A round-up of supplier innovations shown at Frankfurt

Author: just-auto.com editorial team

There is a lot more to Frankfurt than a dazzling array of new cars. At the world's biggest auto show, suppliers' stands bristled with innovation to improve driver safety, comfort and communications. Matthew Beecham reports on just some of the new technologies for tomorrow's cars.


ArvinMeritor Inc

It's a subtle thing but matters a great deal in the showroom. The first hands-on perception of a vehicle's quality is formed when the door handle is squeezed and the latch released. Until recently, however, this 'feel' could only be assessed some way into a design project. ArvinMeritor engineers now reckon that they can specify this feel - or 'release signature' as they prefer to call it - at the outset of the specification process. They have developed a method of accurately sampling all the forces within the latch release system and modelling them back onto the vehicle where the release curves can be modified in real time. They then recreate this feel on the finished latch by varying the geometry of the internal components. It's a powerful tool for carmakers as it means that models can share door parts but feature tailored release signatures to strengthen the branding within shared platforms. An SUV, for example, can adopt a solid latch feel while a small niche marketed coupe can feel very light to open.

Behr GmbH & Co

The German air conditioner and engine cooling supplier showcased their 'physiologically controlled' air conditioning system. It uses a multitude of sensors to monitor various factors which influence comfort levels in the cabin, such as humidity levels, air temperature, air speed and sunlight. While on the move, these values are then fed back to the air conditioner system telling it to adjust to the 'ideal' value in physiological terms.

Figure 1: Behr uses a dummy to evaluate and optimise thermal comfort levels. The sensors operate according to the same principle as 'artificial skin', allowing Behr engineers to get as close a representation as possible to the thermal comfort felt by a 'real' person.
Figure 2: It ain't half comfy, Mum. On long summer journeys, Behr's physiologically controlled air conditioner helps keeps everyone comfortable.

Continental AG

The boss of Germany's Continental, Dr Wolfgang Ziebert believes that hydraulic brake systems will soon give way to brake-by-wire systems. Continental Teves is due to start production of electro-hydraulic brakes in 2003 and electro-mechanical brakes in 2006. By then, braking power will be generated directly at the wheels by electro-mechanical actuators. In today's manual braking systems, pedal force applied by the driver is reinforced pneumatically and transferred hydraulically to provide brake power. In brake-by-wire systems, however, brake pedal force does not directly cause the system brake pressure to be varied. Instead, sensors determine the driver's braking command and transmit this information to an electronic control unit. Using the corresponding actuators, the control unit creates the required brake effect on the wheels. The net effect is that brake-by-wire technologies improve stopping distances by around 5% and make the brake pedal feel more comfortable.

Delphi Automotive Systems

Delphi's stand housed several concept vehicles to demonstrate its expertise in development, integration and application in the areas of environmental technology, integrated safety systems and mobile multi-media. In a joint effort with PSA Peugeot Citroen, Delphi's Environmental Technology vehicle uses the partners' technology to reduce fuel consumption, hydraulic fuel content and emissions. The world's largest auto parts supplier also displayed its second-generation Integrated Safety Systems vehicle, featuring technologies to help Delphi engineers to monitor driver workload in certain lab conditions. The results will be used to optimise the human-machine interfaces for systems such as collision warning, telematics, entertainment and mobile communications. Delphi's Mobile Multi-media vehicle demonstrated its Communiport products, with data integration provided via a media-orientated systems transport communication bus.

Denso Corp

As part of its EcoVision 2005 programme, Japan's Denso set out their Frankfurt stand with a range of environmental-friendly technologies. They included a two-layer flow HVAC system, a radiator-condenser cooling module, diesel common rail technology, a new starter generator for hybrid vehicles and a range of navigation systems for the OE and aftermarket.


Figure 3:
On the right track: Denso's DVD navigation system.

Hella KG Hueck & Co

The lighting designer Hella introduced its second generation of Night Vision technology using infrared headlamps, a camera and a head-up display. While the system is not meant to replace a driver's view out of the windscreen, it will give drivers additional visual information beyond what their eyes are capable of seeing. The infrared headlamp illuminates the main-beam area (up to 200 metres in front of the vehicle). The infrared light is then reflected back by objects some way in front of the vehicle, recorded as an image of the camera and shown on the head-up display unit.


Figure 4: Second sight: Hella's night vision system.

Inalfa Roof Systems BV

Sunroofs are getting larger and more stylish. Audi and Mercedes have both introduced wide-aperture sunroofs that offer larger openings and entire roof panels of glass to create a light and airy cabin environment. The Audi A2 features an Open Sky system using a total of four glass panels. Vehicle roofing specialist Inalfa used the show to display their Vista concept car, featuring a complete roof module. The company's modular roof system is made up of three glass panels. The front, short panel tilts upwards, dependent on speed and acts as a spoiler. The large middle segment can be opened in a tilted position or alternatively slide over the fixed rear panel.

