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Fall 2010 Table of Contents

Help for Night Drivers

Engineering students’ system displays “threats” to moving vehicles

| From Commonwealth | By Amy Laskowski
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Watch a test run of the NightHawk NVS driver assistance system. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Driving on Comm Ave late at night is a perilous business. Avoiding pedestrians, bicyclists, and other cars is just one of the challenges.

But now, thanks to some College of Engineering students, night drives may become much safer. The group has designed a night vision driver assistance program that displays “threats,” such as pedestrians, road signs, and other obstacles, on a dashboard-mounted touch screen, warning drivers of their presence with a beep. Called NightHawk NVS, the system was developed as a senior design project by electrical and computer engineering students Luis Carrasco (ENG’10,’11), Sehrish Abid (ENG’10), Andrew Sarratori (ENG’10), York Chan (ENG’10), and Wesley Griswold (ENG’10).

The idea came from Mikhail Gurevich (ENG’07), an entrepreneur and director of internet startup ZepFrog. But rather than trying to build the system himself, Gurevich turned his plan over to ENG students, hoping they could bring the device to fruition.

“Our system was both accurate enough and fast enough to be helpful,” says Carrasco, “whereas teams in the past could not do this.”

Central to the system is a high-quality night vision camera mounted on the outside of the car. The camera collects real-time information about objects that have a high likelihood of entering a vehicle’s path. The students say the system is intended to run at 30 miles per hour and has been successfully tested at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. The project took over 1,000 hours to complete, and 2,500 lines of code were written to program it.

“Integrated with a GPS, the system could serve as an augmented reality navigation system,” says Carrasco, who imagines that a future iteration will use infrared cameras and display visual information on a car’s windshield rather than a touch screen.

At this point, the system exists only on one laptop, but Carrasco says a company has expressed interest in taking it to market. He’s heard that GM, Ford, and Audi are working on similar programs, but he says their products were tested on unrealistic roadways.

“We tested our system on the craziest roads in America,” he says. “In Boston.”

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