When Mercedes Benz showcased a concept car a few years ago bulging to the headliner with no less than 18 inflated airbags, small wonder that some people have a perception that an injury-proof car exists. While it's a fallacy to believe we can escape injury following a serious car crash, passive safety devices to protect all parts of the body have come a long way in short period.

Although for many years, safety technologies have been seen as 'boring' by some consumers, carmakers are trying to communicate some more attractive comfort and convenience safety-related features. For example, in a TV advert displaying the Citroën C5, the French carmaker points out the car's many electronic safety aspects. The C5 features multiplexed wiring in order to facilitate a variety of driver aids such as automatic lighting, automated windscreen wipers, electronic parking aids and a tyre low-pressure warning system. The model also features an Auto-PC system which integrates satellite navigation, hi-fi, phone, address book and dictaphone. Launching the new Mondeo, Ford also spent huge sums on TV advertising to sell the virtues of its Intelligent Protection System. Ford's IPS comes with adaptive dual-stage front air bags for the front-seat occupants, an advanced detection system that analyses frontal crash severity, driver position as well as passenger-seat occupancy, plus front seat pretensioners and load limiters.

Figure 1: "Why spend time staying beautiful if you don't drive the safest car in its class?", asks Renault.

Some carmakers, however, have gone further in trying to get the message across that their cars are safer than the competition. Heralded at its launch in 1999 as the "safest car in its class", Renault make much of the fact that its new Mégane was fitted with driver, passenger and side airbags as standard equipment. In the event of a frontal accident, the combined action of the airbags with a new system of seatbelt pretensioners reduces the force on the chest to be reduced from the previous 900kg to 400kg. Renault's glitzy television advertisement began with footage of a plastic surgeon at work with the voiceover, "Why spend time staying beautiful if you don't drive the safest car in its class?" Renault then reinforced this point, mid-ad, with the hard-hitting sight and sound of a full-speed crash test; a first for British television. It then pointed out that in frontal impact tests carried out by Euro NCAP (new car assessment programme), its new Mégane achieved the maximum four-star rating and highest points score in its class.

For many years, Volvo has led the industry in introducing safety features into its vehicles. In a recent showcase, Volvo presented its Safety Concept Car (SCC) to the world's motoring press. Designed using computer technology around ideas developed at the company's Monitor and Concept Centre in California, the main safety aspect of the SCC is improved visibility to put the driver in the best position to avoid potential accidents. To achieve this, the pedals, steering wheel and centre console are automatically adjusted after sensors detect the position of the driver's eyes. A see-through A-pillar is also being considered to further reduce blind spots.

But it's not just occupants that need protecting, the focus is moving toward pedestrian safety. Following six months of talks with the European Commission, carmakers have agreed to equip all new cars with daytime running lights from 2002, anti-lock braking systems from 2003 and impose a ban on bull bars from 2002. From 2010, however, the industry must comply with a more stringent set of pedestrian safety targets proposed by the European Enhanced Safety Vehicle Committee.

Some carmakers have already taken some effective steps to address pedestrian safety, mounting energy-absorbing features on the front of the vehicle. Europe's NCAP recently proclaimed that the new Honda Civic has excelled in the area of pedestrian safety, awarding the car the highest pedestrian safety ranking ever (a 73% rating). NCAP's pedestrian safety tests simulate impacts at 40kph and measure damage to the head and upper and lower legs. Built at the company's Swindon, UK plant, the Civic has undergone an intensive programme of research to assess ways of minimising pedestrian injury. Specific design items include an unobstructed area beneath the bonnet allowing it to deform on impact, bonnet hinges that compress under impact, energy-absorbing wiper hinges designed to break under impact and impact absorbing wing supports.

Defining safety

The concept of safety may be divided into two categories: active and passive

Active safety is about improving vehicle performance to help prevent accidents from happening in the first place. According to Lars Lind, who is involved in product planning in the field of active safety at Volvo Cars, active safety means measures which prevent an accident occurring. He said: The first thing you think about is technology to improve the driving characteristics of the car, but active safety is also created by properties and equipment which enable you to see and be seen more effectively, as well as comfort features like the seats, instrumentation and climate units."

