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Nine Future Tech Nuggets From the 2017 Detroit Auto Show

Checking in with the Tier I suppliers showing wares in Detroit.

Checking in with the Tier I suppliers showing wares in Detroit.

Automakers take center stage at the North American International Auto Show each year with their shiny new concepts and production vehicles. But during the week before the public arrives to kick tires, the companies that provide the parts and technologies going into all those new cars fill all the side halls and meeting rooms in the reconfigured Cobo Hall to show off their shiniest and newest technologies. Not surprisingly, many of these are aimed at supporting electrification and autonomy, the two biggest trends at every recent auto show. We’ve got highlights.


Bosch Redundant Steering

Bosch Redundant Steering

In order to achieve full SAE Level 5 autonomy (no steering wheel or pedals) safety-critical systems such as steering and brakes must offer full redundancy. Bosch is offering such fail-operational technology for near-future platforms that might live to see Level 5 autonomy. It looks and packages like a simple belt-drive electric power steering rack, but the six windings in the motor are segregated into two different circuits, and the controller includes two completely separate circuit boards to control them. In normal operation, they cooperate, but either system is powerful enough to provide emergency steering to a safe stop by itself should something happen to the other. Production of fail-operational EPS in a scalable modular kit is planned for 2020. Note that Bosch’s iBooster electric power braking solution, introduced a few years ago, qualifies as the redundancy on vehicles with full stability control, as those units can also apply full braking.


Schaeffler E-Wheel Drive

Schaeffler E Wheel Drive

We’ve seen loads of wheel motors in the past, but most don’t get much—ahem—traction because their big unsprung mass typically compromises ride and handling. Well, the promise (threat?) of autonomous urban ride-hailing incentivizes off-boarding the drivetrain completely to maximize passenger space in vehicles. And because they’re expected to operate primarily at lower speeds over shorter distances in town, the unsprung weight issue is of less importance. Might this mean wheel motors will finally have their day in the sun? Schaeffler’s E-Wheel Drive packages a motor, the power electronics to run it, the planetary gearing to step the rpm down to road speed, and even a drum brake all inside a 14-inch wheel rim (most braking is regenerative; the drum would only be used in emergency stops or when the battery is too full to accept regenerated power). Output is rated at 44 hp/258 lb-ft continuous, 54 hp/516 lb-ft peak. The concept is ready for vehicle integration.


Bosch eAxle

Bosch eAxle 2

Bosch introduced a fully modular, scalable bolt-in module for providing all the power in an EV or for providing electric all-wheel drive in a hybrid. The motor, simple gear-reduction transmission, and DC-AC inverter are all included—just add DC power from a battery. The unit on display produces 150 kW (201 hp) and spins up to 16,000 rpm, but eAxles are available ranging from 50 to 300 kW (67-402 hp). The size shrinks and grows a bit with lower and higher outputs, and their mass ranges from 200 to 265 lbs. Production begins in 2019.


Schaeffler P2 Hybrid for Manual Transmissions

Schaeffler P2 Hybrid Manual

Plenty of mild-hybrid concepts recover deceleration energy while the engine is switched off and then give that power back when the car is accelerating, but most are incorporated with automatic transmissions because a driver’s clutch use can compromise the hybrid efficiency. Schaeffler incorporates a clutch-by-wire system in its manual hybrid concept, where the pedal just presses against a force simulator and an electric actuator actually manipulates the clutch. This way the driver can still enjoy three-pedal driving, but the system can override clutch disengagement as necessary to derive maximum benefit from regenerative braking or coasting. The electric motor/generator connects to the transmission input shaft via belt and a separately clutched pulley. This belt also drives the A/C compressor. That way, with both clutches open, the hybrid motor can keep the compressor spinning during long auto-stop traffic lights.


Faurecia Active Wellness Seat 2.0

Faurecia Active Wellness

When we first sampled this seat last year, it simply used pressure sensors to detect heart and respiration rates, from which the occupant’s state of well-being was inferred. This year, the sensor array is greatly augmented by capacitive units in the steering wheel and cameras. Together this array monitors eye blinks and closure time, facial expression, humidity level, posture, eye gaze, head tilt, steering-wheel grip, yawns, and fidgets. Machine learning then assesses different combinations of these metrics to assess the driver’s vigilance, potential motion sickness, stress levels, drowsiness, and comfort. The system then offers to improve the driver’s state of well-being by altering the lighting, audio, temperature, seat position, ventilation, and giving a seat massage. It frequently asks if the driver likes the proposed changes, learning as it goes what each operator prefers. Pretty neat, if a bit 2001: A Space Odyssey HAL-like … No production plans for Active Wellness have been announced as of yet.


Bosch NeoSense and Haptic HMI solutions

Bosch NeoSense

Touchscreens are great, but most folks have to divert their eyes to figure out where to touch them. Bosch NeoSense haptic textures aim to allow folks to navigate a smooth screen by touch, with the screen providing vibrations that can define the edge of buttons and give each a texture—graining in varying degrees of roughness, horizontal or vertical lines, etc. These virtual buttons are also capable of giving differing types of feedback when pressed, and they can provide some degree of variable control depending on how hard they’re pressed. And if that’s not cool enough, Bosch, in collaboration with Ultrahaptics, has developed a demonstrator that uses ultrasonic pressure waves to provide haptic feedback in midair allowing eyes-free gesture control with feedback. If gesture control is to have any future, such feedback seems essential.


Faurecia DecoVent and Intuition Interior with Stone Veneer

Faurecia Intuition stone veneer

High-tech DecoVent HVAC outlets incorporate displays of temperature or fan speed, and can include ambient lighting that reflects the air temperature. The Intuition user-interface can incorporate large black glass panels that seamlessly integrate displays, haptic touch controls, and even HVAC vents. Intuition’s bag of tricks also includes perforations for light to shine through wood, aluminum, or even stone, and the ability to have touch controls work on those same surfaces with haptic feedback. Unlike in Maybachs of yore, the stone veneer is not actually comprised of ultra-thin slices of marble; rather, the stone gets crushed and applied to the surface substrate with a convincing outer texture.

Faurecia Intuition glass panel with vents


Faurecia Gorilla Glass Speaker & Curved Displays

Faurecia Gorilla Glass Speaker Panels

We’ve covered automotive applications of Corning Automotive Glass Product’s Gorilla Glass in the past, but Faurecia is proposing some interesting new interior applications. By applying some exciter/driver devices to the back of a thin sheet of Gorilla Glass, it can become a sleek, black glass speaker. It can also be cold formed into some pretty complex shapes to form the outer surface of complicated display and control surfaces, such as a center stack and console that were displayed at NAIAS.


Schaeffler Cam Phasers

Schaeffler Electric Cam Phaser

Cam phasers have been around for decades, but there’s still plenty of room for innovation. Schaeffler’s new electromechanical phaser is just going into production for use on Infiniti’s daring new variable-compression VC-Turbo engine. Benefits include greater actuation speed, a broader potential range of authority, and the fact that it can move the cams even when the engine is off, pre-setting them ideally for startup. The DC brushless motor saves CO2 by reducing the load on the oil pump. And a new hydraulic phaser improves response time and accuracy by including a pressurized oil chamber on the phaser, with reed valves that dispense this localized, pressurized oil to the appropriate chamber as needed.