At the IAA in Frankfurt: The Future Is ... Soon

Traditionally, the second of the two Press Days at the Frankfurt Motor Show is when the supply side of the industry gives its press conferences and blows its trumpet. This year, that second day fell on September 12. Most press conferences were canceled, and those that did take place were solemn affairs that were necessarily cut short. When at presenting the Delphi Automotive Systems' reception, company president J.T. Battenberg, who was visibly moved by what had occurred in his homeland, called for a short silence before going ahead with a foreshortened review. Visteon Automotive Systems' president Pete Pestillo welcomed everybody, but gave no presentation at all, opting to point out that his executives on the stand were there for one-to-one talks.

Despite the doom and gloom that permeated the entire show (not helped by a bomb scare closing Hall 3, home to Ford, the Premier Automotive Group, Renault and Nissan), it was possible to discover a galaxy of new technology and products that most companies had expected to talk about.

Safety, emissions, electronics and mobile multimedia were the usual topics covered, but the buzzword this year was integration: Integrated safety systems, integrated X-by-wire features, smart electric/ electronic integration, and even integrated electronic unit injectors were just some of the items. The latter, for example, first seen at the IAA commercial vehicle show last year, were to be found on the Delphi booth as was the Integrated Safety System (ISS) that was first shown on a vehicle at the Mondial de l'Automobile last year.

Delphi displayed a vehicle concept that develops synergies between active and passive safety and to see what effect it has on the driver. The Integrated Safety System (ISS) vehicle focuses on technologies that require a new type of user-interface. These include a workload management system that uses a variety of biometric systems to assess the driver's alertness, such as eye tracking, respiration rate monitoring, and a new heart rate monitoring system that measures blood pressure variations through the small differential voltages between the driver's hands while on the steering wheel. The assessed driver state will influence the warning systems by adaptively tailoring the initiation of the warning cues, and the availability of the Communiport multimedia system features. The results will be used to optimize the human-machine interface (HMI) for systems including collision warning, telematics, entertainment and mobile communications and for developing philosophies for understanding and assessing driver workload. Various HMI scenarios include the driver being alerted using sound, touch or sight. Navigation information, critical systems data and collision warning cues, for example, can be projected onto the windscreen in full color using a reconfigurable head-up display (HUD).

HMI is also the driving force behind the iDrive concept found on the new BMW 7 Series. "The customers' demand for additional functions is strong, but the operation of these functions should be as simple as possible," said BMW engineer Armin Distler. According to BMW, iDrive marks a new dimension in active motoring by providing ergonomics oriented to the occupants of the car in general and the driver in particular. With up to 700 different control functions now conceivable, any conventional arrangement of such features would clearly create a hardly comprehensible maze of buttons, switches and controls. In consideration of this bottleneck, BMW has analyzed the frequency of use and the relevance of the individual functions for motoring. The basic functions most significant for motoring and traffic safety are moved to the immediate vicinity of the driver, with all the driving functions directly around the steering wheel or within easy reach. Basic functions frequently required and also requiring rapid access are provided by conventional switches and rotary knobs on the instrument panel. Typical examples are the light switch and HVAC system.

Enhanced comfort, communication and driver assistance functions account for by far the largest increase in control options to be found in a modern car. The specific settings involved, though, are rarely changed by the driver or passengers while on the road. Since the specific data and information involved must nevertheless be easily and quickly accessible at all times, these functions are handled by the Control Center in an optimum manner. Here all the functions involved are laid out logically and with exactly the right ergonomic features for easy, intuitive control. The monitor directly in the driver's line of vision provides all the information required at any time without distracting the driver from the traffic and road situation around him, since the monitor is in the driver's immediate line of vision to the road. The Control Center in the center console, in turn, offers direct access, through its simple and intuitive operation, to all the many functions, information and communication options that will benefit the motorist in the future.