Passive safety is about giving the occupants of the car the best possible protection when an accident proves unavoidable. Passive safety devices include airbags and seatbelts.

The trend within each of these areas is to develop better, faster-reacting, more discriminatory systems that tailor their response to the situation, the conditions and the occupants. Bosch uses a conceptual view of safety, classifying whether they are active or passive, contribute to safety or driver comfort (see figure 2).



Source: Bosch

Figure 2: Bosch's collision avoidance system (vehicle surround sensing - comfort and safety functions)

 

 


Source: Delphi

Figure 3: Delphi's Integrated Safety System

 

The conceptual model presented by Bosch, setting out five states, sums up the entire field of automotive safety. Most of the technologies still under development will fit into this framework. There are two main drivers of change: legislation and consumer demand. For example, a new US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (No. 208) has been agreed, setting out the terms of an advanced airbag ruling requiring manufacturers to make airbags more effective for a broader weight-range of occupants than was previously required for vehicles sold in the US. Beginning September 1st, 2003, 35% of each manufacturer's fleet sold in the US must be equipped with advanced airbag systems and the number increases to nearly 100% by September 2006.

 

This article has been extracted from the exclusive new just-auto research report, 'New technologies for automotive safety (download)'. The report reviews the key market drivers for the automotive safety market, providing forward-looking analysis. For more information and a table of contents, please click here.

 

Here is a summary of the main findings of the report:

Passive safety

· The global average supply value for automotive safety products per vehicle has risen 70% over the last seven years to around $230 per car today. With no signs of abatement, occupant restraint suppliers expect year-on-year growth of around 5% as carmakers fit increasing amounts of side protection as standard equipment and turn their attention to new applications, such as inflatable seatbelts.

· The $12 billion global vehicle occupant restraint market alone has grown by an average rate of 12% annually since 1993. The driver for long-term growth lies in developing adaptive restraint technology, including smart airbags, anticipatory crash sensors, rollover protection and low-level airbags to prevent knee injuries. The major recall of Firestone tyres last year has, amongst other things, increased attention on rollover accidents and should further speed the take-up of these new systems.

· The rush to offer rollover protection, especially for the ever-popular SUVs, has triggered a raft of major contract awards to suppliers of sensors, which activate rollover curtain bags.

· The occupant restraint market will be given another boost in September 2003, when 35% of each manufacturer's fleet sold in the US must be equipped with advanced airbag systems and the number increases to nearly 100% by September 2006. As the advanced airbag market gets set for growth, demand for initiators will rocket.

· On the seatbelt side, growth products will centre on energy management devices controlling the occupant's forward movement in the event of a crash.

· Outside of airbag and seatbelt applications, some of the latest novel advances centre on computer-controlled headlight systems that adapt the beam and its intensity and direction to help drivers see the road better-even round corners. These systems can be programmed to react to a wide range of driving situations. Examples include electronically linking the steering wheel to a headlight reflector so that a beam of light illuminates the curve in the road ahead as the steering wheel is turned. Another option would programme the beam so that it adapts to speed by moving the headlight reflector to produce a long, narrow beam at high speeds or a wider, dispersed beam at slow speeds. Such technological wizardry is yet another way for the carmakers to lift sales. Modern light technology can do considerably more than legislation has allowed so far. By 2005 the legislative framework should be established in Europe and Japan for the use of intelligent headlights-and therefore for improved road safety at night.

Active safety

· In an effort to enhance vehicle guidance, steering and braking, mechanical systems are gradually being replaced with so-called "X by-wire" systems. Using a range of sensors, these systems determine the driver's commands and then process the information electronically to the actuators. Drive-by-wire systems are set to replace many of the traditional hydraulically and mechanically operated systems. The first production car to feature brake-by-wire will be on the market this year (2001) and the industry expects a relatively rapid expansion of the technology across the market.

