The 2020 CES nerd-a-palooza won’t be crowded by the Detroit auto show, which is moving to June this year, so we’ll be devoting more time and attention to the event formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show. To whet your tech appetite, here are four noteworthy autonomous-vehicle technologies that were revealed just recently.
Magna “Campfire” Seating: Multiple Configurations
Officially, they’re called Power Long Rails with Stadium Swivel, and they’re brought to you by the Stow ’n Go folks. On the move, when your electrons bid you to “sit back and leave the driving to us” (in that sing-songy voice they undoubtedly have), these clever seats feature bottom cushions that fold up, allowing the seat to pivot in place and slide fore and aft to achieve a “campfire” configuration that lets the family (or board of directors on the move) see each other for a chat. And when you’re toiling away at your daytime desk job and send the car off to earn its keep, the “power long rail” part kicks in, folding the cushions up and powering all the seats forward to leave a giant cargo area into which package delivery drones can dump stuff. This tech is still in the concept stage of development.
Continental eHorizon and PreviewESC: The Cloud Can Can Prep Your Car for Weather
This new advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) teaches some old sensors new tricks and combines the added info they’re providing with cloud computing, nav data, and artificial intelligence to help vehicles match their speeds to current conditions. An example: Those dumb sideview mirror cams that used to just twiddle their digital thumbs when you weren’t parking now watch for water spray coming off the front tires to gauge hydroplaning danger. This Road Condition Observer data gets transmitted to the Continental cloud, where similar info from other vehicles gets combined with local temperature and precipitation weather data. In this cloud, Continental’s eHorizon technology uses artificial intelligence to combine swarm data from the entire fleet with additional info from neural networks used for image processing and object detection into an information stew of data that models can use to predict accurate, localized coefficients of friction and identify hazardous situations. Back on board your vehicle, PreviewESC uses this friction info along with onboard knowledge of the curvature of the road, upcoming intersections, and the like to regulate speed—whether you’re driving or the car is. This technology is in development with a specific customer, and it’s in limited commercial production today (lacking any auto-braking function).
CNXMotion Brake-to-Steer: Correcting for Faults or Danger Automatically in Driverless Cars
This Continental-Nexsteer (CNX) joint venture delivers redundant emergency steering if the primary (and perhaps secondary) electric power steering windings should fail during autonomous driving (or when a driver fails to accept a Level 3–4 handoff). It brakes a front wheel to steer the car in that direction. This idea is already in use for lane-keep-assist functions, but it is able to steer more dramatically if the suspension design incorporates a greater scrub radius (that’s where the steering kingpin angle axis intersects the ground well inboard of the center of the tire’s contact patch). A big scrub radius can compromise dynamic handling and steering feel—things nobody will notice or care about when the electrons take the helm full-time. This technology is still in the concept phase of development.
OSRAM-Continental SMARTRIX-HD “Talking” Headlamps
The HD in that shout-case nomenclature stands for high-def and refers to the 4,096 pixels of LED light in each headlamp. With that many pixels, the lamps can very precisely shade the area of an oncoming car’s windshield to prevent blinding glare, or they can highlight a biker or deer on the side of the road with added brightness. They can also create messages on the roadway—navigation arrows, deer warnings, or even communication with pedestrians to replace that human eye-lock that makes us feel comfortable crossing in front of a motorist. In autonomous mode, lamps like this can draw a crosswalk in front to acknowledge recognition of the pedestrian. Oh, and these lamps also include laser high-beams that can project light almost 2,000 feet down the road! Many of the wonderful things these smart lamps can do are not yet legal in the U.S., but the hardware will be in production in 2020, ready to be activated over the air if/when NHTSA (finally) approves their use.
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