Mercedes-Benz released details of an innovative safety concept currently in production that it says will reduce the risk of injury for car occupants. With high-performance, adaptive airbags, side and windowbags, belt tensioners, belt force limiters and crash-optimized body structures, most of the potential in passive safety technology has now been exploited according to safety specialists. New concepts are therefore required if further advances are to be made. Mercedes calls its system PRE-SAFE that recognizes a potential collision in advance and activates special protection systems before impact. These include new belt tensioners and automatically adjusting seats.

The concept is based on the findings of Mercedes accident researchers which show that in approximately two thirds of all traffic accidents, there is a relatively long time interval between recognition of an impending accident and the impact itself. "Our present protection systems such as airbags, windowbags or belt tensioners must ensure safety in a matter of milliseconds, even though accident recognition can be measured in seconds. Making use of this interval opens up new dimensions in occupant protection," said Dr. Rodolf Schoneburg, head of safety development at Mercedes-Benz.

With PRE-SAFE, things begin to happen in the car even before the driver has to apply the brakes suddenly—the seat belts tension and the torso is restrained, preventing the body from moving forward during the braking maneuver and ensuring a safe seating position. At the same time, the seat cushions of the front passenger and rear seats are tilted to the rear, while the door panels move into the car's interior and mould themselves around the hips of the occupants like protective shields. Fractions of a second beforehand, sensors would have detected whether another vehicle is on a collision course. If they detect that an accident is possible, a number of protective systems are immediately activated to reduce the risk of injury to the occupants.

Mercedes-Benz has already developed the sensor systems and actual protective components of the PRE-SAFE system to the stage that they can be subjected to practical vehicle trials. However, there is an important principle that must be taken into account, says Mercedes, and that is that these innovative systems must not impair the drivability of the car. If the accident can be avoided at the very last moment they must reset themselves to their original status. "For us, PRE-SAFE means the logical continuation of our long-held safety philosophy," says Schoneburg. "In the future we will also be able to use the time interval between recognizing a dangerous situation and the point at which the actual impact occurs, to prepare the car for the impending crash and therefore give the occupants the best possible protection. Our previous protection concept will therefore be supplemented with an additional PRE-SAFE phase."

According to Bosch, the goal of achieving a "sensitive" car is now within reach through the development of highly sensitive sensors that detect the conditions surrounding the vehicle, as well as high-performance control devices to interpret and evaluate the data. Among the already familiar driver assistant systems developed by Bosch are the Parkpilot, which uses fender-mounted ultrasound sensors to monitor a close-range area at a distance of up to 1.5 meters, and adaptive cruise control that evaluates information at a range of up to 120 meters. Data is supplied to the system by Long Range Radar (LRR) sensors with operating frequencies of 77 Gigahertz. This information can either be used to warn the driver that he is getting too close, or automatically maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front. By the year 2003, though, Bosch plans to begin series production of its Short Range Radar (SRR) with sensors operating in the 24 Gigahertz frequency range. These then form a virtual "safety belt" around the vehicle. Their signals are able to warn the driver of a range of hazardous situations, for example when a vehicle enters the driver's blind spot.

Next up will be video sensors used to detect the vehicle's environment. In its simplest form, video sensor technology could be installed at the rear of the vehicle to assist with parking and reversing maneuvers. However, cameras of this type yield a far greater benefit when the objects detected are interpreted by image processing and the information is used to warn the driver in critical situations (e.g., if an intended lane change would risk a collision with a rapidly approaching vehicle). Forward-facing video cameras can supply information that enables the driver assistant system not only to measure the distance to an object, but also to classify the object it has detected.

The "sensitive" car also detects what is going on inside the passenger compartment so as to trigger the airbags and belt tensioners. Bosch is also developing a system which uses information from four deformation sensors installed in the seat subframe to perform absolute weight detection. This information helps to distinguish between a lightweight adult for whom the airbag must be completely activated and a child for whom the bag must either not be triggered at all, or only very gently inflated. Work is also proceeding on the development of an ultrasound-based system that complements the seat information and optimizes situation-specific airbag inflation: sensors mounted in a roof module determine the distance of the occupants from the dashboard and their sitting posture. If the person is in an unfavorable position, only one airbag stage may be activated, or the bag may not be triggered at all. It is planned to start series production of this system in the year 2002.

