EU mandates DMS for 2020

As part of a move to make European roads safer the EU today recommended making driver monitoring systems mandatory for new cars. It’s a momentous decision that is great news for Seeing Machines, causing its share price to shoot up today and Cenkos to upgrade its price target from 10p to 16p.

I asked Colin Barnden Lead Analyst at Semicast Research for his reaction and this is it:

Colin Barnden: So the paint is still wet from the announcements today, but I can draw some basic conclusions.

The EC has today announced the WHEN for a series of automotive systems to become mandatory, a list which includes distracted & drowsiness driver monitoring systems (DMS). My reading of the timeline is as follows:

  • 1 September 2020 for Type Approval (the certification process for new models, facelifts, major changes etc.).
  • 1 September 2022 for all other new cars, irrespective of Type Approval.

That is a two year phase-in period, and from today to the beginning of September 2022 gives a little over four years. That is a sensible timeframe over which to introduce a new technology like DMS.

The EC appears to have left the WHAT of a DMS to be defined by Euro NCAP and I expect the specifics of DMS requirements to follow in short order. This doesn’t guarantee that camera-based DMS will be mandated, nor specified by Euro NCAP. However looking at some of the other systems on the list (AEB, LKAS, ISA, EDR) these are all electronic systems so it would not follow that a mechanical (and very poor) DMS would be specified, even more so for a primary safety feature. Also the entire focus of this regulatory announcement is road safety. I regard AEB, ISA and LKAS as systems needed to compensate for distracted and drowsy drivers, so the obvious way to improve road safety is not so much to correct speed and steering errors, but to keep hands on the wheel, eyes on the road and minds on the task [of driving]. The very best DMS is the obvious way to do that and that points to a camera-based system, from the likes of Seeing Machines for example.

There are two excellent articles I would suggest as backgrounders for your readers for DMS:

http://www.thedrive.com/tech/20843/elon-musk-reportedly-rejected-driver-monitoring-for-tesla-autopilot-but-why

https://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1333236

If I were to also speculate on the WHERE; my view is that Japan will go next for mandatory DMS, probably followed by South Korea. Also, OEMs in the US are on a voluntary agreement (not mandated by NHTSA) to introduce AEB by 2022. I would speculate that they would be highly likely to add DMS on the same timeline.

The key is now what Euro NCAP announce.

Chris Menon: What exactly is the difference between ‘Type Approval’ cars and other new cars?

Colin Barnden: Okay. So, as an example, take the VW T-ROC. It was just launched and would have gone through Type Approval probably late last year. Type Approval is a bit like a new car MOT, someone looks over it and says: “Yes it has seat belts, yes, it has airbags, yes, it has brakes etc.” If it meets all the legislation in place at the time it gets… ‘Type Approval’. Provided no changes are made to the car it maintains Type Approval and no more need be done. Sometimes this can last for four or five years until the model is refreshed. However, from 1 September 2022, new T-ROCs would need to have DMS added, not for Type Approval (which it already has) but to be legal for sale.

Now take a next generation Golf going for Type Approval on 2 September 2020. The list will have another entry “yes, it has DMS” and you get Type Approval. If it doesn’t have DMS, it doesn’t get Type Approval and cannot be sold in the EU.

So on 1 September 2020, only cars going through Type Approval will have to have DMS (or a bit before most likely). By 1 September 2022, it will be in 100% of new cars sold in the EU. This is how the phase-in is managed.

Seeing Machines compared to Mobileye

I recently asked Colin Barnden, Lead Analyst at Semicast Research for his views on Seeing Machines. I’ve reproduced my original questions and his reply in full, as his insights are worthy of a wider audience and deserve to be accurately reported.

Chris Menon: I’m very keen to find out what you think might be the likely valuation of Seeing Machines in the event of a takeover, if you’d care to speculate. Can it be likened to Mobileye in terms of its dominance of DMS? I’m also eager to know if you think there is much real competition? From what I hear Smarteye is a very distant second and its technology is in no way of comparable quality or reliability.

Colin Barnden: “I’m a market analyst not a financial analyst so the issues of valuation are out of my areas of expertise. That said, I don’t think there is a single financial analyst who could accurately value Seeing Machines (SM) as the company is active in so many markets and at so many points in the supply chain. SM also seem to be creating markets as they go along, which is highly cash intensive and has a long “time-to-money”. However get the strategy right and the rewards can be extraordinary. See Google, Facebook and Netflix as examples.

Mobileye is probably a good comparison to SM. Yes there is plenty of serious competition in DMS but what I see tends to happen in IP markets is that one company dominates and then everyone else is competing for what’s left. For example Mobileye has something like 65% of the automotive front camera market, with Xilinx the clear number 2. Which Tier 2 becomes number 1 for DMS depends largely on whether price or features matters most to OEMs.

I suspect it will be features…here is a document I have been reading that I believe pre-announces changes to vehicle legislation [for automotive] for the EU, to be made on May 16: https://www.governmenteuropa.eu/important-year-vehicle-safety-europe/84888/

My reading of it is that DMS becomes mandatory for all cars in Europe from 2020 and with a focus on both drowsy driving and distraction. That suggests camera-based DMS eye-gaze tracking for distraction and PERCLOS (PERcentage CLOSure) eyelid measurement for drowsiness. This is really complex to do well and not many Tier 2s can. The mention of an event data recorder also suggests a Tier 1 might go for a more complex DMS in order to save cost on the DMS/EDR combination. I also read into the announcement that alcohol impairment detection is likely to be a future feature for DMS.

I don’t cover trucks but the legislation there tends to front-run that for automotive by a few years. I really would not be surprised if DMS was made mandatory in Europe for all trucks and buses too, and to my knowledge SM is in a party of one for aftermarket fleet systems (with Guardian).

I’ll be watching on May 16  to see what the EU formally announces. If they mandate everything listed in that article, that would be a step change in road safety. In my view DMS will be the story of the 2020s, with autonomous driving not likely in any meaningful volume until the 2030s.”