Jetsons CarMany suppliers brought amazing technology demostrations to this year's IAA at Frankfurt. It is hard to relay, but you really get the feeling that the advances in computer power in the last decade have opened the door for exciting new technologies. Brian Armstead, an automotive journalist and co-host on XM radio, was at Frankfurt to test a few of these new technologies. We ran into Brian as we waited to catch our flight out of Germany. In between discussions on the joys of long-distance economy-class air travel, Brian filled us in on some of the cool advances Continental Automotive Systems is making. Needless to say, his Jetsons references are appropriate.

Safe Passage - Continental: Moving Closer to the Future
Brian L. Armstead

Remember the cartoon "The Jetsons?"  Remember how George could travel up a tube to his roof top "garage" and his car would drive away by itself?

At a demonstration at their Frankfurt headquarters during the Frankfurt International Auto Show, Continental Automotive Systems unveiled new technologies for reporters that bring us closer to the Jetsons experience than ever before.

Let's begin with technology that falls under the heading "Why didn't they think of that earlier?"  It's called Enhanced Parking Assist (EPA), and it works in an extremely efficient manner to help you with one of driving's least desirable chores.  EPA uses a sensor mounted on the passenger side of the vehicle to measure the size of the available parking space and the distance to the curb, and then determines "gap evaluation" and "trajectory calculation" based on sensor data.   Translated, it pretty much parks the car for you.

The drill is pretty simple with EPA - before you pull up to an available parking space, push the EPA button on the dashboard to enable the system.  Approach the parking space as you normally would, pulling parallel to the car in front of the open space.  EPA then takes over by measuring the parking gap.  You then put the car in reverse and watch the magic happen.  As you control the reverse speed with the brake, the steering wheel automatically turns right and left to effortlessly guide you into the parking space.  The demo parking space was very tight, the kind you would encounter in big city parking scenarios.  It was truly amazing as the system got it right with two different demo vehicles.  A German television company was shooting EPA video while I was doing my demo, and commented on my huge smile during the demo process!  The EPA system can work in conjunction with or independently of park distance control warning systems (usually found in luxury cars and SUVs), giving you full control of reverse and parking maneuvers.

Active/Passive Integrations Approach can Mitigate Crash Severity

Next, we had a demonstration of Continental's Active/Passive Integration Approach (APIA) safety system. The APIA safety system warns and actively supports the driver when an accident is deemed imminent, and helps protect occupants against injury by initiating phased control of the passive safety systems.  

Using a test "mule," in this case a rear section of a Volkswagen Golf mounted to a swing arm on a Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUV, we drove through on-road scenarios that many of us encounter all too frequently.

We approached the Golf at moderately high speeds from the rear as if we were intentionally trying to run into it.  In a real world scenario, this could be because the car in front of us stopped abruptly; if we were not paying attention because of self induced distractions (cell phones usually lead this list); or if we became incapacitated due to a medical condition or falling asleep. If the car is threatening to run into the vehicle in front, for example, the driver receives a visual or haptic warning. If the risk of an accident increases, APIA will then pressurize the brake system, pre-tension the seat belts, and close the side windows and sunroof. Then, if APIA identifies an emergency situation from the speed at which the driver lifts off the gas pedal, APIA will begin to apply the brakes, trigger the reversible seatbelt tensioners, and move the power seats and headrests to the optimum [safer] position. When the driver hits the brakes in a full panic stop, the Brake Assist function provides support by applying maximum pedal assist to the driver. At the same time the reversible seatbelt tensioners are activated with maximum power. And if, despite all of this, a collision occurs, a danger control module triggers the front airbags.

We ran through four scenarios, starting with a situation where the gas pedal vibrated to alert us to hit the brakes, culminating in a situation where a crash was inevitable and APIA went into full mode—with brakes applying full assist, windows and sunroof closing to minimize ejection of occupants, and seat cushions and headrests moving to protective positions.  The swing arm holding the VW Golf rose at the very last second (to indicate that a crash had occurred), and the airbag warnings went off.

It was quite dramatic, but in a real world situation, it would have reduced the severity of a crash, possibly saving lives and property.  A version of the APIA system called PRE-SAFE will be available on the 2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, due in showrooms next spring.

Adaptive Cruise Control Controls Speed and Distance in Traffic

Six years after Continental began large-scale production of its Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) system, they have developed a more refined means of comfortably maintaining a safe distance in traffic.  The Lane Departure Warning System (LDW) and the extended Lane Keeping System (LKS), warn the driver if the car is about to drift out of the lane and help it stay safely in the lane.

To test the capabilities of the system, we ventured out onto the famed German Autobahn in a specially prepared Mercedes-Benz C-Class.  Continental fitted the C-Class with the heart of the LDW/LKS system - a windshield mounted camera that can read painted lines on roadways.

My guide, Continental Engineer Axel Wegsheider, ran me through three different scenarios.  First, he asked me to intentionally drift out of my lane (we kept a close eye on approaching traffic).  The LDW/LKS system responded with a strong vibration in the steering wheel to alert me that I needed to take action to get the car back on course.  Again, images of folks on cell phones wandering all over the roads came to mind (we've all seen them and may be guilty as well), and thought of what a great system this is.  But I was in for even more.

Scenario two was even more impressive.  Again, Axel asked me to purposely wander out of my lane.  This time, the LDW/LKS system took over, turning the steering wheel for me to put me properly back in my lane.  I should mention that if you want to purposely change lanes, simply do what a lot of us fail to do, and use the turn signal. The LDW/LKS system will then be overridden.  Even if you don't use your signal, the turning input from the LDW/LKS system can be overridden by just turning back to where you wanted to go. The system will not fight your wishes.

Scenario three was the "Jetsons" scenario.  The LDW/LKS system can be tailored to keep the vehicle in its lane, and fully brake when it senses a vehicle stopped in front of it.  With the "Distronic" cruise control (a distance-measuring cruise control system already available on certain Mercedes-Benz models) set on the Mercedes, we continued along on the Autobahn at a speed I selected of 130 kilometers per hour.  In an amazing demonstration, the LDW/LKS system kept the Benz in its lane without my hands on the steering wheel, and braked fully when we came upon trucks stopped due to Autobahn road congestion.  When the backup cleared, the LDS/LKS system went back to the speed and vehicle spacing distance I had preset with the Distronic system.

Now neither I nor Continental advocate driving without any hands on the steering wheel, but that was not the point of the demonstration.  The point was that the technology exists to save lives.  Imagine if you had fallen asleep behind the wheel with the LDW/LKS system aboard.   There is a very good chance you would live to see another day.

Dangerous Curve Alert and Future Technologies

An unfamiliar road, poor visibility, or a distracted driver - there are many reasons we get into trouble on roads and end up taking corners too fast.  To help offset this problem, Continental is the process of developing the Dangerous Curve Alert (DCA) system that will warn drivers if they are going too fast for approaching corners.  Based on data from a Global Positioning System and the vehicle's navigation system, DCA can issue a corner warning alert or "brake" recommendation when map parameters indicate you are approaching a dangerous bend in the road.

Continental has developed other technologies that will be standard equipment on vehicles in the near future.  Advanced regenerative brake systems for hybrid vehicles; electric/hydraulic brakes and electric parking brakes; advanced air suspension systems and rear-wheel steering are all enhanced technologies to make the driving experience safer.  You as a consumer can help determine when and if new these technologies will be strongly considered by automakers as they plan for future models by making your buying decisions based on safety rather than style or convenience.

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