Designers using GPS data for powertrains, apps, other systems

  • 10-May-2013 03:55 EDT
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GPS data is used to determine that the Ford C-MAX Energi is near a charging station so drivers can switch on an EV mode to save fuel by using batteries for a longer period.


Automakers are beginning to leverage integrated GPS receivers, using positional data much like input from other sensors. Integrating GPS with electric powertrain controls can conserve energy, while locational data can also enhance telematics services and apps.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors recently detailed some of the benefits of integrating GPS with other systems. Ford’s Fusion and C-Max Hybrid and Energi use GPS data to run longer on batteries when vehicles are near the home or office. That’s possible because it’s likely the EV’s batteries will be charged there or that the hybrid will use its internal combustion engine for a cold start later on.

“Cabin, engine, and catalyst warming can be done most energy efficiently while putting energy back into the battery,” said Thomas Gee, Hybrid Controls and Strategy Implementation Manager for Ford. “This is Ford’s first use of GPS information to modify the operating mode of the powertrain.”

When GM touted the sophistication of sensors used on its Cadillac XTS earlier this year, the company said it plans to augment vehicle sensors with GPS satellite input.

“Any time you’re dealing with position, GPS can be very important,” said Bakhtiar Litkouhi, GM Research and Development Lab Group Manager for Vehicle Control Systems. “Combined with map information, it tells you where you are, whether the road’s curving, and whether the speed limit goes up or down.”

GM noted that GPS data can also help improve safety by eliminating some of the false positives that can occur with electronic stability control (ESC) systems. Yaw-rate sensors in ESC systems can sometimes detect skids when the vehicle is going around a sharp curve.

“If the system understands where the vehicle is on a curved road and knows its position on the road, it can account for curves and changes in grading,” Litkouhi said.

The growing number of vehicles employing telematics and apps will further expand the role of GPS data. Many prognosticators feel that location-based services will be an important element in telematics services. Most apps are also expected to use positional data.

“Location is an enabler for a wide set of applications,” said Dominique Bonte, Vice President at ABI Research. “It’s almost hard to think of apps that won’t use location data.”

Bonte said that factory installed navigation systems should surpass portable navigation device shipments by 2015. The total in-car navigation market should grow at 25.9% over the next five years, ABI predicts.

Bonte noted that, for fuel-saving techniques like anticipating turns and hills, map quality must be improved. Tier One suppliers who are developing systems that fuse GPS positioning information with map-based data also note that the accuracy of maps and GPS data must be high for many functions.

“In this context, the actual availability of detailed maps is a major challenge, even for maps provided on-the-fly over the air,” said Alois Seewald, Global Research and Development Director for TRW Cognitive Safety Integration. “Selecting relevant data to be included in such maps and defining a standard to handle this data is the next substantial task.”

Seewald added that once these goals are accomplished, little additional effort is required to leverage GPS and maps installed for navigation to provide information for adaptive cruise control or curve lighting systems.

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