Remember when "talking" cars were all the rage? This husky female voice politely reminded you, "Your door is ajar." And if you didn't close it fast enough, she again reminded you, "Your door is ajar." And again...and again...and again. The novelty wore off very quickly!
Well, the helpful, intelligent car is back. But in a much more useful and pleasant way.
The ConnectedDrive from BMW will operate its own braking system during stop and go traffic; help the driver avoid accidents when changing lanes; tell him when to slow down; locate parking spaces; and my personal favorite...help one avoid traffic jams and congested highways.
This system of lasers, sensors, data processors, and image processing techniques interconnects the "nervous systems" of the car with its outside environment. Based on existing data, it processes the needed reaction and communicates that information to the driver. "We wish to bring the driver out of his isolation, giving him access to all the information he finds important or desirable," states Burkhard Göschel, BMW Group board member for Development and Purchasing.
To reduce the risk in turning at intersections or changing lanes, for example, two ConnectedDrive assistance systems use optical or radar sensors to automatically monitor the danger areas. When the driver activates the directional indicator, a sensor immediately monitors the appropriate side of the car. The entire area next to the car is scanned at an angle of approximately 90°. If the sensor detects an object, the system warns the driver.
Augmenting BMW's ConnectedDrive features is a laser-projection rear seat entertainment system.
The Adaptive Light Control (ALC) feature "sees" where the driver is steering the car and "swivels" the headlights accordingly, using digital micromirror device (DMD) technology, to ensure bright illumination even along tight bends. The system is controlled by car-based and ConnectedDrive information such as the steering angle, road speed, and lateral acceleration. Even GPS satellite navigation and electronic road maps may be employed.
Push, not shove. Currently, BMW is testing an active steering wheel and the active gas pedal to induce the driver to correct his steering by generating a slight counter-force or "advising" the driver to reduce his road speed. An electric motor in the steering wheel applies slight steering forces in the direction the driver is supposed to follow. These forces, however, are not strong enough to automatically turn the steering, nor will the steering wheel build up excessive resistance to the driver's commands. The driver can easily override the system in order to avoid an obstacle on the road or safely overtake another vehicle. The driver always remains in control.
The active or "feel-oriented" gas pedal follows the same principle—applying a force against the driver's foot whenever the car is moving too fast in a given situation. Such "advice" to reduce speed may be provided, say, by the navigation system when entering a bend or a built-up area. Critical road conditions such as wet and snowbound surfaces detected by sensors or vehicles ahead moving at a lower speed may also trigger this assistance function. And like the active steering wheel, the active gas pedal will naturally "give in" to the driver's commands whenever necessary, allowing the driver to override the function, for example, when overtaking another vehicle.
To make such steering and throttle features possible, units that focus on the car's immediate surroundings will supplement the sensors already integrated in the car today. BMW specialists are developing new detectors based on radar, laser, and image processing technologies.
These are required for detecting the coefficient of friction of road surfaces. Optical sensors can "see" whether the road is covered by snow or ice, or whether the road is wet. Such sensors can even measure the thickness of a layer of water, important for detecting the risk of aquaplaning. The friction-coefficient algorithms then use this data to condition the operation of suspension control systems and the ABS brakes, giving the driver an appropriate warning whenever necessary.
A ConnectedDrive-equipped BMW X5 is currently in field tests in Germany.