Fred Yu

Student device takes guess work out of backing up

June 1, 2007

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Graduating SFU engineering science undergrad, Fred Yu, has invented an automobile backup alert system that does everything put ease your car out of the driveway.

Created for his undergraduate thesis using off-the-shelf components and custom software, Yu’s CarAssistant system detects obstacles around a vehicle and gives visual, audio and even tactile feedback to the driver, depending on how close the vehicle comes to objects or people.

Most driving aids are expensive video-camera or radar-based systems that only work toward the front or rear of a vehicle. And unlike the CarAssistant, none of them sense objects in all directions or have a vibrating alert mechanism.

Yu’s CarAssistant features four simple ultrasonic proximity sensors located at the front and rear corners of the vehicle. The sensors communicate via a low-power radio transmitter with a dash-mounted unit that first flashes LED warning lights and then starts beeping as the vehicle gets closer to an object. Finally, the steering wheel begins vibrating when a crash is imminent.

The absence of wiring means a commercial product based on the technology would be relatively easy for drivers to install on existing vehicles.

Yu and his supervisor, professor Bozena Kaminska, thought it might be too dangerous to try the device on a real car so they mounted it on a working toy car Yu found on an Internet classified site. It was a challenge getting all four sensor units working together but they eventually worked out all the bugs

Yu, who grew up in Richmond and attended Hugh Boyd secondary school, graduates from SFU this June but will continue working in Kaminska’s Ciber Laboratory until August. Then he’s off to graduate school at the University of California at San Diego.

"For now it’s just a prototype," says Kaminska, "but if we get a deal with an automaker it could become a product.

"The dream of getting more control of your vehicle is no longer a dream because Fred’s technology gives the user more feedback interaction."

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