CES 2024: Bosch Shows Cabin-Monitoring Tech While Acknowledging Complexity

Bosch forges ahead on advanced systems like impaired-driver detection while searching for utility that adds value for drivers: Is that coffee shop open?

An in-vehicle monitor showed how the system could detect the direction the driver was looking, shown by the yellow line. Looking for too long at non “safe zones” such as side- and rear-view mirrors and out the windshield could generate a warning. (SAE/Chris Clonts)

John Nowinski, Bosch’s North American project lead for interior sensing on cross-domain computing solutions, laid out a stark scenario that could be faced by vehicle in-cabin systems intended to prevent drunk and impaired driving: What if, in a given situation, letting the person drive is the better option? For instance, a driver who just entered the car is being assaulted or attacked from outside the vehicle.

John Nowinski discusses various aspects of the company’s research into interior sensing and how it could be leveraged for safety, utility and comfort purposes. The product area lead for interior sensing solutions discussed the difficulty of impaired-driver detection. (SAE/Chris Clonts)

It's one type of problem that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expects future impaired-driver-detection systems to account for, Nowinski said in a presentation to journalists on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The presentation covered in-cabin technology that can be used not only to prevent bad situations like drunk driving, but can be used to add value for vehicle owners.

He said such scenarios not only make it difficult for automotive engineers solving the problem, but for regulators who face a struggle to write what will eventually be the standards of driver-impairment-detection tech.

The NHTSA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPA) in December 2023, the first step toward an eventual mandate. There then would be a phase-in period to install impairment-detection technology as standard equipment in all new light vehicles.

“One of the biggest problems is how you put it on paper so that you can measure it, because as soon as you do that you can limit the possible solutions,” Nowinski said. He said that the ideal goal is not to determine someone’s level of blood alcohol content (BAC), but rather to determine “whether you are able or unable to drive.” To that end, Bosch uses infrared and RGB cameras to take precise measurements of a driver’s eye openings (droopy eyelids could mean impairment/drowsiness), mouth position (more yawning could indicate drowsiness) and more. Even reduced saccade velocity (the speed at which someone alters the direction of their gaze) can be an indicator of drunk driving.

Nowinski said that even developing testing and training for such systems can be difficult because of the need to medically intoxicate test subjects to a specific level. That research is being one with Bosch’s Internet of Things (IoT) Group and medical organizations in Switzerland.

He also said that he personally did not think that passive breath detection would be part of an ultimate solution. That technology is being advanced by competitors such as Magna, which acquired Veoneer in 2023, in part to acquire the technology. The competition for in-cabin monitoring is fierce, and includes not only Magna but Continental, Infineon, Gentex and others. Life-saving interior radar Bosch’s in-cabin demo vehicle also showed the potential of interior radar running at 60 GHz to monitor a range of things from whether drivers have objects in their hands that could indicate distraction (cell phones, food), but even changes in breathing patterns of drivers, passengers, and even infants.

Being able to detect breathing patterns could help identify drivers in distress, allowing the vehicle to be stopped safely and 911 and emergency contacts notified. Verena Ihring, Bosch’s director of strategy and business development for interior sensing cross-computing solutions, showed the radar’s ability to detect infants in rear-facing child carriers in the back seat. The radar penetrates everything except solid metallic objects (swaddling blankets included), but even if a seat were made with metal, the system can identify things using the complex bounce paths that result in a cabin.

This radar and the cameras (1.5 MP for driver-monitoring and 5 MP for multi-occupant monitoring) could also be used to sense mass of passengers, allowing airbags to be deployed at different speeds to accommodate small passengers or for passengers who are in nonstandard positions, such as front seat passengers with their feet on the dashboard. Part of the cost could be offset by eliminating the comparatively unsophisticated seat-bottom weight sensors currently used merely to turn airbags on or off.

Verena Ihring, director of strategy and business development for Bosch’s cross-computing solutions group, said that its combo infrared and RGB cabin monitoring cameras can detect eye gaze direction and signs of drowsiness or impairment even if a driver is wearing sunglasses. (SAE/Chris Clonts)

Ihring also discussed placement of the cameras in the cabin, saying that lower is better for driver monitoring, but higher is better to include more occupants. She also talked about the capability of monitoring people outside the vehicle and whether they try to enter the vehicle outside normal parameters, which could indicate a theft or assault as mentioned above. Connecting to the world outside Where Bosch sees value-added capabilities for in-cabin detection is in combination with things available via cloud computing. Nowinski cited an example in which the system detects someone might be drowsy, then leverages Amazon’s cloud to ask if the driver would like a coffee prepared when they arrive home, then sending that request to the internet-connected coffee maker. Another: A driver sees a coffee shop. Their gaze at the business is detected, and the hurried person asks: “Alexa, is that shop crowded?” Then data is pulled to indicate either how many phones are at the store, or how many customers it has had in an hour to formulate an answer. Stefan Buerkle, regional president for cross-domain computing in North America, underlined that any enhanced features must also be grounded in safety. “We have the task as an industry to create a connected experience which allows the end customers to utilize those features, but in a way, which are not distracting, and causing accidents.”

Other innovations At its official CES press conference, Bosch announced an array both automotive and non-automotive products and developments. One thing was certain: Bosch is not hedging its

language about sustainability and the need for it in the face of climate change. The automotive subjects mentioned by Bosch Board of Management Member Tanya Ruckert were:

  • ·Automated valet charging: This system leverages Bosch’s Automated Valet Parking system to allow a car to pull itself up to a robot charger that plugs itself in, then withdraws when charing is done before returning to its parking spot.
  • The continued push toward silicon carbide chip technology, which is much more efficient for EV use. Bosch is investing $1.5 billion on a plant in Roseville, California.
  • Bosch’s hydrogen fuel cell powertrain is now in production.