Electronic Design

Drivers Get An Assist In The Not-So-Blind Spot

From alertness-assistance to traffic-sign recognition, activesafety systems are revolutionizing the world of automotive electronicsâ??redefining the driver/car interface and promising a vastly safer driving experience.

For 2007, we recognize Hellaâ??s lanechange warning system as the Best Automotive Design. Itâ??s the first such system available in North America, featured in the 2007 Audi Q7. The Lane Change Assistant provides some ESP for those dreaded blind spots that have plagued drivers since the dawn of the freeway.

The system offers constant lane monitoring through 24-GHz radar sensors (Fig. 1). Two sensors on both sides of the Q7 with a range of 164 ft constantly watch the adjacent lanes once the vehicle hits a speed of 35 mph (Fig. 2). Weather conditions do not affect the sensors, which are integrated â??invisiblyâ? into the Q7â??s bumper.

Known as the Audi Side Assist, the system communicates with the driver via warning lights in the side-view mirrors. When a vehicle enters the systemâ??s range of vision, a yellow vertical light strip illuminates on the corresponding side-view mirror. If the driver activates a turn signal to indicate an intention to change lanes when another vehicle is in that adjacent lane, the light strip flashes.

Because of the long range of the sensors, drivers receive enough warning even when vehicles are approaching at fast speeds. If youâ??ve ever driven on the Autobahn, youâ??ll understand why German- based Hella was thinking about fast approach speeds! Hellaâ??s other active safety systems (ASS) in development include lane-departure warning systems, adaptive headlights, and traffic-sign recognition. In the last 18 months, the company introduced a rearview camera using CMOS sensors to display a color image in the driver panel, as well as an adaptive cruise control with infrared lidar sensor technology.

Also in Hellaâ??s ASS pipeline, an alertness assistant uses a camera focused on the driver to track the speed of the driverâ??s eyelid blinks. If the driverâ??s eyes stay closed for longer than 1.5 seconds, a wakeup alarm sounds.

RUNNERS-UP
The staff at Electronic Designâ??s sister magazine Auto Electronics (autoelectronics.com) nominated the candidates for this yearâ??s Best Automotive Design award. Other nominees included:

  • The Ford Sync System, powered by Microsoft Auto software and Freescale processors, is Fordâ??s integrated, voice-activated Bluetooth communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital music players (covered in the July 2007 Auto Electronics).
  • The GM dual-mode hybrid drive system on the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrids represents the first fruits of the combined efforts of General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, and BMW to develop a hybrid drive system. In addition to the improved efficiency that all hybrids provide in city driving, the two-mode system improves highway fuel economy (featured in the Nov./Dec. Auto Electronics).
  • A new adaptive front lighting system (AFS) under test at DENSO combines image recognition, communications, and image conversion to predict curves in the road ahead. It uses information from the car navigation system and redirect headlamps to illuminate the road before the vehicle enters a curve, enhancing visibility.
  • Siemens VDO is developing a wrongway warning system that leverages navigation and camera-based trafficsign recognition technology to detect and alert drivers before they proceed in the wrong direction, against traffic.
  • As an indication of whatâ??s to come in automotive infotainment, Google Mapsâ?? â??Send to Carâ? allows drivers to send a business listing found on Google Maps directly to their vehicle. It then sets the listing as a destination in the vehicleâ??s navigation system and/or calls the business from the car. The service is currently available on BMW vehicles in Germany, but will soon launch in the U.S.
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