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Toyota Connected 'Cabin Awareness' Concept Uses New Tech to Detect Occupants

31 May 2022
  • Cabin Awareness concept uses millimeter-wave radar to detect people and pets throughout the vehicle cabin
  • Patent-pending concept introduced in prototype Toyota Sienna minivan and May Mobility Sienna AutonoMaaS shuttle
  • Cabin Awareness technology could help prevent heatstroke deaths by alerting drivers about occupants left behind

Toyota Connected North America (TCNA), an independent software and innovation center of excellence, today introduced its Cabin Awareness concept technology that uses millimeter-wave, high-resolution 4D imaging radar to help detect occupants (including certain pets) in cars and has the potential to detect them if ever they're left behind.

Toyota Connected ‘Cabin Awareness’ Concept Uses New Tech to Detect Occupants

The Cabin Awareness concept takes a unique approach to in-vehicle occupant detection using a 4D imaging radar sensor, mounted out of sight above a vehicle's headliner that can detect presence of a life form in the vehicle, even after a driver exits.

Specifically, the Cabin Awareness concept has the capability to sense micro movements, such as a heartbeat, motion and respiration of occupants across three full seating rows, the cargo area and footwells. It also classifies all occupants according to size, posture and position – supporting advanced safety applications. The platform provides robust sensing even if the occupant is covered with a blanket, a scenario which a passerby would be unable to see the occupant. It differs from other technologies on the market such as weight sensors, that can be prone to false alerts and mis-detects, cameras limited by blind spots or other radar systems with a limited range of passenger detection.

"Toyota Connected's talented software engineers and data scientists are leveraging cutting-edge technology to bring innovation and advanced technologies to customers' vehicles," said Zack Hicks, CEO and president, TCNA and executive vice president and chief digital officer, TMNA. "We are extremely proud of our efforts to take this idea from the drawing board to a full-blown concept, and, hopefully, developing a technology that has the potential to save lives."

Real-World Testing

While Cabin Awareness is currently a concept, the feature is getting a real-world trial through Toyota's partner May Mobility. The autonomous-vehicle company is testing the technology in its fleet of Toyota Sienna AutonoMaaS (Autonomous Mobility as a Service) minivans at its headquarters in Michigan and will soon begin testing in public AV deployments in Arlington, Texas, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, with additional deployments coming in late 2022. Recently, May Mobility announced that a portion of the fleet will be modified to become ADA-compliant and accommodate passengers in wheelchairs.

"May Mobility was founded with a mission of making roads safer through autonomous technology – and we've kept safety as our top priority as we've advanced our technology and worked with key strategic partners like Toyota," said Edwin Olson, CEO, May Mobility. "As we move closer to driver-out operations next year and continue to scale our global business with more public AV deployments, technology like the Cabin Awareness concept is essential for our riders."

In the future, one possible application for autonomous shuttles is alerting parents when their children complete a ride. Conversely, a shuttle may delay driving to its next stop if it senses someone is still in the vehicle upon reaching its destination.

"The key difference with this system is the improved resolution and accuracy, full-cabin detection and scope of functionality Cabin Awareness provides," said Simon Roberts, managing engineer, TCNA, who has spearheaded the development process. "With the precision of these sensors, we're designing Cabin Awareness with the aim of reducing false positives and false negatives."

Applying Technology to Alert Drivers

In 2021 in the U.S., 23 children died from heat stroke after being left in vehicles, according to the nonprofit Kids and Cars. On average, one in four children that die in a hot car obtained access to the car while it was unattended or not operational. Depending on the circumstances, the inside of a car can get up to 125° F in minutes even when outside temperature is as low as 60° F. Studies show children's body temperatures rise three to five times faster than adults. If left in a vehicle during the summer, the inside cabin temperature can reach dangerous levels in just 10 minutes.

"We are excited to explore and leverage new technologies, connected intelligence and existing safety platforms, with the ultimate goal of reducing child fatalities in hot cars. This Cabin Awareness concept has the potential to do exactly that," said Brian Kursar, chief technology officer, TCNA and group vice president, chief technology officer and chief data officer, Toyota Motor North America (TMNA). "I'm so proud of the Toyota Connected and TMNA's Connected Technologies teams for developing this concept and believe in the talent and dedication of our engineers."

As currently designed, the Cabin Awareness concept provides an array of warnings to help alert the driver (and potentially, passersby) to check the back of the vehicle if a living being is detected. First, a warning light signals on the instrument cluster. Then, the horn honks. Emergency lights flash. Following all the early warnings, the owner may get a notification on their phone through the Toyota app as well as text messages.

If programmed, Cabin Awareness could even send alerts through smart home devices or send text messages to designated emergency contacts assigned by the primary user. Further alert options include having Toyota's Safety Connect® emergency assistance system contact first responders through the integrated SOS vehicle function.

