Comedians have gotten a lot of mileage out of drivers who leave their blinkers on for what seems like hours. But the ability to let microcontrollers pull data from vehicle networks and turn off blinkers may make those jokes obsolete.
Digital systems already in production by Ford can be programmed to turn off after a specified time, and they can adapt to driving conditions. TRW Automotive formally unveiled the Steering Column Control Modules (SCCM) early this year, with plans to broaden existing usage in Ford’s Super Duty, F-Series, Edge, Explorer, and the Lincoln MKX.
The SCCM uses a microcontroller to replace the mechanical elements used for decades. No new sensors are needed because the Freescale controller gathers data from the CAN (controller area network).
“We’re snooping the bus, picking up speed information, information from angle sensor on the steering and data from electronic power steering, and the ABS tells what each wheel is doing,” said Dan Mittelbrun, TRW's Director of Sales for Ford.
The switch system can have a number of functions such as wiper and headlight control. But its most novel benefit is to turn blinkers off using parameters set by OEMs and system designers. The SCCM adapts to driving conditions as varied as switching lanes, making 90 degree turns, or staking out shopping center parking spaces.
“Canceling is a lot different at 70 mph than when you’re going 5 mph in the mall. We use an algorithm to figure out when to cancel the turn signal; that’s never been done before,” Mittelbrun said. “This is the biggest thing in turn signal switches in 20 years.”
The switch is tunable, so it can be adjusted for long- or short-wheelbase vehicles using software alone. Software will also adapt when trailers are plugged in, changing from three blinker flashes to five and altering the signal cancellation parameters. It can also shut the turn signal off silently, although some OEMs want audible feedback.
These benefits come without a cost premium. “The whole assembly costs a little bit less than a similar mechanical system, and it saves a lot in tooling and installation,” Mittelbrun said.
Along with these initial savings, the switch can reduce ongoing expenses. Mechanical switches have a number of components that must fit well together throughout the vehicle’s lifetime. These moving parts often fail, leading to high warranty costs. TRW’s noncontact switches will sharply reduce these failures, Mittelbrun said.