MUNICH -- High-tech sensors could help automakers meet tougher pedestrian safety rules without a drastic redesign of cars.
Siemens VDO Automotive has integrated a fiber-optic contact sensor into the bumper that determines what has been hit and then creates so-called "crush zones" for pedestrians by activating safety systems outside.
Audi Electronics Venture, a subsidiary of Audi, is working on a different kind of device that it thinks car designers could use to meet phase two of the EU's pedestrian safety rules. These take effect in September 1, 2010. The first phase takes effect October 1, 2005.
Audi Electronics Venture's electronic image sensor scans an area around the car using ultrasonic light to create a three-dimensional image. If the sensor detects a person is about to be hit it can activate the appropriate safety systems, such as a pop-up hood.
"Active systems in general can create room to absorb crash energy without being permanently visible," an Audi spokesman said.
With Siemens VDO's system, for example, a sensor determines if a person has been struck. It can then activate a pop-up hood to absorb some of the impact of the collision.
Depending on the severity of the accident, the hood could be pushed back into place.
Siemens VDO executives think that car designers will benefit from the system. They will not be forced to factor in as much space between the hood and so-called "hard points" such as the engine when creating cars that meet phase two of the EU standards.
Some immediate changes to future models will be longer front overhangs and hoods that look like a clamshell.
By the beginning of the next decade, cars also could be equipped with airbags at potential contact points such as just above the front bumper, on the A-pillars and at the rear of the hood.
The EU hopes the new rules will reduce pedestrian fatalities, which account for about 20 percent of the 40,000 vehicle-related deaths in Europe each year.
Luxembourg-based supplier Inter-national Electronics & Engineering also is developing a 3-D camera.
"If you have a 3-D camera you gain time because you can detect the pedestrian a few meters in advance," said Paul Schockmel, IEE director of strategic marketing.
Small and inexpensive
Audi Electronics Venture Mana-ging Director Walter Streit says it will cost less then E200 to equip a car with the company's sensor, which is the size of a E1 coin.
Audi Electronics Venture is developing the image sensor in a joint venture with PMD Technologies, a small high-tech company based in Siegen, Germany.
PMD aims to sell the sensors and is negotiating with suppliers Delphi, Continental Temic and Takata.
Without being more specific, Streit said the company's aim is to have the technology ready for Audis and other models in parent Volks-wagen's group before the next phase of the pedestrian safety laws take effect.
Siemens VDO's fiber optic sensor is ready for series production now, said spokesman Enno Pflug. But he added that it will still take up to three years to prepare the technology for a car.