such as weight sensors, which may be prone to false alerts and erroneous detections, cameras limited by blind spots, or other types of radar systems which have a more limited passenger detection range.
“The main difference with this system is the improved resolution and accuracy, full cabin sensing, and breadth of functionality provided by Cabin Awareness,” Roberts said. “With the accuracy of these sensors, we are designing Cabin Awareness with the goal of reducing false positives and false negatives.”
According to Toyota, due to its exceptionally dense point-cloud imagery, Vayyar’s single-chip high-resolution 4D imaging radar is the only solution on the market capable of monitoring a vehicle’s entire cabin with a single sensor.
The nonprofit Kids and Cars reports that in the United States last year, 23 children died of heat stroke after being left in vehicles. And about a quarter of those kids who die in a hot car weren’t there when the driver got out. A car’s interior can heat up to 125°F in minutes even when the outside temperature is as low as 60°F, and children’s body temperatures rise three to five times faster than adults. This means that inside a vehicle during the summer, the temperature inside the cabin can reach levels dangerous for children in just 10 minutes.
When senior management demanded a solution to the problem of child deaths from heat in cars, Roberts organized the Toyota Connected Hackathon, a 36-hour innovation event in 2019 that challenged design teams from software and engineers to imagine, develop and test real-world solutions. This winning idea quickly garnered support after the Hackathon, allowing Roberts to build a team of engineers and develop the technology further.
At that time, Toyota vehicles lacked the proper electrical infrastructure and power management to be able to deliver an efficient system, according to group vice president, CTO, and chief data officer Brian Kursar. “They said, ‘Do we have any technology available in the car that can do something about this problem? “, he recalled. “I had to answer: ‘Unfortunately, no.'”
Now that the concept is being tested, Kursar is excited about its engineering team’s ability to make a positive impact. “I don’t think my work has ever had anything so meaningful,” he said. “I am very proud of the teams at Toyota Connected and TMNA Connected Technologies for developing this concept and believe in the talent and dedication of our engineers. »
Radar detection of occupants is a key first step, but until someone is aware of this information and can respond, it doesn’t matter. So the Cabin Awareness concept provides a series of warnings to help alert people to check the car immediately.
It may start with a warning light on the dashboard, followed by a honking of the horn and flashing of the car’s headlights. After these early warnings, the car sends the driver an SMS and a message through the Toyota app.
If that’s not enough to get a response, perhaps because the person doesn’t have their phone with them, Cabin Awareness can send notifications to a homeowner’s other connected devices, including smart lights or TV. He can also start browsing a list of additional emergency contacts assigned by the primary driver. If all else fails, the vehicle can call emergency responders to come and break into the car. Toyota is also considering vehicle-to-vehicle communication and the incorporation of smart infrastructure detail signage to further extend the reach of this alert.
The cabin awareness is still just a concept, but the functionality is being tested in the real world through Toyota’s Autonomous Mobility as a Service (AutonoMaaS) partner, May Mobility. This company is testing the technology in its fleet of Toyota Sienna self-driving minivans at its Michigan headquarters and will soon begin testing public AV deployments in Arlington, Texas, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, with additional deployments to come. end of 2022.