When I did research on Analog IC companies I discovered that the automotive segment was a significant and growing market. It has often been said that the electronic percentage of an automobile has been growing rapidly. This was brought home to me on my way home from Easter diner. A temperature warning light began flashing and my “on-board computer” said that I needed to add coolant. I pulled off the highway to a service station and did as advised. Back on the highway the system was acting funny so I pulled over and called AAA for a tow to prevent any major damage. This week's commentary gives an overview of automotive electronics in the areas of safety, theft deterrent, telematics, GPS and so forth.
Safety When we are driving we should be concerned about our safety, the safety of our passengers and the safety of others whether driving, cycling or walking. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death in age groups 3 through 33. The table below shows the ranking of motor vehicle crashes as the cause of death compared to 68 other categories.
As depressing as these absolute numbers are, the situation has been improving. The number of fatalities per 100 million VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) has dropped 73% from 4.74 in 1970 to 1.48 in 2003. Similarly the fatality rate per 100,000 population, per 100,000 licensed driver and per 100,000 registered vehicles has dropped 43%, 57% and 65% respectively over the same period. The number of injuries per 100 million VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) has dropped 41% from 169 in 1988 to 100 in 2003. Similarly the injury rate per 100,000 population, per 100,000 licensed driver and per 100,000 registered vehicles has dropped 29%, 30% and 35% respectively over the same period.
Although seat-belts are principally mechanical systems there is an electronic component that alerts the driver by beeping and flashing a symbol on the dashboard that signal a passenger has not buckled their seat belt. The history of the seat belt goes back to the 1800s. However the three point seat belt (shoulder and lap belt) goes back only to 1958.
In 1966, the Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act were passed. The legislation authorized the federal government to set and regulate motor vehicle and highway standards, and also created the National Highway Safety Bureau, which later became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 1968 this led to the publication of the first Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) which established a minimum safety code which all vehicles sold in the U.S. must meet.
In 1970, a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard proposed that all vehicles manufactured after January 1, 1973 be equipped with an automatic restraint mechanism (air bag or seat-belt). The auto industry fought against the regulations and the rule was eventually rescinded by NHTSA in 1981. In 1984, NHTSA proposed that automatic restraint systems be required in new vehicles unless two-thirds of the U.S. population was covered by a mandatory seatbelt law by September 1989. This came to pass well before the time limit expired.
NHTSA currently coordinates a national campaign to increase seatbelt and child safety seat use called "Buckle Up America" and recently coordinated "Click It or Ticket," a high-profile law enforcement activity that relied on increased checkpoints and citations to increase seatbelt use.
In 1986 when I was a citizen of Massachusetts, the state government passed a mandatory seat-belt law. Citizens including a popular radio talkshow host campaigned on Libertarian grounds to put the issue on the ballot. There were also concerns that seat-belts would prevent people from escaping if their vehicle went underwater or caught on fire. The law was soundly defeated. After a period the legislature passed another mandatory seat-belt law but classified enforcement of that of that law as a “secondary enforcement” whereby an officer must pull you over for another traffic violation first, before enforcing the seat belt law. Most states have similar “secondary enforcement” laws. In May 3003 the Massachusetts Legislature, by a tie vote, refused to upgrade the seatbelt law to a primary offense. Neighboring New Hampshire is the only state with no mandatory seat-belt law. According to a recent survey, the national rate of seatbelt use is 79 percent, but in Massachusetts it is only 62 percent. Massachusetts placed 47th of 47 states surveyed.
Airbag patents go back to the 1950s. In the 1970s both General Motors and Ford placed airbags into a small fleet of automobiles. Throughout the 1980s, manufacturers resisted installing airbags. They argued that safety did not sell vehicles and were worried about the additional costs. In the early 1990s Lee Iaccoca changed his opinion and promoted the use of airbags in a TV campaign. By 1992, most manufacturers had airbags on the driver side and by the mid-1990s most had airbags on the passenger side as well. Side air bags and head curtain airbags are becoming increasingly popular.
Airbags have been found in rare instances to cause serious or even fatal injuries when someone is very close to, or in direct contact with an air bag module when the air bag deploys. Such injuries may be sustained by unconscious drivers who are slumped over the steering wheel, unrestrained or improperly restrained occupants who slide forward in the seat during pre-crash braking, infants in rear-facing child seats, and even properly restrained drivers who sit very close to the steering wheel. The recommended margin of safety between driver and airbag is 10 inches. In 1998 NHTSA authorized vehicle owners to get on/off switches installed for one or both air bags in their car if they (or other users of their car) fell into one or more of specific risk groups, e.g. vehicle has no back seat. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 208 now requires that manufacturers certify their airbags would not inflict certain “injuries” to a 5'9” dummy (both belted and unbelted) in a crash test into a solid barrier at speeds up to 30 mph and frontal angles up to 30 degrees.
