This article examines developments in future electronics applications with respect to driver assistance. It includes a look at advanced driver information systems, developments in vehicle lighting, parking and distance aids, intelligent windscreen wipers and steering CIMs. It has been extracted from a just-auto research report.

Advanced driver information systems
At the heart of the development of Advanced Driver Information Systems (ADIS) is the desire to provide drivers with ever-wider ranges of information, yet at the same time avoiding sensory overload. A combination of voice activation and intelligent display screens are perceived as key to successful development. At present voice control systems are still some way short of being perfect; one company (SpeechWorks International - systems development partners to both Delphi and Visteon and de facto market leader) claim that word recognition is now approaching 95% accuracy, which is "as good as the majority of conversations."

However this is a spurious use of statistics, and presumes the ability of a driver and system to respond to a poor command in the same way that two humans might. In reality, there is a need to raise the game; a human conversation has scope for interrogation, whereas speaking to a machine offers no such opportunity for clarification. Providing voice activation (as well as SpeechWorks there are also companies such as Wildfire and IBM seeking to provide speech-based control systems for vehicles) is one way of solving the issue of driver overload. Another perceived solution is the i-Drive package developed by BMW, and Audi's equivalent offering, branded MMI (for Multi Media Interface).

Both of these are based on computing solutions, and both attract praise and complaints in equal measure. The i-Drive package, for instance, uses a joystick to guide drivers through a battery of options that include audio, climate control, navigation and mobile telephone options. However, the driver is forced to look away from the road ahead to focus on a centre console-mounted display screen, which has led to some criticism. Road safety campaigners in the US and Europe are increasingly aware of the driver distraction issue, and systems such as the i-Drive are likely to attract specific attention.

The counter-argument is that once a driver has become acquainted with the system, and has keyed in favoured settings, there is little need to change when the vehicle is moving. Inputting protocols is a difficulty faced by all vehicle manufacturers.

Mitsubishi's remote control unit is typical of the older school of thought, the majority of aftermarket systems manufacturers use this means of accessing their navigation menus. Volvo's system uses a rocker-key selector system attached to the steering column (which restricts the use of the system to the driver) whilst Jaguar make use of a touchscreen monitor to complement their voice control package. The touchscreen is highly successful in that it can be activated by both driver and front passenger, but again can lead to criticism concerning driver distraction.

One response has been for various manufacturers - both OEM and aftermarket - to restrict the functions available when the vehicle is on the move; this is generally achieved by a lock-out switch connected via ignition circuitry and motion sensors. Working against this is a requirement to park the vehicle before making any route changes.

Dynamic navigation, which offers turn-by-turn route guidance overlaid with real-time traffic information, is rapidly supplanting OEM navigation packages; as observed on more than one occasion, dynamic navigation is what drivers have been expecting ever since the first navigation systems were offered in the mid 1990s.

Adding traffic data, which enables the system to advise an alternative route (or to sit out the delay if that is ultimately less time-wasting) can allow a more informed judgment of arrival times, and thus enhance journey efficiency. Traditionally (if traditional is the correct term to describe something which has been in existence for less than a decade) the way of displaying route information has been via a screen, but two British-based companies are working towards a fully voice-based system. Both Trafficmaster and Yeoman (with their various partner businesses and organisations) have developed purely voice-based systems.

Both systems use live operators to provide a link between driver and technology (with Yeoman providing an ongoing set of instructions as a journey unwinds, but with Trafficmaster downloading a complete package of data for read-off via in-built hardware). Both systems also provide updates to advise of changes in traffic congestion on the intended route during the course of the journey.

Significantly, Trafficmaster has become aware that certain drivers still prefer the idea of a visual display, and are about to offer a system that includes a screen; this, in common with the first-generation package, is being developed in conjunction with Motorola. This suggests that, having become rapidly accustomed to the presence of a TFT monitor as integral decor inside their new cars, drivers will be reluctant to revert to purely audio-based systems.