However, Delphi has already brought an occupant weight-sensing system to market with its PODS (Passive Occupant Detection System) introduced by Jaguar last year. PODS technology consists of a silicon-based load cell cushion weight-sensor mounted under the passenger seat cushion. The system provides information but allows the airbag computer to determine whether to suppress or allow passenger airbag deployment based on the passenger's weight classification. It is the first stage, says Delphi, in the introduction of sensing systems that will tailor airbag deployment to match each vehicle occupant's weight, size and position.

Siemens VDO is also developing a passenger detection system based on three-dimensional camera images that signals the passenger's position to the airbag control unit. The airbag is then only inflated to the distance between the passenger and the dashboard. A simple video camera is not sufficient to determine exactly a person's position, says Siemens VDO, as it produces only a two-dimensional image so a 3D camera is installed in the roof lining of the car on the passenger side.

However, the company is also working on advanced image recording and processing in which a laser is used to transmit flashes of light that are reflected by the object surface. The distance is calculated by the time taken by the light package to travel to the receiver. This is then measured by the shutter on the receiver opening for just a few nanoseconds as the light enters. In order to compensate the differing reflectivities of different materials and colors, the shutter is opened a second time when the whole light pulse has already entered the receiver. The software then calculates a three-dimensional image from the measured light intensities. By contrast with infrared or ultrasonic-based systems that measure the distance at only a few sensors, the image processing methods allow a highly reliable distinction as to whether a person or an object is on the passenger seat. The head position can also be precisely determined.

The 3D camera is placed in an integrated safety system that also incorporates a seat occupancy detection system. This system contains a mat located under the cushion of the passenger seat that measures the passenger's weight and weight distribution. These parameters are transmitted to the airbag controller where they are processed together with the results of the camera surveillance and the vehicle acceleration caused by the accident, a measure of the accident severity. Multi-stage gas generators are used in order to vary the volume of the airbag. Knowing the passenger position so accurately, said Siemens VDO, makes it possible to adjust the headrest to the correct position of the head.

While Mercedes-Benz has the "thinking" car, Bosch the "sensitive" car, and Delphi its ISS concept, Visteon has a "cocoon". This is a 360° awareness area surrounding the exterior of the vehicle that features programmable sense zones. It monitors the entire vehicle's surroundings, sensing and alerting drivers to other nearby vehicles or objects, while also having the ability to detect stopped objects. The technologies that comprise smart radar "cocoon" include adaptive cruise control, a cornerstone technology of the company's collision avoidance systems, a near-object warning system that provides a real-time, 360° continuous assessment of the driving environment, and an "electronic bumper". This complements the near-object warning system by using electronic throttle and braking to maintain a predetermined distance from vehicles in the front and the rear. Radar-based sensors provide an "advanced back-up aid" with an expanded field of view to detect and alert drivers to objects behind the wheel while backing-up or parking. This expanded field of view, combined with the predicted vehicle trajectory, which is determined by the steering wheel angle input, alerts drivers to objects within its predicted path. Visteon's "side object warning system" also uses short-range radar sensors, located in key areas of the vehicle's exterior to detect and warn drivers of objects within the detection zone on the side of the vehicle, in an adjacent lane, while its "lane change aid" warns drivers if another vehicle is in the way during turns and lane changes.

Amongst TRW's offerings at Frankfurt was the active control retractor (ACR) and the donut airbag. The ACR is a seatbelt product that offers reversible pretensioning via an electrical retractor with a motor. It may, said TRW, enhance seatbelt performance as an active safety device through better driver stabilization, improved occupant position before a collision, and increased rollover protection. Its activation can even be controlled by the pre-crash algorithm, which processes signals received from various vehicle sensors. The donut airbag, named for its shape during deployment, reduces the risk of injury because there is no direct cover contact, less mass is moved, the moving parts are smaller, and the "punch" of the bag is reduced. It works with a dual-stage inflator for out-of-position situations. TRW says it will go into production in 2003 vehicles.