AI-Aided Cameras Mean No More Car Mirrors, No More Blind Spots

Mitsubishi Electric believes its AI-enhanced camera systems will make mirrors on cars obsolete and help make a dent in the annual roadway death toll

Camera image showing side of a car with an approaching truck (designated by blue rectangle) and two cars (yellow rectangles)
Image: Mitsubishi Electric

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.25 million people around the world die from road accidents each year. Consequently, the United Nations has set a target of halving this number by 2020. A new technology being readied for its debut could be a step forward in achieving that ambitious goal: greatly improved automotive video cameras meant to replace mirrors on vehicles.  

In its annual R&D Open House on 14 February, Mitsubishi Electric described the development of what it believes is the industry’s highest-performance rendition of mirrorless car technology. According to the company, today’s conventional camera-based systems featuring motion detection technology can detect objects up to about 30 meters away and identify them with a low accuracy of 14 percent. By comparison, Mitsubishi’s new mirrorless technology extends the recognition distance to 100 meters with an 81 percent accuracy.

“Motion detection can’t see objects if they are a long distance away,” says Kazuo Sugimoto, Senior Manager, at Mitsubishi Electric’s Image Analytics and Processing Technology Group, Information Technology R&D Center in Kamakura, 55 km south of Tokyo. “So we have developed an AI-based object-recognition technology that can instantly detect objects up to about 100 meters away.”

To achieve this, the Mitsubishi system uses two technology processes consecutively. A computational visual-cognition model first mimics how humans focus on relevant regions and extract object information from the background even when the objects are distant from the viewer.

The extracted object data is then fed to Mitsubishi's compact deep learning AI technology dubbed Maisart. The AI has been taught to classify objects into distinct categories: trucks; cars; and other objects such as lane markings. The detected results are then superimposed onto video that appears on a monitor for the driver to view. 

Currently, this superimposing results in objects being displayed with colored rectangles surrounding them. For instance, a blue rectangle designates an approaching truck, a yellow rectangle an oncoming car. “But this can be done in a number of ways,” says Sugimoto. “We are now testing out various ideas to find the best method for drivers.”

He emphasizes that the modeling employs relatively simple algorithms so that even when combined with the processing of the compact AI system, detection takes place in real-time. And because drivers get advance warning of approaching vehicles in real time, they can make better decisions on when to change lanes, which should help reduce accidents.

Sugimoto notes that Mitsubishi still has work to do in improving the system so that it works better in bad weather conditions, during night driving, and on winding roads. “We also believe we can increase the recognition accuracy further by interpolating time-series data into the process,” he adds.

The Japanese government is eager to promote Japanese autonomous driving technology and wants to see driverless cars on the roads in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Consequently, Japan became one of the first counties to make mirrorless cars legal when it updated its laws in July 2016. Europe soon followed its lead. According to Sugimoto, the first commercial mirrorless cars are expected to appear on roads in Japan next year.

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