Combining perhaps the best of all worlds is the system favoured by Fiat Targa Services. This uses a live operator as the first contact from drivers. Local calls made via the car's handsfree unit are routed from anywhere in Europe (but charged at local rates, thanks to Fiat's use of call trunking options) to a call centre in Arese, where they are answered by operatives whose native tongue is that of the incoming caller. A full range of concierge services (route preference, hotel and restaurant reservations, and suchlike) is offered, and once a selection has been made the information is automatically downloaded to the vehicle's telematics package by Short Messaging System (SMS) datastring. This data is absorbed by the navigation system, and delivered to the driver as a series of instructions with accompanying screen images; such an elegant solution, which minimises the potential for driver distraction, is perceived as an ideal template for other developers to follow.

Developments in vehicle lighting systems
Intelligent lighting allows output to be modified to optimise light distribution to suit driving conditions. The objective is to enhance visibility in poor weather conditions and at night. Research in the US and Europe has shown that half of all traffic fatalities occur in the dark. First generation 'bending' light technology is based on the electronic control of motorised lighting units within each headlamp assembly. These units follow input from steering position, body angle, wheel speed and other sensors. Future developments could use a vehicle's satellite navigation system to predict the road ahead and turn the lights automatically.

High-intensity light units, which empower vehicle designers with far greater levels of creativity because of their size, have been a feature of the past decade, and are expected to continue to develop. At present, technology is still geared to the use of individual light sources, but various programmes based around the use of central light sources with fibre optic feeds to individual lamp clusters are also underway; the likely benefit of such systems is yet more freedom and flexibility for designers.

They will also lead to a reduction in cost and component count, without any negative impact on vehicle construction/assembly times. Running lights that automatically switch themselves on when low light levelsare detected is a relatively simple technology. The same cannot be said of their deployment. The problem is attributable to localised driving laws and conventions, which conspire against the development of a pan-market solution. Sweden, for example, has a requirement for vehicles to run on dipped headlights regardless of ambient conditions, whilst the UK has strict rules regarding the use of high-intensity rear lights and foglamps. This precludes their use whenever visibility is greater than 200 metres.

The heart of automated light switching technology is a processor unit that draws in data from sensors mounted externally. The system, which was developed by Citroën, shares its control unit with that used for the automatic wiper system on the basis that the processor is unlikely to need to be working with absolute synchronicity at any given moment. This system is equally able to function within the environment of a 'conventional' wiring harness as it is within a multiplexed vehicle; all that differs is the light triggering system.

A form of programmable control unit, allowing the vehicle to be configured to suit specific market requirements, is one option being explored by lighting specialists Valeo, and they are unlikely to be alone in such an endeavour. This technology will allow manufacturers to build a common system, and configure it prior to delivery.

Valeo have also recently shown their 'bending' light unit for vehicle use. This follows the contours of the road, being linked to the steering system; this is revisiting a concept first seen in the 1930s, on a Tucker Torpedo, but refined four decades later by Citroën on the SM model. The Valeo system uses electronic links for their control system, with the result that they will react more quickly to changes in vehicle direction than was previously possible. The Valeo system can rotate by up to 20 degrees from the normal straight-ahead position. The remaining area of lighting technology that is gaining ground is self-levelling headlamp units. These are at present stand-alone packages of technology, but likely to be integrated with body control systems and bending lights to provide a comprehensive package aimed at providing a driver with the best-available spread of lighting under all conditions.

Once again, the best will be gained from such technology in multiplexed vehicles, where digital signals can be gathered from the body roll sensors and steering system and processed by a central unit.

Parking and distance aids
Integrating park-assist systems, which enhance safety by detection of obstacles to which the driver might otherwise be unsighted, is a rapidly growing area of development. Early systems were developed as a spin-off from vehicle security applications by the aftermarket (using ultrasonic and infrared sensors); the main zone of activity was in Italy's 'Silicon Valley' around Varese. Seeking to develop further markets for their existing technology, the major security industry players such as Delta, Getronic and Meta began to package retro-fit parking sensor systems first through their retail dealer networks, then later offered them into their OEM contracts. Those early systems relied on increasing the pitch or frequency of a warning bleep to drivers. More sophisticated applications, such as that integrated within BMW's i-Drive package, provide the driver with a visual as well as audible warning, in the form of a colour-coded image which automatically appears on the display monitor as soon as reverse gear is engaged. Similar technology is being integrated within other comprehensive driver information systems.