Airbag systems consist of a crash detector, an igniter, an inflation system, the bag itself and a diagnostic system to test system readiness. Air bags are designed not to activate during sudden braking, while driving on rough or uneven pavement or in the event of a minor collision. Sensors detect a crash by measuring deceleration, the rate at which a vehicle slows down. One of the simplest designs employed for the crash sensor is a steel ball that slides inside a smooth bore. The ball is held in place by a permanent magnet or by a stiff spring, which inhibit the ball's motion when the car drives over bumps or potholes. However, when the car decelerates very quickly, as in a head-on crash, the ball suddenly moves forward and turns on an electrical circuit, initiating the process of inflating the airbag. Today sensors are more likely to use a MEMES accelerometer. For example Analog Devices manufactures an inertial sensor which converts differential capacitance into voltage.
Once the electrical circuit has been turned on by the sensor, a pellet of sodium azide (NaN3) is ignited. In a matter of 20 milliseconds or so a chemical reaction between the sodium azide (NaN3) and potassium nitrate (KNO3) generates nitrogen gas (N2) that fills a nylon or polyamide bag. The inflated bag reduces the deceleration experienced by the passenger as they come to a stop in the crash situation. The bag has small vent holes to allow the propellant gas to be relatively slowly expelled from the bag as the occupant pushes against it. A powdery substance released from the air bag is regular cornstarch or talcum powder, which is used by the air bag manufacturers to keep the bags pliable and lubricated while they're in storage.
Many advanced air bag technologies are being developed to tailor air bag deployment to the severity of the crash, the size and posture of the vehicle occupant, belt usage and how close that person is to the air bag module. These systems generally use multi-stage inflators that deploy less forcefully in stages in moderate crashes than in very severe crashes. Occupant sensing devices let the air bag diagnostic unit know if someone is occupying a seat in front of an air bag, whether the person is an adult or a child, whether a seat belt or child restraint is being used and whether the person is forward in the seat and close to the air bag module. Based on this information and crash severity information, the air bag is deployed at either a high force level, a less forceful level or not at all.
Many new vehicles are also equipped with side air bags designed to reduce the risk of injury in moderate to severe side impact crashes. These air bags are generally located in the outboard edge of the seat back, in the door or in the roof rail above the door. Two types of side air bags, known as inflatable tubular structures and inflatable curtains, are specifically designed to reduce the risk of head injury and/or help keep the head and upper body inside the vehicle. A few vehicles are now being equipped with a different type of inflatable curtain designed to help reduce injury and ejection from the vehicle in rollover crashes. There are also knee bolsters that provide restraint for the lower torso.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began to evaluate the effectiveness of its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) in 1975. By October 2004, NHTSA had evaluated virtually all the life-saving technologies introduced in passenger cars and in LTVs (light trucks and vans - i.e., pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, minivans and full-size vans) from about 1960 up through the later 1990's. The agency is now ready to estimate the number of lives saved from 1960 to 2002, year-by-year, by the combination of all these life-saving technologies, and by each individual technology.
Safety belts are by far the most important occupant protection, saving an estimated 14,570 lives: over half the total of 24,561. Frontal air bags saved 2,473 lives in 2002, when 63 percent of cars and LTVs on the road were equipped with driver or dual air bags. Energy-absorbing steering assemblies meeting FMVSS 203 and 204 are an important “built-in” safety technology that saved an estimated 2,657 lives in 2002. Improvements to door locks, latches and hinges, generally implemented by manufacturers in the 1960's and regulated by industry standards subsequently incorporated into FMVSS 206, saved 1,398 lives in 2002. They reduce the risk of occupant ejection by keeping doors closed in rollover crashes.
Seat belts and airbags are passive safety devices designed to reduce fatalities and major injuries in collions. Active saftey devices are designed to prevent crahses. These include Antilock Breaking Systems (ABS) and Traction Control Systems (TCS) and Electronic Satbility Control (ESC) systems. The first two have been around since the 1980s. ABS controls brake pressure to help prevent wheel lock-up during braking, so the driver can steer and maneuver around obstacles during braking. TCS applies brakes at drive wheels and reduces engine torque to help reduce wheel spin during acceleration. ECS applies brakes to individual wheels and reduces engine torque to help correct oversteer and understeer. It helps the driver maintain control in all weather conditions, helping to prevent skids, spins and rollovers. The ESC system relies on information from:
- Wheel speed sensors
- Steering wheel angle sensor
- Yaw rate and lateral acceleration sensors
- Master cylinder pressure sensor
For example Ford's AdvanceTrac uses seven sensors to monitor steering wheel angle, throttle position, wheel speed, the vehicle's yaw rate and other factors every seven milliseconds (about once every four inches of travel at 30 mph) to determine if the vehicle is following the driver's intended path. If the system detects the car is about to fishtail (oversteer), the system applies a braking impulse to the outside front wheel to help the driver stabilize the car. If the system detects the front of the car is drifting to the outside of a turn (understeer), it applies a similar braking impulse to the inside rear wheel. The AdvanceTrac system also will reduce engine power, if necessary.
