Making blind cars see

Indiegogo project CarVi puts a drive camera into older cars

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A lot of the new high-end cars hitting the road come with a bevy of sensors designed to assist drivers and in some cases prevent an accident from happening. Rear and front cameras can alert you to fast-approaching obstacles. Lane sensors will gently nudge you back in between the lines when your drift. And some cars will even park themselves.

But what if you’re like me and have a dented 10-year-old Mazda Protégé? These new advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS for short, aren’t in older vehicles, and in many cases are well out of the price range of new car buyers. Well, a company named CarVi is developing a kind of poor man’s ADAS that you can mount on your windshield, giving a previously blind car sight with the help of a smartphone.

While CarVi has released early versions of its technology with automotive partners in Korea, the company now plans to target the consumer market directly by raising funds on Indiegogo. It’s aiming for $100,000, and early backers will get the CarVi module for between $250 and $300 when it ships in August.

CarVi diagram

The module mounts to the inside of your windshield below the rearview mirror, aims its camera at the road ahead and connects to your smartphone via Wi-Fi. Using computer vision techniques developed by founder Kevin Lee, CarVi analyzes the images its camera captures and compares them against data it collects from an embedded accelerometer. It can tell if you’re drifting outside of your lane, can sense brake lights ahead of you and can even gauge if a car is stopped or moving slowly on the road ahead. Then the CarVi app in your phone will issue an audio and visual warning.

Of course, CarVi isn’t hooked into your car’s computer, so it can’t react for you as some of the new ADAS systems in the market can. But it could help reduce your own reaction time, providing an extra set of eyes on the road. The concept isn’t entirely new. A few years ago I wrote about a company called iOnRoad that has its own augmented driving app.

The difference is that iOnRoad makes its road observations through the lens of your smartphone, which is mounted on the dash. By creating separate hardware, CarVi is definitely a more expensive technology, but also one that’s specifically optimized for watching the road.

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