The Detroit Auto Show 2022 edition was a sad shadow of its former self, what with no SUVs bursting through plate-glass windows, pickup trucks falling from the ceiling, minivans leapfrogging, etc. Beyond the new 2023 Ford Mustang, which did most of its celebrating in the week leading up to the show anyway, all that was left this year was poorly lit empty space, some of which was filled with a cube farm for automotive tech firms, suppliers, universities, and the like. Taking the time to wade through these displays revealed some cool tech that promises to improve automotive mobility in the future. It wasn’t all for nothing, and we’ve got the technical highlights of the innovative concepts and new gadgets that did show up.
Harman Ready Care
Driver distraction is an ever-growing problem, so Harman is readying a technology suite that aims to infer not just drivers’ attentiveness, alertness, and general health, but also their cognitive load. The detection is fairly standard: a single infrared camera is flanked by LED “blasters” that illuminate the face, day or night.
The system monitors expression, eye gaze, blinking, eyelid droop, etc. to determine drowsiness, distraction, and even “tunnel vision,” as evidenced by a prolonged expressionless “1,000-foot stare.” This camera also detects the driver’s heartbeat via remote photoplethysmography (rPPG), which senses minute changes in the face. This is used to detect incapacitation or, along with eye-gaze vector and other facial cues, agitation.
Harman may be on to a new safety tech trend. For example, just a week after the Detroit show, Volvo has announced the all-new, all-electric flagship EX90 SUV will come standard with two driver-facing cameras also capable of monitoring the driver’s eyes and face for drowsiness, impairment, distraction, or incapacitation.
Harman Ready Care
We got a ride in a vehicle outfitted with Harman’s system and saw the raw output of the cognitive, visual, and manual, distraction monitors as well as the rPPG readout of heart rate (as compared with the signal from a more accurate smart watch—it tracked closely, reading slightly higher results).
No manufacturer implementing the system would likely display the raw info as we saw it. Rather, it might choose to act on the data it’s collecting, and when something is detected, it could implement various solutions—like altering the air or seat temperature, selecting different sound system or ambient lighting choices, etc. in response to the occupant’s body.
Harman also proposes offering lower-stress navigation routing, which might plot a slightly longer course with less traffic, fewer left turns, etc. The system is fully developed and ready to deploy, but Harman has no production plans to share at this point.
Brose Radar Power Liftgate/Trunk/Frunk Opener
German mechatronics supplier avoided the floor’s cube farm by displaying several cool technologies across the street from the 2022 Detroit Auto Show. How many times have you stood on one foot, fruitlessly flailing the other under a bumper? Most modern hands-free trunk/hatch opening systems use a capacitive sensor to detect your foot (some others use infrared or ultrasonic).
Brose’s millimeter-wave radar sensor can be programmed to respond to a foot gesture near the bumper, or any other solution. The company demonstrated a frunk that opened with a sideways swipe of a hand, for instance. Illustrations show the system implemented on a side door. And the same sensor can detect obstacles as well. Cost is said to compare favorably with existing technologies.
Brose Radar Power Tailgate Opener
Using the same compact motor that can open a side door, Brose’s pickup tailgate power open/close unit weighs 45 percent less than today’s typical mechanized tailgate closer. And by fitting a radar sensor to the handle with a wide field of view, it can be programmed for gesture opening and closing—whether the gate’s up or down. This radar gets disabled when manually opening the latch, so that the user isn’t perceived as an obstacle.
Yanktech Wireless Power
At last year’s Detroit Motor Bella show we covered an improved inductive charging pad from Aira. This year Brooklyn, NY-based Yanktech proposes doing away with the pad altogether and beaming power right to your devices through the air just like WiFi, using magnetic resonance technology.
Magnetic resonance can deliver milliwatts to kilowatts, albeit at additional cost and reduced efficiency compared to wired transmission (maybe 80 percent versus a wire’s 95-plus percent). And we’re assured it’s completely safe for humans and animals, with power transmitted in megahertz—longer waves than the gigahertz used by cellular phone communications. The maximum specific absorption rate allowed for cell phones is 1.6 watts/kilogram, and the SAR for Yanktech’s FCC-certified power transmission is 0.7 w/kg.
Yanktech Wireless Power
The company reckons it can send power up to 18 inches to a phone, meaning it could be charging while a passenger uses it. But Yanktech is touting the technology for more than charging devices. Wireless power could eliminate vulnerable wiring to reduce warranty costs, by powering windows and locks in a door, or power seats with long or elaborate tracks that complicate power harness routing.
Cobalt Cube Content Casting
As we transition toward the software-defined vehicle, screens are getting bigger and the demand for content on those screens is growing. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are happy to cast their smartphone content onto the screen, but with some serious strings attached and with certain requirements regarding the native operating system. Cambridge, UK-based VNC Automotive offers a hardware and software solution that acts as a more OS-agnostic go-between, connecting brought-in devices with native vehicle screens, dubbed the Cobalt Cube.
VNC also offers a software development kit that allows manufacturers to control the user interface, to determine which apps are safe to project, tailor the design, etc. The company’s Cobalt Link+ works like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to project phone, tablet, or other brought-in device info onto the native vehicle screen. The software is reportedly coming to market on “an Asian SUV soon to be built in California.” Sounds like it could be VinFast, to us.
Cobalt Cube for RVs
The Cobalt Cube hardware solution is targeted toward First Responders and the RV market. For the former, Cobalt Cube can project laptop content on the screen, obviating the need to hard-mount a laptop to the console where it can interfere with airbag deployment. It can also integrate controls for auxiliary lights and sirens via virtual buttons on the screen, promising to further simplify and declutter the cabin space. For RV manufacturers, it can be an affordable means of providing navigation via smartphone using an OS that may not otherwise support full CarPlay or Android Auto.
Tesseract Uniform Deceleration Unit
We first reported on Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Tesseract Structural Innovations new Uniform Deceleration Unit (UDU) last year—it’s an impact barrier material design comprised of aluminum foam. By incorporating aluminum cylinders in voids within the foam frame, the units can be tuned for greater strength in a certain direction of impact.
The innovation being introduced at the 2022 Detroit Auto Show was a new method of laser-cutting cylindrical holes in the aluminum foam sheets and then inserting deep-drawn cylindrical shapes in aluminum that can be pressed right into the holes. This setup is showing great promise as a side-impact protection barrier installed in the frame around electric-vehicle battery packs.
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