A glimpse into the future

Pioneering research spurs on IEC multimedia work

Cutting edge research and development (R&D) projects are improving tomorrow’s world for people with disabilities, for car drivers and even for radio listeners. IEC Technical Committee (TC) 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, is preparing the ground for the appropriate International Standards.

a blind runner helped by a co-runner
Several research projects studied by IEC TC 100 aim to help people with disabilities (Photo: United Airforce)

What if the visually and hearing impaired could use their clothes to understand us? How will driverless cars operate in complex urban environments? Researchers on several forward-thinking projects financed by the EU are coming up with answers to these questions. The technologies were outlined during a recent workshop with IEC TC 100, whose standardization experts are involved in several fields relevant to the research. “It is particularly exciting to study these new technologies as they will require IEC International Standards in order to be adopted worldwide”, says David Felland, Chair of IEC TC 100.

In the vanguard

Among these pioneering R&D endeavours, SUITCEYES is a three-year long research and innovation undertaking, which like its fellow projects, is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, a research and innovation plan with nearly EUR 80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020). The researchers involved in SUITCEYES aim to develop a haptic interface, using smart textiles as a basis, to facilitate interactive communication with the deaf and blind. “Sensors will be integrated into the fabric and used to capture information about the surroundings. We will also utilize systems that are able to recognize and interpret human emotions. We will integrate vibration, tingling and temperature to convey messages on the parts of the body that are most suitable for reception of those signals”, describes Nasrine Olson, one of the researchers on the programme.

Another of these R&D projects is INSENSION. The aim of this enterprise is to design and develop an information and communication technology platform which will help to improve the life of people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, using a number of advanced technologies previously not broadly available to them. They include gesture, facial and voice recognition, unobtrusive monitoring of physiological parameters as well as the internet of things. “I wanted to engage with research projects starting their work, such as INSENSION and SUITCEYES, to see if they could work with all the relevant Technical Areas (TAs) of TC 100 from the beginning, giving information on requirements for Standards that they identified, and offering a way of introducing young researchers to the standardization process”, explains Kate Grant, Chair of the Advisory Group on Strategy of IEC TC 100, who initiated the workshop.

IEC expertise

IEC TC 100, one of the most prolific TCs within the IEC, has 20 different IEC TC 100/TAs, that deal with topics such as colour measurement and management (TA 2) or multimedia systems and equipment for cars (TA 17). Among these, TA 16 is set up to prepare International Standards for active assisted living (AAL) technologies, which can be defined as systems and devices for supporting the well-being, health and care of disabled and older people. They include wearable electronic devices and specific user interfaces relating to audio, video and multimedia systems. The TA liaises with the IEC System Committee on Active assisted living (SyC AAL), which aims to foster the standardization of AAL products, services and systems to enable independent living for AAL users.

IEC TC 100 decided to set up TAs instead of subcommittees “because we wanted to experiment with a different approach that could help to speed up the development process, as multimedia systems are evolving so fast. The TA structure is more flexible as the groups can be created and disbanded rapidly, in line with new technology developments”, David Felland explains.

As a case in point, the TC reorganized its TAs, following its most recent plenary meeting in San Diego. It created two new Technical Areas: TA 19: Environmental aspects for multimedia schemes and TA 20: Analogue and digital audio. TA 19 takes over the work previously accomplished by TA 12, TA 13 and TA 14 in areas to do with world-acclaimed standardization for the measurement of electronic display power consumption and energy saving, greenhouse gas emissions, battery-run-time management and environmentally conscious design. TA 20 assumes the mantle of TA 11, relating to audio Standards.

 “We have come full circle: a lot of our initial work in TC 100 was about producing audio Standards for microphones and analogue systems, such as loudspeakers. Seventy years later, we are looking at new revolutionary digital audio technologies which will totally change the way we experience sound. And TA 20 will be handling standardization in those areas”, David Felland says.

Pump up the volume

One example of a new revolutionary technology for audio is project Orpheus, aimed at radio listeners. It was completed in May 2018. Researchers used object-based techniques for making radio broadcasts interactive, immersive and personalized. Object-based audio relies on a new generation encoder that inserts specialized object metadata in each audio track. This identifies each track as an object that can be personalized.

The benefits of this new technology will first be reaped by the hearing impaired. They will be able to increase the volume of separate dialogue tracks, in order to hear them better. “Object-based audio enables the listener to take control over what he or she listens to. You could be watching a football match, say, and not want to listen to the commentary but only immerse yourself in the sound coming from the stadium and the fans. That will be perfectly possible thanks to object-based audio technology”, Felland adds.

Driving to the edge

Last but not least is UP-Drive. The aim of the project is to solve a number of complex technology issues which stand in the way of automating vehicles completely. For instance, cameras or radar systems are used for feature and landmark detection to help vehicles identify their location. The problem is that landmarks and landscape features vary over time and with the change of seasons. In order to overcome these hurdles, researchers on the project are focusing on the following areas:

  • Robust 360° object detection using low-level spatiotemporal association, tracking and fusion mechanisms
  • Accurate metric localization and geometrically consistent mapping in large-scale semi-structured areas
  • Mechanisms for efficient and cost-effective long-term data management across devices

TA 17: Multimedia systems for cars, develops Standards which specify the equipment for car infotainment, event monitoring and recording as well as driving assistance. The TA has recently released IEC Technical Specification (TS) 63033 on drive monitoring systems which provides the basis for video technology that could eliminate blind spots for car drivers in a variety of situations. They include parking, turning corners and driving in heavy traffic.

“Up-Drive is an interesting project which confirms that the work produced by TA 17 is aligned with these new developments. Keeping informed about this type of research shows just how much more work we can do in all these areas”, Felland concludes.