Figure 5: Glass ceilings: Inalfa's roof system concept. Figure 6: Let the sunshine in: Inalfa's roof system concept.

Johnson Controls

The US car interiors maker used a concept car packed with near-production ready new product solutions for next generation vehicles. Based on consumer research into the needs and expectations of European drivers in the upper mid-segment market, Johnson Controls' product designers used the concept car 'Etimos' to focus on added comfort, entertainment and functionality of the vehicle interior. Some eye-catching innovations included a funky cockpit layout featuring a retractable infotainment screen, rear seat entertainment systems, massage and climate-controlled seats and flexible storage ideas to make room for all those vital bibs and bobs we need to carry with us today.

Figure 7: Let's play flexible families
Figure 8: A multi-level instrument display inside the Eltimos separates the primary vehicle information form the secondary information.
Figure 9: Eltimos' infotainment display features a set of 'hot keys' to call up the radio, CD players, sat-nav. system, phone, Internet, e-mail and even the vehicle's instruction manual. Figure 10: In the luggage area, Etimos features removable storage boxes to make room for other stuff.

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based supplier also showcased another concept car 'Ariston' to present how automotive luxury could look in the future. Based on international consumer research, Johnson Controls' designers have come up with some flexible solutions. "The car must be capable of meeting changing life situations", said Dave Muyres, vice president of design and consumer research. In a concept referred to as 'micro-environments', Muyres says certain areas of the cabin can be adapted to meet the needs of each occupant. With just a few hand movements, says Muyres, the car's interior can be transformed from a mobile office into a lounge.


Figure 11: Luxury limou-lounges: Johnson Controls' Ariston interior concept.

Lear Corp

Lear unveiled its next-generation of products based on so-called Intertronics, or integrating electronic products and electrical distribution systems into vehicle interior systems. They included an intertronics door, seat, flooring and acoustic system, overhead module and cockpit module. In developing the door, Lear's designers dreamt up yet more quirky terminology. Its 'distributed hierarchical topology' translates to a smart communications network enabling modules to 'talk' to each othervia a data bus. The net result, claims Lear, is a lighter and cheaper door offering greater functionality, improved packaging, performance and reliability.


Figure 12: Talking doors: Lear's Intertronics door.

Siemens VDO Automotive AG

The newly merged Siemens VDO group's stand simply bristled with innovation in the field of powertrain, information systems and cockpits, mobile multi-media, car body electronics, safety and chassis. Although airbags save lives in car smashes, there have been isolated cases where the bag has injured the passenger. In most cases, the passenger's head has been too close to the dashboard. In allowing for these situations, Siemens VDO's safety engineers have developed a system which monitors the front seat passenger's position using a 3D camera mounted in the headliner, feeding that information back the airbag control unit. In the event of a crash, the airbag is only inflated to the distance between the passenger and the dash.


Figure 13: How to make smart airbags even smarter: In the Siemens VDO system, the vehicle's interior is scanned using a laser (top); the inflated size of the passenger airbag depends on the distance between the passenger and the instrument panel (bottom).

Thanks to some clever software, Siemens VDO engineers have also developed a 3D image navigation system. In the countryside, the company's Vision 3D navigation depicts a bird's eye view of the road ahead. In towns, it generates a detailed image of the area. Navigational instructions are also crystal clear, such as "Over the bridge, turn left." It can also help truck drivers to bypass steep hills or narrow streets.


Figure 14:
Siemens VDO's 3D navigation system - sample image

TRW Inc.

A few months ago, the EU Commission accepted carmakers' voluntary proposals on ways in which to improve pedestrian safety. In addition to equipping all new cars with daytime running lights, anti-lock braking systems and banning the fitment of rigid bull bars as OE and aftermarket equipment from 2002, carmakers also signed up to the gradual fitment of additional active safety devices, including a range of electronic features. From 2010, however, carmakers must comply with a more stringent set of pedestrian safety standards. In response, TRW is developing its Active Pedestrian Protection System, otherwise known as its 'active hood' technology. Using an actuators and DC motor, the rear part of the bonnet flips up in a collision with a pedestrian, thereby easing the impact of the victim's head.

Like Continental, TRW Chassis Systems is also preparing to make electro-hydraulic braking systems for two unnamed European carmakers from 2003.

Valeo

Valeo used the show partly to announce its partnership with Ricardo to combine Valeo's 42-volt electrical energy and thermal management systems with Ricardo's diesel powertrain and vehicle engineering expertise in systems integration and control. Valeo also revealed that it had received its first production contracts to supply smart headlight systems in 2003. Valeo's technology, known as Bending Light, does just that. Its computer-controlled headlight systems adapt the beam and its intensity and direction to help drivers see the road better.

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

World automotive components: Market prospects to 2005

The world's car manufacturers: A financial and operating review (download)

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