Mobility for All Boosts Safety and Independence for Driving Enthusiasts, Non-drivers, and Everyone Else


As part of its overall goal of helping innovators create, realize, and commercialize technologies useful to the country’s industry and society, Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) aims to maximize personal mobility to not only bring convenience in people’s live, but support their quality of life as well.

AIST Human-centered Mobility Research Center Director Satoshi Kitazaki recently outlined that vision during day 2 of TDK Ventures’ Digital Transformation Week in Tokyo. Speaking as part of the Mobility panel, Kitazaki explained how the center works to fulfill its mission “to achieve mobility that gives all people, including the older and the handicapped, freedom to go anywhere, anytime, and in any way.”

He said that in most countries — notably Japan and the United States — driver-error accidents are highest among the youngest and the oldest drivers. Owing to inexperience in the former case and diminished physical and cognitive functionality in the latter, these demographics stand to receive the greatest benefit from driver-assistance systems.

These systems include FCW — forward collision warning, LDW — lane-departure warning, and SOW — side obstacle warning. “They inform the driver about approaching crash risks,” Kitazaki explained. “Also, systems such as AEB — automatic emergency braking and LDP — lane departure prevention, control the vehicle to avoid a potential crash. These are ‘active’ safety systems and are a part of driver-assistance systems.”

While these technologies represent significant advances in vehicle safety and huge steps toward development of fully autonomous vehicles, they don’t yet meet Kitzaki’s definition of “flexible.”

“Flexibility of a driver-assistance system I interpret as adaptability to individual drivers,” he said. “Unfortunately, the current systems are not designed as adjustable, but it is not technically very difficult (to make them so).”

Flexibility, he said, would consider older drivers’ slower response times and allow for customization so, warning systems would activate earlier and with a higher intensity than the normal setting. This could work by triggering the LDW when the car drifts more than, say a foot in either direction, even if it has not yet approached the lane divider, median, or shoulder.

“The challenge is adjusting it to individual drivers,” he said. “So, more research is required to investigate a method to diagnose the response time of each driver. It needs to be simple, such as a computer-based program or paper test, and consider the practical uses in, for example, dealerships. Using adjustable active systems and a diagnostic method, all drivers can use more personally fitted systems with maximized safety benefits.”

He said it may be possible to automate the adjustments by designing the system to learn the car owner’s response time under normal conditions and then programming it to change the parameters for critical situations such as inclement weather, heavy traffic, low light, entering school or construction zones, or when road hazards are detected. He said it would be better, however, if the adjustments came as the service element with the driver-assist products, “because I hope and expect that such a system will be perceived by the customers as tailor-made, tuned especially for you.”

While these driver-assist features are important from a democratization standpoint and for potentially reducing the number of cars on the road by enabling ride-share and other next-generation mobility business models, more advanced technologies will be key to the automated-driving era.

“Systems such as ACC — adaptive cruise control and LKA — lane-keep assist, control the vehicle automatically. They reduce the driver’s workload rather than improving the safety only,” Kitzaki said, by reducing human participation in steering, braking, accelerating, and awareness of the driving environment.

He referred to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ levels of automation (from 0 for strictly manual driving to 5 for complete trust in an automated self-driving vehicle). Level-2 systems are widely available, he said, and there are also some low-speed Level-3 systems, but the market is too small to be commercialized.

“Levels 2 and 3 are intermediate products toward Level 5, and they still require some engagement with the human driver and the dynamic driving task,” Kitazaki said. They are implemented with many human/machine interfaces due to the new and quite complicated interactions between the system and the driver. Unfortunately, they are too difficult for older drivers to use. Level 5 will give safe movement from point A to point B to everyone — whether they are young, old, or physically challenged — while drastically reducing the number of crashes.

“Getting there will require more time and more innovation. The evolution of active safety systems is the key to further reduction of the number of road crashes”. One scenario for an intermediate step involves adoption of user-adaptive driver-assistance or flexible driver assistance for the safety of older drivers.

Accommodating all drivers means not only advancing toward fully autonomous vehicles for those who don’t want to pay attention to the road or who cannot drive to maintain mobility options. Others, like Kitazaki himself, drive for pleasure. This is a demographic car companies cannot afford to ignore. This category would benefit more from driver-support than automated driving. Automated systems that work with more limited engagement with the human allow the driver to derive pleasure from operating a high-performance or luxury vehicle, while incorporating additional safety measures for the operator’s and other drivers’ safety.

TDK Ventures presented its second annual DX Week over three days, broadcasting from three of the world’s recognized technology hubs. Day 2 from Tokyo focused on mobility issues and served as a fitting follow up to the opening session’s discussion of Computing and Connectivity from Silicon Valley. The panel during which Kitazaki presented his vision for mobility for all also included a discussion regarding software vendors’ growing role in supplying automobile OEMs and the ways personal and commercial mobility solutions will create a more just, environmentally responsible society. It was held with fellow panelists Kozue Nakayama, outside director of Isuzu Motors Limited; Hiroko Osaka, Head of Asian Marketing at LexisNexis Intellectual Property Solutions; Shinpei Kato, founder, CEO and CTO at TIER IV, Inc.; and TDK Ventures Investment Director Anil Achyuta, who served as moderator,

Day 3, convening from Bengaluru, focused on digital technologies that will reduce waste and improve productivity in the world’s industrial applications.

The second annual TDK Ventures DX Week brought together some of the world’s brightest talent in the digital space. Held over three days in three global technology hubs — Silicon Valley, Tokyo, and Bengaluru — the panels, interviews, and lectures centered on the nexus between the analog and digital environments. The most prestigious thought-leadership event of the year, DX Week 2023 highlighted the insights, best practices, and visions that will guide digital technologies toward creating a more productive, inclusive, and sustainable planet.

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