Vehicle electronics have evolved so tremendously in the last decade that it now impacts almost every aspect of the car. Some even say today's vehicle is nothing more than a modern computer system. This tremendous increase in electronic power has been most evident in improvements to vehicle safety. Automotive OEMs and suppliers are creating automobiles that consumers find not only fun to drive, but also protect them from harm.
As an industry, the improvements are evident. Current data shows a drop in the motor vehicle fatality rate year after year, largely due to the introduction of seatbelts and air bags. In order to continue making gains in vehicle safety and reductions in traffic fatalities and injuries, we must change our way of thinking from crashworthiness to crash avoidance. OEMs and suppliers will need to collaborate to develop and implement technologies focused on assisting the driver and protecting the vehicle from an accident situation. These active safety technologies are already in development and available in some vehicles sold in the United States today.
Statistics show these products lead to a safer driving experience. For example, Electronic Stability Control or ESC, which reduces skidding and improves steering ability in extreme driving situations could assist in reducing the nearly 60% of fatal accidents that happen through side crashes caused mainly by skidding.
Adaptive cruise control (ACC), a technology that once preset by the driver automatically maintains a safe and convenient distance from the vehicle in front of it, could eliminate up to half of the 1.5 million rear-end collisions a year. Also, side obstacle detection could address up to 192,000 of the 200,000 lane change crashes per year by monitoring blind spots.
These are just a few examples of the technology being developed to assist in crash avoidance. In addition to these, suppliers like Bosch have identified several opportunities to combine electronic safety features to further assist in passenger safety, including:
- connecting ACC to a vehicles' rain sensor, which could be programmed to increase following distance in inclement weather; and
- detecting an accident and unlocking vehicle doors through the door control unit, which avoids trapping passengers in the car.
Both of these examples illustrate not only optimal system integration but also the potential to improve the human to machine interface — thereby lowering distraction levels and allowing drivers to focus on the road.
In addition to its focus on developing and implementing new active safety technologies, the automotive industry faces two key challenges. First is making these additional features affordable for consumers. In order to make a significant impact on the accident data discussed earlier, more vehicles must contain these technologies. And, the key to achieving this objective is collaboration along the entire supply chain. By working together in the research, development and implementation phase, the industry will be successful in introducing additional safety features in every car sold worldwide.
The second challenge is consumer education. As these new active safety technologies are added to vehicles, it is imperative that consumers understand how they work and the benefits they provide. By combining the different electronic-based safety innovations and working together the industry can improve driver comfort and, ultimately, help consumers reach their final destination safely.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David D. Robinson is president, body electrical and electronics division, Robert Bosch Corporation. He is responsible for sensing systems, bodywork electrics, onboard electronic network components, audio and navigation systems, and motors for all customers manufacturing in the NAFTA region. Robinson joined Bosch in 1990. He graduated from Purdue University in 1972 with a bachelor's degree and holds a master's degree in engineering administration from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.