Help for Night Drivers

Luis Carrasco. (Photo by Dan Mercurio)
Luis Carrasco. (Photo by Dan Mercurio)

Driving on Comm Ave late at night is a perilous business. A driver must avoid hitting other drivers, as well as bicyclists who think black is an appropriate color for night riding, pedestrians who don’t look (or hesitate) before stepping from the curb, and the occasional skateboarder who subscribes to no rules of the road. But now, that drive and many others may become much safer, thanks to the work of some recent College of Engineering alums.

The group has designed a night vision driver assistance program that displays “threats,” such as pedestrians, obstacles, and road signs, on a dashboard-mounted touch screen, and warns drivers of their presence with a beep. Called NightHawk NVS, the system was developed as an electrical and computer engineering senior design project by Luis Carrasco (ENG’10,’11), Sehrish Abid (ENG’10), Andrew Sarratori (ENG’10), York Chan (ENG’10), and Wesley Griswold (ENG’10).

The idea of building such a system came from Mikhail Gurevich (ENG’07), an entrepreneur and director of ZepFrog, an internet startup. Rather than trying to build the system himself, Gurevich turned the idea over to department of electrical and computer engineering students, hoping they could bring it to fruition.

“Many engineering students have tried to do this project,” says Carrasco (right). “This year, we succeeded. Our system was both accurate enough and fast enough to be helpful, 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 system is intended to run at 30 miles per hour and has been successfully tested at 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 will display visual information on a car’s windshield.

At this point, the system exists only on one laptop, but Carrasco says at least one company has expressed interest in taking it to market. He estimates that the system would cost about $500 to manufacture, and could be an option in new cars for as much as $3,000. He has heard that GM, Ford, and Audi are working on similar programs, but he says their products were tested on unrealistically perfect roadways.

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

Click here to watch a test run of the Nighthawk NVS driver assistance system. Video by Luis Carrasco.