The emergence of vehicle systems that focus on safety and driver convenience is becoming ever more apparent. Mark Wilkinson revisits four interesting technologies that should be in production within the next 6-24 months.

Bosch ESP - and other braking refinements
Bosch first fitted the first series production anti-lock brakes (ABS) in 1978 to the Mercedes S-class. Since then, the company has produced over 100m ABS units - and from July this year, ABS is set to become standard fitment on all cars sold in the EU.

In view of this, it is shocking to realise how low the market awareness of the company's related braking technology, ESP (electronic stability programme), is in the UK. According to Bosch, current rate of fitment of ESP is 50% in Germany - in the UK just one car in twelve has ESP, compared with one in eight in Italy and one in five in France. In the US, ESP fitment is even lower - only 5% in 2003, but Dr Bernd Bohr, Bosch management board member, says that this will rise to 12.5% by 2005 as new anti-rollover ESP features debut in SUVs.

Bosch began mass production of ESP in 1995 and it is now standard equipment in all Mercedes models sold in the EU. Since then, Bosch' and competitors' ESP systems have trickled down from luxury segments to the B-segment - Renault Clio-sized vehicles - and it is fitted as standard equipment on DaimlerChrysler's Smart city cars. Bosch is also supplier of the entire braking system to Fiat's new Panda - and offers ESP as a cost option, so those low fitment rates in the UK and Italy could soon see some improvement. Despite all this, Bosch made its 10-millionth ESP system in August 2003.

Bosch invited journalists to try out its latest ESP efforts on the new Jaguar X-type estate at MIRA's test tracks. First of all, we were to drive around a roundabout at ever-increasing speed - after a couple of laps the co-driver asked me to cross into the inner circle; a basalt surface - and then he ordered the sprinklers to be switched on. Despite the X-type's four-wheel drive, it became apparent that the car would lose traction at any speed over 15mph. Under the sprinklers, basalt has a co-efficient of friction similar to black ice!

With the ESP switched off and gently increasing speed from 15mph, the car understeered off the track - any sudden manoeuvres (steering, braking or prods of the accelerator) though, and the back would start to come round - and on the 'ice' it was impossible for me (as a non-race driver) to catch it. Cue ugly, out-of-control, exit from chosen line…

With the ESP on, the electronics allowed the car to understeer gently; with more accelerator, the understeer simply increased, but the back end stayed under control. Underneath the car, one could just detect the rapid pulsing of brakes being applied to individual wheels as the electronics performed its own rapid dance, assessing grip and slip for each tyre and calculating in real time its next best move. It was even possible to apply the brakes in mid-understeer - the car would slow rapidly, without losing control, to a point where normal traction could once again be taken up.

The next part of the test involved a high speed handling circuit, full of sweeping bends, short straights and sharp hairpins - also wet by sprinklers. On this I was more successful in my efforts to steer into the skids without ESP. Nevertheless, with ESP on, those loss-of-rear-traction moments became much rarer - the car simply understeered, giving me ample time to brake and correct my line to proceed safely.

The co-driver then took over and showed me how it could be done without ESP - and proceeded to dance a high-speed ballet around the handling circuit, taking bend after bend; sideways and in complete control. His verdict? If given the choice, he prefers to drive without ESP. But for the average driver, ESP looks like a very effective way to extricate us, electronically and rapidly, from those situations when our limited experience could easily lead to mishap. It can't change the laws of physics, but it can help to keep us from trying to challenge them!

Mercedes' own statistics show that ESP (standard on all their vehicles since 2000) has reduced the likelihood of loss of vehicle control without outside intervention by as much as 30%, and fitment is growing at a startling rate. Says Manfred Müller, MD of the OE Division in the UK: "Worldwide, manufacturers are taking ESP up at five times the rate they did ABS, so I hope to see ESP as universal fit in the near future."

the Renault Megane, with its latest Bosch ESP system, undergoes severe winter testing. Source: Bosch

Bosch has unfortunately taken a hit on its premium Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC, a brake-by-wire electro-hydraulic braking system) system, co-developed with DaimlerChrysler for the Mercedes SL and then fitted to the S- and E- classes. The system marries brake-by-wire pedal response with the power and reliability of hydraulic braking to each individual wheel. Sadly, the cost of SBC - forecast to come down to €500-600 per system by 2005 - means that it is unlikely to make it into cheaper cars. Alongside its SBC programme, Bosch has also been developing a refinement of conventional ESP - ESPlus. ESPlus, due in production in 2005, will enable advanced braking features (soft-stop, wet-weather brake disc wiping, hill holder etc) to penetrate the market more quickly, and at a much lower price than SBC - so in the end, we all gain.