The team is continuing to explore additional notification alerts such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and the incorporation of smart infrastructure retail signage to further expand the reach of this alert.

Born from Innovation

The idea for Cabin Awareness was born in 2019 out of the inaugural Toyota Connected Hackathon, a 36-hour innovation event that challenged teams of software designers and engineers to ideate, develop and test real-world solutions. This winning idea quickly grew support following the Hackathon, allowing Roberts to assemble a team of engineers and further develop the technology.

The Cabin Awareness concept also allowed Toyota Connected to evaluate and develop hardware for the first time in addition to building innovative software systems and creating new processes. The Toyota Connected team evaluated millimeter-wave suppliers and began working with technology provider Vayyar Imaging's in-cabin monitoring platform.

Vayyar's high-resolution, single chip, 4D imaging radar is the only solution on the market that has the capability to monitor an entire vehicle cabin with a single sensor. The platform provides exceptionally dense point cloud imaging, enabling developers to independently develop a wide range of advanced applications and deploy them remotely using over-the-air software updates.

Inspired by Space Technology

Inspiration for the Cabin Awareness concept came from microwave radar technology created by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to support underground rescues after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal in 2015. In this application, NASA engineers and rescuers were able to detect human breathing and heartbeats under more than 30 feet of rubble, helping responders know where to dig holes.

"NASA's use of radar technology was inspiring," said Kursar. "The idea that you can listen to heartbeats using contact-less technology opens up new possibilities to give Toyota the potential to produce a service that is beneficial to the evolution of our in-vehicle services."

"The Cabin Awareness program is an innovation first for Toyota Connected and Toyota in so many ways," said Roberts. "The most important goal we're working on, though, is to build technologies that empower occupants and give them greater peace of mind."

About Toyota Connected, Inc.
Based in Plano, Texas, Toyota Connected North America (TCNA) was established in 2016 to drive Toyota's global efforts for an intelligent mobile society. With big data collected from vehicles and analyzed on a cloud platform, Toyota Connected humanizes the driving experience by providing customers secure, seamless and contextual services, elevating the customer experience while benefitting dealers, distributors, and partners. At the heart of TCNA is Toyota's belief in human-centered mobility and a fundamental commitment to personal privacy.

About Toyota
Toyota (NYSE:TM) has been a part of the cultural fabric in the U.S. for more than 60 years, and is committed to advancing sustainable, next-generation mobility through our Toyota and Lexus brands, plus our nearly 1,500 dealerships. 

Toyota directly employs more than 39,000 people in the U.S. who have contributed to the design, engineering, and assembly of nearly 32 million cars and trucks at our nine manufacturing plants.  By 2025, Toyota's 10th plant in North Carolina will begin to manufacture automotive batteries for electrified vehicles.  With more electrified vehicles on the road than any other automaker, a quarter of the company's 2021 U.S. sales were electrified.

To help inspire the next generation for a career in STEM-based fields, including mobility, Toyota launched its virtual education hub at www.TourToyota.com with an immersive experience and chance to virtually visit many of our U.S. manufacturing facilities. The hub also includes a series of free STEM-based lessons and curriculum through Toyota USA Foundation partners, virtual field trips and more. For more information about Toyota, visit www.ToyotaNewsroom.com.

About Vayyar
Vayyar's automotive-grade 4D imaging radar platform creates holistic safety solutions for in-cabin, ADAS and motorcycle safety. Powered by a single radar-on-chip, it delivers exceptional resolution across an ultra-wide field of view, enabling it to replace multiple existing single-function sensors. The platform provides comprehensive detection in and around the vehicle, simultaneously tracking multiple static and dynamic targets.

Inside the cabin, the 60 GHz configuration detects the presence, position and size of each occupant, classifying children and adults. This enables Child Presence Detection, enhanced Seat Belt Reminders, optimized airbag deployment, out-of-position alerts, intruder detection and more. Outside the car (or motorcycle), the 79 GHz system supports most SRR, MRR and LRR applications including parking assistance, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Change Assist, Blind Spot Detection, Cross Traffic Alerts, Adaptive Cruise Control and more, with an effective range from 20cm to 300m. Vayyar technology is multifunctional, affordable and available for mass production. The radar-based platform is robust in all road conditions, while protecting user privacy at all times.

About May Mobility
May Mobility, established in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2017, is building the world's best autonomy system. Their proprietary Multi-Policy Decision Making (MPDM) system is at the core of their mission to help make cities safer, greener, and more accessible. MPDM's proven track record has delivered more than 315,000 autonomy-enabled rides to date in several public transit applications across the U.S. and Japan. With key strategic partnerships including some of the world's most innovative automotive and transportation companies, such as Toyota Motor Corporation, May Mobility aims to achieve the highest standard in rider safety, sustainability, and transportation equity. For more information, visit www.maymobility.com.

Media Contacts:

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