People 'n' Issues

Kinect boosts car safety

August 14th, 2015
Using a Kinect motion sensor originally developed for the Xbox 360, Chevrolet is now able to create virtual child seats. This allows them to design their cars to suit practically any seat available.

With appropriate child safety seats and safety belts now legally required in South Africa, flexibility, adjustability and compatibility will become an increasingly important factor in the car buying decision.

Chevrolet is making huge strides in this department, with vehicles such as the Traverse mid-sized SUV offering parents flexibility when it comes to fitting child safety seats. But how do GM engineers determine what seats fit and where, especially with hundreds of models on the market?

A Kinect motion sensor, originally developed for the Xbox 360, is helping to solve that challenge.

“There are over 250 different makes and models of child safety seats on the market, and new or revised models are introduced every year,” said Julie Kleinert, GM’s Global Child Safety Technical Lead. “The lack of an industry standard for the size and shape of child seats makes it quite challenging for vehicle engineers.”

Through the Center for Child Injury Prevention Studies (CChIPS), a National Science Foundation-funded industry/university research cooperative with partner research sites at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and The Ohio State University, Kleinert and engineers from other vehicle and child seat manufacturers are working to develop new tools to help manufacturers evaluate child seat compatibility.

The Kinect for Windows sensor was first launched for the Xbox gaming console before being made available to Windows devices. The same technology created to capture player movements and enable voice control of video games doubles as a powerful scanning tool in the automotive industry.

The project, led by CHOP’s Dr. Aditya Belwadi, developed a methodology to use the  Kinect controller to digitise the shape of a child seat in minutes and at a fraction of the cost of an industrial scanner.

CHOP researchers created “surrogate” child seat shapes by overlaying the individual child seat scans produced by the Kinect on top of one another. This surrogate represents the maximum amount of space needed for a particular category of child seat. Virtual evaluations of the surrogate may prove to be a simple way for vehicle manufacturers to assess a large range of child seats with a single tool.

“This new tool will be a great help to us in evaluating child restraint compatibility early in our vehicle design process,” said Kleinert.

The team hopes this approach, which was presented as a technical paper at the 2015 SAE World Congress in Detroit in April, may influence other vehicle and child seat manufacturers to adopt a common standard for the size and geometry of different categories of child seats.

“We haven’t reached that point yet,” said Kleinert, “but we believe this project is an important step in that direction. This project is just one example of how vehicle manufacturers, child seat manufacturers and university researchers are working together through CChIPS on research to improve the safety of children in vehicles.”

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