Delphi Maximum Torque Brakes (MTB)
Delphi has been developing an innovative new brake concept that uses not one, but two, fully floating brake discs per wheel. A single hydraulic calliper carries three friction pads - two outer and a double sided inner pad - to spread the braking effort over the four brake disc surfaces. This produces a much greater maximum braking torque - up to 1.7x that of a normal brake system. In addition to this, because the brake is so effective, much less brake fluid needs to be used - and so pedal travel can be greatly reduced in comparison with conventional systems. A number of market opportunities and benefits emerge as a result of the system's combination of abilities:

1) Higher performance braking, making it suitable for a performance vehicle
2) Using the improved braking ability to downsize the brakes by up to an inch, enabling the fitment of smaller wheels
3) Reduced brake pedal travel, providing more positive braking with improved feel
4) Substantially improved thermal management - the discs run cooler

Expert Analysis

A global market review for electronic braking systems - forecasts to 2006
Continuing our series of component niche market studies, this just-auto.com report reviews the key market drivers for automotive electronic braking systems. Chapter two determines major trends in supply, sourcing, material usage and design of electronic braking technologies as well as identifying market shares in Europe, North America and worldwide. Chapter three then highlights recent technical advances in braking technologies. Chapter four will provide you with brief profiles of the major electronic brake manufacturers, Advics, Bosch, Continental Teves, Delphi and TRW. Find out more here.

 

I tried the system in a BMW X5 (MTB front brakes only) and then compared it with an X5 fitted with conventional brakes. The MTB-equipped X5 certainly felt more positive during braking as a result of the reduced brake pedal travel. They certainly stopped the car very effectively - not that the conventional brakes in the other X5 were anything to complain about. The co-driver however explained that the beauty of the twin-disc system lies in its ability to withstand repeated hard braking without fade. Whereas conventional brakes in high performance SUVs have to be designed to withstand up to ten high-speed stops, according to Delphi the twin-disc system carries this off with virtually the same performance on Stop 10 as at Stop 1, whereas, by Stop 10, the conventional system could be displaying signs of brake fade.

Delphi also showed a Ford Fiesta with front MTB brakes, which also felt very effective - but the relative feeling of superiority was less than in the X5. In the small car, being closer to the road, and with most of the weight already over the front wheels, there was less opportunity for weight change to reveal itself under heavy braking. However, the faster response and reduced pedal travel of the MTB version was nonetheless impressive.

MTB presents an interesting opportunity for the vehicle manufacturers because of the brake and wheel downsizing possibilities. Smaller wheels not only improve ride and handling (lower unsprung mass) but they can also reduce the wheel cost to the manufacturer (by up to US$50 per car, says Delphi). In fact, one maker has already expressed an interest in MTB for the ability to offer standard-fit 13-inch wheels; its dealers could then offer profitable 14-inch alloy wheels as a cost-option! This is an important issue because B-segment cars can be produced as loss-leaders - any realistic cost savings are welcomed. Aside from the cost aspect, smaller wheels are also very attractive to light commercial vehicle manufacturers because they can help to lower the vehicle's load platform height, making the vehicle easier to load.

Delphi says that manufacturer demonstrations are on-going, as is pilot production at the company's advanced braking innovation centre, but final production could be arranged to be closer to the customer as a transplant. In any case, Delphi says that MTB will be ready for low volume production in 2005 and mass production in 2006.

MTB technology has the potential to fill both niche and mainstream applications, so estimating future market share is difficult. A typical roll-out might be; first appearance in a high-cost, high-tech application, followed by applications in more cost-sensitive vehicles. Says Chris Baylis, director of engineering at Delphi's Leamington innovation centre: "With Maximum Torque Brake, we have a production-ready product that will allow Delphi's customers to introduce a true 21st Century solution for vehicle braking." This could be one of the first major non-electronic brake innovations since the invention of the disc brake fifty years ago.

the twin brake discs and three brake pads of Delphi's MTB are clearly visible. Source: Delphi

Hella's Lane Departure Warning System
German lighting and electronics specialist Hella is in the process of refining its Lane Departure Warning (LDW) for production. LDW alerts the driver when the car begins to leave its lane without obvious input from the driver (for instance, when the driver is distracted or is very tired). A video camera in the rear view mirror (possibly integrated with the rain/light sensors) allows the electronics to track the lane markings on the road ahead. Using this video image, Hella's image processing software determines the car's position in the lane and then compares this position with additional inputs taken from the steering angle, brake and accelerator position sensors - and whether or not the indicators are in use. If the car begins to drift off track for no apparent reason, the driver is alerted by an audio or haptic warning such as a vibrating steering wheel.

