Attendees of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) 2004 show in March (http://rbi.ims.ca/3848-688) had plenty of opportunity to see some of the auto industry's latest and greatest innovations, including powertrain advances that promise increased fuel economy and vision systems designed to heighten driver awareness and help to avoid accidents.
In several panel discussions, engineers described design concepts they are working on that could bring up to 15-percent savings in fuel economy. Among the technologies discussed: hybrids with internal combustion engines (ICE)/electric motors, clean diesels, and hydrogen propulsion, either in fuel cells or as the fuel for an ICE.
In a panel discussion on the future of hybrid vehicles, Walter McManus, executive director of J. D. Powers & Associates, noted the schizophrenic desire for both large vehicles and fuel economy. "Over the past eight years that we have been measuring the data, car buyers have demanded larger and larger vehicles. Likewise, their interest in fuel economy has gone up. So it makes sense for Toyota to make the Prius » a little bit bigger and come out with the RX400h SUV; GM to come out with a hybrid transit bus; and Ford to develop the hybrid Escape."
The 2004 Prius is a four-door hybrid with a 50-kW motor. That's up from the 30-kW motor in the original Prius. The new Prius can accelerate to 40 mph in 4.9 seconds using only the electric motor. The Lexus RX400h, slated for introduction later this year uses a similar drive system.
GM will use technology from its hybrid transit bus for full-size pickups and SUVs in the 2008 model year. Hybrid powertrains promise from 25 to 35 percent better fuel economy in the new vehicles. Ford says that its Escape hybrid SUV will get 35 to 40 mpg in city driving versus 19 mpg for today's V6, and 29-31 mpg versus 25 mpg on the highway.
On the safety front, enhanced vision systems for control and better driver awareness seemed to be everywhere on the exhibit floor. The technology was also the focus of several technical papers. In his keynote presentation, Wolfgang Ziebart, deputy chairman of the executive board, Continental AG noted, "Today, on average, one person is killed every minute in a car crash somewhere in the world—over one million deaths every year. That's more than sufficient justification to be looking into ways to make vehicles smarter and safer."
Continental's Intelligent Power Assisted Steering system provides a Lane Keeping Support (LKS) function made possible by a camera that detects unintentional deviation from the selected lane.
A radar-based Closing Velocity Sensor in an advanced system will detect events near the vehicle to enable precise predictions of the severity and direction of an impending collision. It is also designed to take pre-collision steps, such as proper activation of airbags or closing windows or locking the doors.
Other companies displaying cameras and vision detection systems included Valeo/Iterus, Hella, Denso, Aisin Seiki, and SMal Camera Technologies.
Valeo said that it is developing both camera and radar-based vision systems. The CMOS camera-based system is a cooperative effort with Iteris and is currently in production for heavy-duty trucks. John Hancock, project manager for Iteris, says, "It's very simple. As the occupant is driving down the road, the camera is looking at the road ahead. It tracks the lane markings on both sides of the road. The position of the car within the lanes is calculated. If the driver crosses over a lane mark, he or she gets some kind of warning sound. You can think of it as portable rumble strips."
Hella is developing a lane departure warning system (LDW) that uses a windshield-mounted camera with scatter light suppression for operation over a wide variety of lighting and weather conditions.
Denso's millimeter wave-radar is used in the pre-collision warning system that is now being offered on the Lexus LS 430 in North America. The sensor monitors a wide angle (20 degrees) with a detection accuracy of 0.5 degrees.
Aisin Seiki uses a single camera in its Intelligent Parking Assist/Automatic Steering system that steers the car and automatically parks it. Toyota uses the technology in the 2004 Prius version that is sold in Japan.
SMal Camera Technologies displayed its CMOS image sensors with wide dynamic range for forward, rear and interior vehicle vision applications.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has identified that over 500,000 rear/side crashes occurred every year in the U.S. since 1997. As a result, several companies have recently developed electronic vision products to address this blind area problem. Siemens VDO Automotive announced its Blind Spot Detection system that uses two, dual-beam radar sensors operating at 24 GHz to alert drivers to potential dangers. The sensors are mounted on the rear quarters of the vehicle to detect objects approaching the driver's blind spot. A light on the side mirror warns the driver of the objects. This technology is expected to be in production for the 2007 model year.
Trico Products Electronics Division unveiled its SideEyes side-object warning system, which uses an infrared beam to detect objects. The company says the infrared sensor was chosen over radar, sonar, and microwave sensing techniques for its lower cost. The device is integrated into the vehicle's sideview mirror mounts and provides an illuminated icon to warn the driver of an object in the blind spot. The sensor has a response time of 50 ms, a range of 2 to 25 ft that is adjustable, and a resolution of ±6 inches.
Omron announced an advanced electronic camera with almost three times the dynamic range (170 dB versus 60 dB) of CCD cameras that could be used under light conditions that range from tunnels to blinding sunlight and after dark. The High Dynamic Range CMOS (HDRC®) digital imaging technology has potential vehicle applications in blind spot detection, lane departure, collision warning, and other functions.
Mobileye N.V. announced the production of the EyeQ™ vision system-on-a-chip. The chip has the equivalent computing power of two Pentium computers at a fraction of the cost. With this chip, engineers claim they can address lane following, lane-change assist, and adaptive cruise control requirements including collision mitigation with a single CMOS camera, which may be supplemented with a radar sensor. Mobileye has agreements with several manufacturers and Tier-1 suppliers for production vehicle applications starting in 2006.