Speed, we are often reminded, is one of the biggest killers on British roads. Yet in difficult traffic conditions with multiple demands upon driver concentration to keep a constant check on speed and ensure it’s within the limit.
Carmaker Vauxhall has come up with a system that could help significantly. It is a dual-function camera that not only reads speed limit and no-overtaking signs and displays them on the instrument panel, but also alerts drivers when they unintentionally veer out of their lane. Known as Traffic Sign Recognition and Lane Departure Warning, the two systems improve driving safety, reduce stress and can even prevent costly speeding tickets.
“These new features follow Vauxhall’s philosophy of enhancing driving excitement by assisting drivers without reducing their level of control,” explains Hans Demant, managing director of GME Engineering. “That means the system gives drivers information, but it doesn’t intervene.”
Known as the Front Camera System, the wide-angled, high-resolution camera and processors were jointly developed by engineers at Vauxhall and Opel, its sister company within the General Motors group, and specialists from supplier Hella. The camera is located between the windscreen and the rear-view mirror and detects road signs and lane markings. It’s not much bigger than a mobile phone, yet can take 30 pictures a second. Two signal processors filter and read the photos.
The Traffic Sign Detection can read speed limit and no-passing signs and even notify drivers when speed restrictions have been lifted. Depending on light conditions, the Traffic Sign Recognition function begins to repeatedly read signs from 100m away. It starts by focusing on circular patterns then identifies the numbers inside them via contour comparison. When a match is found in the car’s software, the sign is displayed in the instrument panel.
The system always displays the most relevant information for safe driving, filtering out many signs that may overwhelm drivers. If two signs are recognised in close proximity to one another, then special notice signs, such as no-passing restrictions would take precedence over a speed limit sign.
The notices are displayed for a few seconds as a symbol in the centre of the instrument panel between the main dials. In addition, drivers can recall the image any time by pressing a button on the steering wheel.
The system, also known in Europe as the Opel Eye, gives more accurate information than portable navigation systems with stored speed limits because the camera works in real time. If a speed limit changes, due to road construction for instance, this is immediately detected.
When the lane departure warning function is turned on, it uses a second signal processor and software to read traffic lanes and record a driver’s normal lane-changing behaviour, taking into account steering input and indicator use. If any deviation is detected, an audible and visual warning is sent from the instrument panel, preventing hazardous situations, such as a driver falling asleep at the wheel.
The Front Camera System is due to be available next year as an option on the new Insignia, with other Vauxhall models benefiting from the system soon after.