I tried the system at Hella's home town of Lippstadt - a screen mounted on the dashboard displayed a video image of the road and markings as the car progressed down the road. These markings were then overlaid by a computer-generated image - the image processing software actively tracking and predicting the car's path in relation to the road lane markings. As soon as the car began to drift out of the lane, an audio signal alerted the driver.

The ultimate goal is to make sure that the system only issues a warning when the driver is in danger and has not made a conscious decision to change lanes - repeated erroneous warnings could easily irritate the driver and put he or she off the system. A great deal of programming is being undertaken to avoid such mistakes - the electronics are cleverly programmed to ignore filter lanes and motorway exit markings, for instance.

Hella's LDW will be ready for production in 2006 and is most likely to appear first in a European application, with US applications expected to appear shortly afterwards. Winfried Menge Hella's Head of Marketing, Automotive Electronics, explains that the company is also examining the integration of LDW with its existing Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). The ACC's sensors could provide extra information to the LDW system about any vehicle in front, thus improving the accuracy of warning about unintentional, rather than deliberate overtaking lane departures. This enhanced (LDW+) system is expected to reach production by 2007/8.

Hella's LDW won silver prize for innovation at the Auto Equip 2003 awards. Source: Hella

Hella is supportive of the European self-ruling to reduce the number of deaths on EU roads by 50% by the year 2010 (currently at the level of 40,000 deaths a year), so it is engineering LDW so that it can move rapidly down from the initial high-line applications through to smaller and less expensive cars. In fact, the company aims to make the system affordable for Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus-size cars within a few years. As is the case with ABS, Hella hopes that LDW is a technology that starts as an option and eventually becomes standard equipment.

Valeo's Parking Systems - from park assist to fully automatic
One of the most demanding tasks for the driver in today's traffic-ridden cities and towns must surely be parking. Owners wishing to protect their expensive new car's chiselled nose and tail currently rely on arrays of ultrasonic sensors to inform them of their proximity to another vehicle or object. These communicate the shrinking of the gap to the driver by a series of bleeps and perhaps a line of LEDs.

Valeo holds over 50% of the world market for such ultrasonic sensors and has actually been producing them for over twelve years at one of its two facilities. The company has now applied these sensors to its next refinement in parking systems - Parking Slot Measurement. This new system uses two additional side-facing sensors - exactly the same specification as the existing parking sensors - to measure the presence of gaps alongside the car once the driver has activated the 'parking required' mode. The electronics measure the length of each potential parking slot and alert the driver when a suitably long 'parkable' slot has been identified. Valeo already has two contracts for the system - the first debuts on an upmarket European car later this year.

Valeo's next parking assistance system, Assisted Parallel Parking (APP) goes one better and works by guiding the driver into the optimum reverse parking path. It does this by combining Parking Slot Measurement with a steering angle sensor and rear-mounted camera. A screen on the dashboard displays the space behind the car while the ECU determines the best path for reversing and superimposes this in the form of coloured guidelines over the video image. The driver then steers the car by reference to the video screen image - the electronics constantly adjusting the guidelines depending on the angle of the steering wheel during the manoeuvre. This system will be ready for production by 2005.

At the IAA fair in Frankfurt in September, Valeo showed a 50cm-long model demonstration car equipped with parking sensors. This amazing little machine was also equipped with Parking Slot Measurement and had control of its own steering. The model simply had to be placed near a line of similar model cars and switched on. It would cruise slowly past the cars until it found a suitable gap and then stop and reverse into the parking space, pulling forwards slightly to centre itself in the gap - perfect parking, and completely automatically! It might be a while before such a system is permissible in full-size vehicles in Europe, but this is a strong indication of what is coming!

Valeo stop press:-
Incidentally, Valeo has confirmed that its own lane departure warning system (LDWS) will debut on a high-line North American car later this year. The system is the result of a two-year development programme with Iteris, which originally developed lane departure warning with DaimlerChrysler for the Mercedes Actros truck in 2000. Valeo's co-operative agreement with Iteris gives Valeo exclusive rights to manufacture and market the system on light vehicles around the world. LDWS uses image recognition software linked to a camera mounted in the rear view mirror housing.

Valeo's Parking Slot Management System goes into production for a European application this year. Source: Valeo

Conclusion
So, an interesting collection of new technologies will soon be with us - all of which are applicable across a wide range of vehicles. They should help to make tomorrow's driving world a safer, more relaxing place to be!