October 30, 2006 In many parts of the world, automatic systems designed to capture speeding motorists are proliferating to such an extent that unless intense concentration and cruise control is employed, it’s easy to rack up regular $100+ fines for seemingly innocuous infringements. Many governments around the world now use their automated traffic fine systems as lucrative revenue raisers. Fortunately, technology is coming to the aid of the motorist too, and a new system developed in Europe by Siemens can automatically recognise speed limits on traffic signs and prompt motorists if they are transgressing so they can avoid speeding tickets. The system works with a camera in the car that scans the scene in front of the car for traffic signs and forwards the information to an onboard computer. With the help of the cruise control, the system then keeps the car within the speed limit. The risk of unintentionally driving too fast is particularly high when motorists are in unfamiliar surroundings or faced with road construction sites.
Part of a comprehensive network of driver assistance systems called pro-pilot being developed by the automotive supplier Siemens VDO, the traffic sign recognition system is scheduled to go into series production in about two years. Experts from Siemens have installed the system in a luxury class car, along with a host of additional assistance devices, including a lane recognition system, a night vision system and a parking guidance system. Several auto-makers have already tried out the test vehicle and expressed interest in the recognition system.
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The system uses a CMOS camera installed near the rear-view mirror to continuously scan the road for traffic signs. The images are then compared with patterns of speed limit signs stored in the system’s memory. If the software discovers a speed limit, the system notifies the driver of this fact by showing the value in the speedometer or in a head-up display. If the cruise control is switched on, the car automatically decelerates to stay within the speed limit.
The system also uses data supplied by a navigation system to determine if the vehicle is being driven on a highway or in a town or city.
And because the navigation system also contains information on special traffic signs - including those that impose speed limits only at certain times - the recognition system can also react to such situations. The traffic sign recognition system so far is designed for use in new vehicles; its many components and complicated networking today makes retrofitting too expensive.