A weakness of design is the need to integrate the proximity sensors into the rear bumper (fender) moulding - this is both time-intensive and can also be unsightly. This demands either specially modified panels for vehicles that are equipped with sensors, or a pan-production moulding in which case non-sensored cars have blank-off plugs installed. Current developments are focusing on a more neat and elegant sensor installation solution.

One area under scrutiny is the area surrounding the rear registration plate of vehicles, which allows a reduced operation in the moulding of rear bumper panels. In common with many applications, the system is stand-alone, with its own processor unit, which again adds to cost. In a bid to eliminate this, the major developers - and those security specialists have subsequently been joined by major Tier One electronic systems suppliers - are actively developing integrated solutions which will share the central processor of their security systems. That way the hardware count can be reduced; the security processor would be idle when the vehicle is running, so such sharing makes a great deal of sense.

The majority of parking sensor activity has concentrated on reversing aids, but a trend towards providing warning against low-mounted obstacles at the front of a vehicle has emerged; bollards and kerbs not readily viewable from the driving position provide another area for vehicle manufacturers to offer driver assistance. It is entirely feasible that the front of the car could be linked with a longer-range system (possibly by varying the focus point of the sensors to a closer range) to the type of vehicle distance-sensing radar being actively promoted by legislators, who are keen to reduce incidences of nose-to-tail accidents caused by driving too close to the car ahead.

In 2004, the first 'parking slot' measurement system, developed by Valeo, will appear on a passenger car. The parking slot system calculates the length of a 'parallel' parking slot and makes automatic comparison with the length of the car and advises the driver if the vehicle will fit into the vacant space. The system uses two small ultrasonic sensors located on either side of the vehicle's front bumper and communicates the result to a dashboard display.

Intelligent windscreen wipers
Wipers that switch themselves on automatically whenever they detect ambient moisture (or on the surface of the glass) are becoming increasingly commonplace. The technology behind such systems has been around for little over a decade, and there have been various systems tried; typical of today's sophisticated systems is that used by Renault. This has two separate sensors, one for moisture and the other for light, inside a processing unit that is fixed to the windscreen behind the rear-view mirror. The moisture detector works with two diodes, which send out four infrared beams across the windscreen. If the windscreen remains dry, the beams are sent back in entirety to the four receiving diodes. If there is moisture on the screen the beams are fractured or fragmented. These exception signals are received by the processor, which activates the windscreen wipers at the correct speed; part of the system's calculation is based on the vehicle speed. Measurements are carried out every 2.5 milliseconds, and compared with information collected during the previous five seconds in order to track the evolution of the situation.

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In common with most new systems, the system is a further market development for co-processors; this explains the enthusiasm of suppliers such as Delphi, Motorola, Visteon and others for the adoption of such technology.

As with many automotive technologies, automatic screen wiper systems have cascaded rapidly down from high-value vehicles to those used by everyday drivers; General Motors' Vectra is a typical example, all models in this range come equipped with rain-sensing wipers as standard. This is another area where driver expectation is driving demand; drivers are no longer reconciled to the fact that such features are available only to those who buy high-value cars.

Steering wheels
Electro-mechanical steering column modules from Delphi Mechatronics have proven their capabilities and reliability for more than ten years. This experience has allowed Delphi to take the next step with the development of a Column Integrated Module (CIM). The new CIM is a fully assembled and tested steering column system that can reduce component count by up to 50%. It can be supplied just-in-time for plug-and-play installation and Delphi claims that it shows improved reliability through reduced wiring complexity.

The CIM integrates stalk switch functions (wiper, headlamp, turn signal, cruise control) as well as multiplexed communications to and from the vehicle. Options can include an angle sensor, immobiliser, ignition switch and keyless entry/start. Interchangeable levers can be specified for left- and right-hand drive vehicles.

Delphi now has the capability to provide the entire column assembly from wheel to shaft, including switches and airbags. The first application of the CIM was on the Fiat Stilo, which entered production in the 2002 model year.

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