Auto Electronics

Technologies Driving Tomorrow's Safe Car

For many years, automotive manufacturers have placed an emphasis on keeping motorists safe during collisions. Several passive safety systems have been developed and implemented in vehicles to protect drivers and passengers. However, these systems only work once a collision has occurred. Today, technology is available that makes it possible to detect potential roadway hazards and alert drivers to take corrective actions to avoid accidents. At Valeo, we feel that by leveraging these technologies, we can develop vehicle safety systems that reduce roadway deaths and injuries.

To work effectively, accident avoidance technologies must help drivers maintain their focus in spite of the growing number of in-vehicle distractions. Studies have shown that driver inattention accounts for nearly 30% of all accidents in the United States. To help mitigate driver distraction, Valeo developed its LaneVue Lane Departure Warning System, in conjunction with its technology partner Iteris. The system debuted last fall in North America on the 2005 Infiniti FX45, and will be available in the spring on the 2006 Infiniti M45.

The Valeo/Iteris Lane Departure Warning System consists of a miniature video sensor mounted behind the vehicle's rearview mirror that continuously monitors the lane markings in front of the vehicle. The system also receives information from a vehicle speed sensor. The data from the camera and speed sensor are then processed through a complex algorithm that calculates the vehicle's position relative to the lane markings.

Unintentional lane departures are detected by the system when the driver drifts from the lane and fails to use the turn signal above a preset speed. The speed at which the Lane Departure Warning System engages is determined by the automaker and is monitored by the speed sensor. Once an unintentional lane change is detected, the driver is alerted to take corrective action by an audible tone, rumble in the driver's seat or a shake in the steering wheel. This helps drivers maintain their lane and encourages them to use turn signals when changing lanes.

Blind spots are another major safety issue in vehicles. Each year, more than 800,000 vehicles are involved in lane-change blind spot collisions. To help reduce blind spot collisions, Valeo has formed a joint venture with Raytheon to develop a radar-based Blind Spot Detection System.

The Blind Spot Detection System consists of a single radar sensor mounted under the rear bumper fascia on each side of the vehicle. The system uses narrowband phased array sensors transmitting at 24 GHz. By using radar sensors, Valeo is able to detect objects in all possible driving situations, during day and night driving and in all weather conditions. The system works just as effectively in rain, sleet, snow and ice as it does on a sunny summer day.

The two sensors continuously scan the area equivalent to the driver's blind spot adjacent to, and behind, the vehicle. If an object is detected in the blind spot, a lighted icon in the side-view mirror notifies the driver. This signal can be augmented by an audio tone or other alert at the carmaker's option.

Blind Spot Detection technology can be a factor in reducing the risk of collisions, and the market recognizes this. Valeo surveyed 100 car dealers to gauge their opinion of the system. All salespeople were given information about the system and a chance to drive a demonstration vehicle equipped with the technology. The results of the survey were impressive — nearly 90% of the salespeople surveyed felt the system performed exceptionally well. Additionally, nearly 75% of those surveyed felt the system would give them a selling advantage over vehicles not equipped with the Blind Spot Detection technology.

Both Valeo's Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Detection systems are impressive technologies. The ability of radar and vision-based technologies to detect potential roadway hazards and to alert drivers is a crucial part of tomorrow's safer roadways.

When these technologies converge in a vehicle, they form the foundation for a comprehensive active safety system. When these systems are combined with the passive safety systems in today's vehicles, there is the potential to reduce accident risks, reduce injuries and save lives.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Schwyn is research and development director for Valeo-North America, based in Auburn Hills, MI. Schwyn has held this position for two years and has been with the company for more than eight years. He is a graduate of Duke University and holds a degree in mechanical engineering.

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