· Although the electronic stability programme (ESP) is already standard equipment on many luxury cars, an increasing number of mid-range and small cars are being fitted with the unit as standard or optional fitment. Volkswagen in the UK, for example, offers ESP on the Golf for £375. Europe is by far the biggest market. According to researchers at Bosch, one in three cars in Europe will be equipped with ESP by 2004, up from around 13% in 2000. In contrast, demand in Japan and the NAFTA region will rise, albeit moderately.

· Thanks to last summer's Firestone recall, tyre pressure sensor systems have become a big safety issue. So much so, that by late 2003, tyre pressure monitoring systems will become mandatory.

· Also, thanks to a cocktail of rising crime and consumer demands for greater in-car safety and drive comfort, demand for laminated side glass looks set to take off. Laminated side glass also means the occupant is not thrown out of the vehicle in rollover accidents, offer anti-theft protection and improved acoustic comfort. In Europe, the accent is on greater personal security whereas in the US the emphasis is on safety.

· Some of the latest novel advances in lighting centre on computer-controlled headlight systems that adapt the beam as well as its intensity and direction to help drivers see the road better-even round corners. These systems can be programmed to react to a wide range of driving situations. Examples include electronically linking the steering wheel to a headlight reflector so that a beam of light illuminates the curve in the road ahead as the steering wheel is turned. Another option would programme the beam so that it adapts to speed by moving the headlight reflector to produce a long, narrow beam at high speeds or a wider, dispersed beam at slow speeds. Such technological wizardry is yet another way for the carmakers to lift sales. Modern light technology can do considerably more than legislation has allowed so far. By 2005, the legislative framework should be established in Europe and Japan for the use of intelligent headlights-and therefore for improved road safety at night.

· Following six months of talks with the European Commission, the carmaker association ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers Association) have agreed to voluntarily equip all new cars with daytime running lights from 2002, anti-lock braking systems from 2003 and impose a ban on bull bars from 2002. From 2010, however, the industry must comply with a more stringent set of pedestrian safety targets proposed by the European Enhanced Safety Vehicle Committee. If the European Parliament and Council accept these proposals in October 2001, it means there will be no mandatory pedestrian safety standards. In preparation, Autoliv has developed a car bonnet that pops up slightly if the car hits a pedestrian, a system that could reduce deaths and head injuries. Raised quickly enough, the hood would deform and cushion the blow, stopping the accident victim from striking the solid parts of the car underneath. Steel bellows under the bonnet fill with gas in less than 70 milliseconds and lift the rear edge by 10 centimetres. The rear-opening bonnet's super fast reaction is triggered by accelerometers, which are installed in the front bumper. They analyse the speed of bumper deformation to tell the difference between a human leg and a signpost. The company hopes to see the system fitted to production vehicles within four years. It will probably be used in conjunction with external air bags to cushion pedestrians from the windscreens and pillars.

Vehicle guidance

· By 2010, ACC technology is expected to evolve to collision avoidance systems that can provide emergency braking. It is expected that the market for adaptive cruise control, collision warning and headway control systems will grow to an estimated $2.4 billion by 2010 from about $11 million in 1998.

Driver support

· Driver support systems without active intervention can be viewed as a pre-stage to vehicle guidance. They only warn the driver or suggest a driving manoeuvre (for example, when parking). It is reckoned that around 10% of all new cars in western Europe will be fitted with rear sensing systems by 2005, up from 2% in 2001. In North America, OE fitment levels could blossom to around 12% by 2003, up from just 2% in 1999. Leading the field are auto electronics giants Bosch, Siemens, Valeo and Delphi.

Surround sensing

· Bosch are developing radar and video-based systems for cars, claiming that these applications will be capable of assessing the position and motion of objects outside the vehicle and either send a warning to the driver or take automatic emergency action themselves. The German group's so-called 'sensitive car' idea sprang from research showing that 60% of front-end crashes and a third of head-on collisions could be avoided if drivers could react only half a second faster. Bosch reckons that more powerful radar, coupled with video sensors, could in a few years' time offer directional guidance at any speed, while an extra lane-holding system could soon make fully automatic driving feasible. But ultimately we can expect much more. Bosch sees a market for sensor technology and for supplying components for automatic emergency braking and automatic ''vehicle intervention' systems for steering and engine management