Other saftey mechanisms include active head restraints, adaptive cruise control, backover warning devices, breathalyzer ignition locks, daytime running lights, fatigue warning methods, lane departure warning systems, roof strengthening for rollover prevention, smarter seat belts, telematics, smart headlights, and tire pressure monitoring systems. For example, adaptive cruise control incorporates radar to regulate the distance from vehicle to vehicle, allowing drivers to program their car to remain a certain distance behind the car in front of them. And if a crash is imminent, the system will brake, deploy airbags and tighten seat belts.
There are proposals to install electronic data recorders or “black boxes” that are found in ariplanes to help diagnose the cause of crashes. Some of the data that would be captured includes vehicle longitudinal acceleration, speed, engine RPM, engine throttle position (%), service brake status, ignition cycle, safety belt status, status of vehicle air bag lights, and elapsed time to deployment of all bag(s).
Theft Deterrent Systems
After loss of life and serious injuries due to motor vehicle accidents the next major problem is theft of automobiles. In 1919 the Dyer Act, popularly known as the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, made interstate transportation of stolen vehicles a federal crime. By the late sixties the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 115 required all road-going motor vehicles to have a vehicle identification number (VIN). In 1984 Congress enacted the Motor Vehicle Theft Law Enforcement Act which required manufacturers to put the VIN on the engine, the transmission, and 12 major body parts. This measure was aimed at professional "chop shops" that dismantled stolen vehicles and sold their parts separately. The Anti-Car Theft Act of 1992 made armed auto theft ("carjacking") a federal crime, and created a new offense making it a federal crime to own, operate, maintain, or control a chop shop.
Remote keyless Entry (RKE) systems have become increasingly popular. An RKE system consists of an RF transmitter in the keyfob that sends a short burst of digital data to a receiver in the vehicle, where it is decoded and made to open or close the vehicle doors or the trunk via receiver-controlled actuators. RKE also can be used to activate vehicle immobilizers. Vehicle Immobilization systems use an electronic code transmitted from a transponder located in the vehicle's ignition key to a coil located near the ignition. The engine management system allows the vehicle to start only when the correct code is received. RKE's generally have a panic alarm to set of fthe horn and lights if one senses danger This can also be used to locate a car if the driver forgets where he parked it. These devices can be upgraded to start the vehicle remotely.
The patented LoJack System includes a small radio frequency transceiver hidden in up to 20 places in a your vehicle. Each LoJack System has a unique code that is tied into the Vehicle Identification Number. When a theft is reported to the police they activate the LoJack System in the car, which emits an inaudible signal. Law enforcement authorities use their LoJack vehicle tracking units to track and recover the vehicle.
Telematics - Two-way Communication Systems and Services
OnStar, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors, was founded in 1995 as a collaboration between GM, EDS and Hughes Electronics Corp. OnStar was launched as an in-vehicle safety and security system at the Chicago Auto Show in 1996 and delivered its first product and service to the market for model year 1997 Cadillac DeVille, Seville and Eldorado models. Onstar offers integrated communications and data services based primarily on putting the driver in voice contact with a service representative.
OnStar's basic service, Safe & Sound, lists at $16.95 per month and consists of the following services:
Air Bag Deployment Notification
Remote Door Unlock
Stolen Vehicle Tracking
Remote Horns & Lights
The Directions & Connection offering list for $34.95/months and provides the following additional services:
Information/Convenience - locating nearby business and attractions, making reservations for hotels and restaurants
Ride Assist - arrange for a cab or other transportation
Personal Calling through prepaid service
Virtual Advisor -- access to personalized Internet based information such as location-based weather and traffic and stock quotes
Equivalents to some of OnStar's services could be delivered by a combination of a cell phone and a driver assistance program offered by an automotive vendor or AAA.
Privately held ATX Technologies, the second-largest provider of telematics services for the automotive industry, was established in 1996. ATX provides service to some of the leading automobile brands in the world, including Mercedes-Benz (TeleAid), BMW, Maybach, Jaguar and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. As of March 31, 2004, ATX services approximately 535,547 vehicles. ATX Technologies created along with Ford and Motorola Lincoln RESCU (Remote Emergency Satellite Cellular Unit), the first North American telematics products. ATX is now present in Europe via its purchase of Vodafone Passo in August of 2003. Ownership of ATX includes Vodafone, Alpine, and Siebel.
