Like eyes in the back of their heads

  • 19-Sep-2011 11:48 EDT
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Hella’s modules scan 210 degrees behind the vehicle, alerting drivers when traffic is coming from blind spots caused by high vehicles such as vans.

Forward-facing radar systems are getting a lot of attention for their ability to reduce accidents. Radar on the sides and rear of cars are also playing a major role in preventing collisions.

Applications such as lane-departure warning, cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot detection are still found on a limited number of vehicles, but developers are already combining functions. When modules can handle more than one task, it’s more cost-effective to implement them, which will help bring these features into the mainstream.

One of the newest technologies is cross-traffic alert, which helps drivers when they’re trying to back out of a parking space and they’re next to a large vehicle that obstructs their view. Radar looks perpendicular to a vehicle and lets the driver know if a vehicle is coming.

“We provide a range pattern of around 210 degrees, so it extends 15 degrees on each side,” said Mark Brainard, Vice President of Sales at Hella Corp.

He noted that radars are packaged on both rear quarter panels, which is also a good location for blind-spot detection. Many suppliers are combining these functions. Handling both functions doesn’t require any extra hardware since the systems are not used at the same time.

“When you’re driving forward, blind-spot detection won’t come on below 30 mph or so, while the cross-traffic check only works at low speeds or when you’re going in reverse,” said Andy Whydell, Senior Manager of Product Planning at TRW Automotive.

This sort of integration is just the beginning. As more radar and camera systems are installed on vehicles, developers are striving to link them all together to create a 360-degree monitoring system. Their goal is to improve safety by making decisions based on everything that is happening nearby.

“There will be more than one radar sensor, with front, rear, and side [units], and there will also be multiple cameras,” said Erik Coelingh, Technical Leader for Active Safety Functions at Volvo Car Corp. “They provide a lot of sensor data that must be fused into an overall model. That will require powerful processors.”

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