Ever since 1996, society has become almost obsessed with pitting humans against computers. And the best way to determine whether brain or machine is best? A nice, civilized game of chess. A six-game match between IBM’s Deep Blue began on February 10 in Philadelphia, against world chess champion Garry Kasparov. The match was significant – Deep Blue could evaluate 100 million different chess positions per second, but nobody knew how it would fare against an actual human brain.
Deep Blue took the first victory – machine is surely better? But Kasparov fought back to win the second game. Games three and four were deadlocked before Kasparov triumphed in the fifth and final match. A machine could not beat the human brain. Great news for homo sapiens, but what does this mean for vehicle safety?
The move towards vehicle autonomy is focused on the ability of electronics and machines to successfully mimic the human brain, without any emotions, but based on reliable sensor data, and much faster than a human brain. Vehicle safety and warranty security will depend on vehicle designers achieving this feat. But if a machine cannot beat a human brain at chess, how can one beat a human brain when it comes to ensuring zero accidents on the road?
Ford has a response. The company has been undertaking pioneering new brain research that it states could ultimately lead to a faster, and more accurate, way to detect when a driver is starting to switch off behind the wheel. Working with neuroscientists, the OEM is hoping to match scans of brain responses to their physical manifestations, such as changes in heart rate or breathing, in order to educate Advanced Driver Assistance Solutions (ADAS) on when and how to offer safety support to a driver.
Who would have thought when Henry Ford assembled the first moving assembly line for automobile production in 1913, that just over a century later, the company would quite literally be doing brain research?
Such research is critical – and goes some way to demonstrating the fundamental shift that today’s carmakers are experiencing as they move away from internal combustion engines – the heart of most vehicles, towards electric vehicles with advanced safety electronics - the brain, as standard. It’s one thing to educate electronics on the innermost workings of a brain, but what if the brain belongs to an injured party? What effect does this have on the response? Could it be a check mate for computers after all?
The impact of trauma
When was the last time you suffered a serious injury? Perhaps you suffered a hairline fracture, broke a bone, or suffered a similar incident? In such cases, the brain’s immediate response is to go into trauma.
Trauma forces the amygdala function of the brain to go into overdrive. Put simply, the emotional side of your brain takes over, with survival instincts overriding any reasoning or logical thought. The chances are, had Kasparov suffered a serious injury during his chess match and continued to play, he’d have lost; since his brain would not have been able to focus purely on the competition alone.
ADAS is not dissimilar. ADAS hardware materials must be in top condition if the central domain controller is to instruct a vehicle to make changes due to software communication received.
However, these domain controllers are forced to operate in extreme temperatures, processing mass quantities of data at speed, in order to make fast decisions. What happens if the hardware materials used quite literally cannot stand the heat? What happens if they suffer a fracture? What happens if the entire system goes into trauma?
It simply doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet data from Stout published in 2022 showed that around 40% of electronic recalls were related to Integrated Electronic Components. This includes hardware and materials used for ADAS. Selecting the wrong materials, or inefficient ones, could prove a catastrophe for electronic hardware in the age of autonomy.
An OEM’s reputation and future success will depend on them acquiring a firm understanding of the workings of the vehicle brain and the associated materials and electronics. For the future of vehicle safety, it is essential that OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers, and the rest of the supply chain collaborate, share knowledge, and advise the OEM on the most effective material selection. Otherwise, something as simple as a crack within ADAS hardware could result in check mate for vehicle safety.