Chrysler offers UConnect, a hands-free communication system which utilizes Bluetooth technology. UConnect is driven through a user's personal mobile phone, and works inside and outside of the vehicle. The UConnect system is integrated into the vehicle's electrical architecture, which allows the audio to be heard through the radio speakers. A microphone housed in the Chrysler 300's rear view mirror serves as the driver interface. The user's mobile phone may then be placed where the driver chooses inside the vehicle. As a result, conversations may be continued upon entering or exiting the vehicle, without interruption. Calls may be linked to UConnect within 30 feet of the vehicle.
UConnect, which works with multiple phone providers, includes voice dialing, an audio address book, mute, caller ID (with the phone number of the caller showing up on the radio display), three languages (English, French and Spanish), and multi-phone recognition capability for up to 7 cellphones. UConnect also incorporates a universal garage door opener, and the Home Link system allows the driver to turn on house lights or deactivate the home alarm system from the car.
UConnect is available as a factory and dealer-installed option on all of the new 2005 Chrysler 300s. Factory-installation is $275. The cost for the dealer-installed version of UConnect is $299 (suggested retail price) plus labor. There is no monthly subscriber fee since it piggybacks the cellphone.
In August 2000 Ford and Qualcomm announced a joint venture (85%/15%) named Wingcast headed by former Ford CEO Jacques Nasser to enter the telematics market. The joint venture was dissolved in June 2002.
Clarity Technologies a leading provider of noise (traffic, wind, engine, radio, rain and passengers) suppression and echo cancellation software for hands free automotive solutions. The firm also offers Automatic Speech Recognition, a voice pre-processor that enhances the speech quality.
Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite technology works by measuring how long it takes a radio signal from a satellite to reach a vehicle, and then calculating distance using that time. To determine the location (longitude and latitude) of a GPS equipped vehicle the distance from three satellites is used. With these distance measurements, the receiver might also calculate speed, bearing, trip time, distance to destination, altitude (requires a fourth satellite) and more. Since the earth rotates a system of 24 satellites is required to support GPS. The US Global Navigation Satellite System was started in 1973. In 1978, the U.S. Department of Defense launched the first GPS satellite, imposing SA (Selective Availability); the intentional degradation of GPS signals to prevent military adversaries from using the highly accurate positioning data. SA limited GPS to 100-meter accuracy for non-U.S. military users. In 2000, Selective Availability was turned off by presidential order, giving all GPS receivers the potential accuracy of 15 meters without the use of signal correction. With the use of signal correction locations can now be determined to within 3 meters of accuracy. This technology can be used to locate a vehicle, to track a (possibly stolen) vehicle and as the basis for navigation system. In-vehicle Navigation systems display maps with multilevel zoom, determine routes to a destination, provide turn-by-turn guidance with voice prompting, provide points of interest and so on.
Most Americans spend a lot of time in their cars commuting, doing business, traveling, and for pleasure. Today automobiles have some combination of AM/FM radio, tape deck, CD player, MPS player, DVD audio and DVD video player.
In October 1997 the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) licensed XM Radio and Sirius Radio to construct and operate satellite radio service systems. The FCC allocated 25 MHz for the service in a range of radio frequencies known as the S band, divided evenly between the two licensees. The two firm charge about $12.95 per month for their service.
XM Radio was launched in November 2001 to provide music, entertainment and information programming for reception by vehicle, home, radio and the Internet. As of the end of 2004 there were 3.2 million monthly subscribers. XM Radio is currently available in over 120 vehicle models. General Motors, a major investor in the firm, offers XM Raiod as a factory installed option in over 50 vehicle lines. Honda, also a major investor, offers XM Radio in certain Honda and Acura models as a factory installed option and in other Honda models as a dealer installed option. In December 2004 Toyota announced it had selected XM Radio as its supplier of satellite delivered data services. In 2005 Nissan made a similar announcement. XM Radio also offers XM NavTrafic as real time traffic data service for 20 major cities in the US and XM WX satellite weather service for marine and aviation market.
The other major player in the satellite radio market is Sirius Radio offering 65 channels of commercial free music and 55 channels of sports, news and talk. As of the end of 2004 Sirius had 1.14 million subscribers, a 338% increase from the prior year. Their services are available in 80 different car models. Sirius has partnerships with DaimlerChrysler, Ford and BMW. They also have partnerships with Penske, Hertz, EcoStar Dish, the NHL and the NFL Network. Sirius is building a network of more than 20,000 retail sites.
There are many other electronic systems within today's automobiles. For example, engine control units read several sensors in the engine and use the information to control the fuel injection and ignition systems of the engine. There are also personalization capability that remember and restore seat position, steering column and mirrors. In order to minimize distraction many features can be control through voice recognition systems, information displays can be projected so that the driver does not have to look away from the road and controls can be mounted on the steering wheel for easy access.
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