Some of the most revolutionary innovations originate not with carmakers but with the suppliers who provide the building blocks and concepts that reshape the industry. Suppliers from around the world have been on a tear over the last several weeks, giving glimpses into the future at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Here is a sampling of some of the most cutting-edge technologies uncovered by Staff Reporter Bradford Wernle and Staff Correspondent David Sedgwick.
Retrofit eCall Adapter Company: Robert Bosch GmbH
What it is: The eCall plugs into a standard cigarette lighter. An accelerometer detects if the car is in a crash and transmits an alarm to the driver's smartphone. A phone app relays the car's location to a call center.
Why it's cool: The device can determine the severity of the accident, helping the call center decide whether to send an ambulance or tow truck.
What the company says: "You can take it with you and use it in a rental car."
Will it be produced? Bosch is launching it in Germany, followed by the U.S. late this year.
Bump detector Company: Hella KGaA Hueck & Co.
What it is: Sensors determine whether your parked car has been dented, scratched or bumped by another vehicle or pedestrian. If your car has been damaged, 360-degree cameras snap photos of the perpetrator.
Why it's cool: The car owner can send the pictures to the police, insurance company or repair shop.
What the company says: "If something happens to the car, we can take a picture immediately. Nobody can run away in time. Nobody is that fast."
Will it be produced? It's in advanced development with customers.
DecoVents, DecoAlu display (pictured at top) Company: Faurecia SA
What it is: Climate controls on a thin aluminum panel use haptic feedback — virtual buttons and knobs have the fingertip feel of actual buttons and knobs. They control the temperature through vents integrated into the dash.
Why it's cool: Imagine playing with climate controls as a game. As users move their fingers from left to right on the aluminum panel display, piezoelectric sensors pick up the movement and change the display color from blue (cool) to red (hot). The vents also change color in harmony. The DecoVents replace the traditional air vent vanes with a single horizontal or vertical blade and a hidden mechanism, giving designers more freedom to execute a wide variety of designs. The Deco Alu controls and DecoVents are part of Faurecia's Intuition interior concept.
What the company says: "A decorative aluminum surface forms a tactile dashboard that replaces traditional controls with touch sensitive, integrated capacitive switches. Slight vibration plus illumination signals action."
Will it be produced? Faurecia says it is talking to luxury customers about using the feature in vehicles as early as 2017.
External side airbag Company: ZF TRW
What it is: An airbag deploys from the outside of the door to protect occupants during a side-impact crash.
Why it's cool: Side-impact crashes are problematic because the door sill and pillars must absorb the entire force of the crash. An external airbag could be an out-of-the-box solution.
What the company says: ZF has said it might be ready for production in 2020.
Will it be produced? No production contracts yet, but we suspect automakers will take a serious look at it.
Harmonious Communications Cockpit Company: Denso
What it is: A concept cockpit for future connected cars
Why it's cool: A haptic footrest tilts in the direction of a lane change to notify the driver when lane-change assistance is about to take action. The rearview mirror displays camera images of obstacles behind the vehicle; the instrument cluster flashes red if sensors detect a potential collision; and a large head-up display highlights pedestrians and turn-by-turn route guidance.
What the company says: The cockpit "allows users to experience Denso's vision of futurist driving scenarios, [such as] alerting the driver when approaching a potentially dangerous area and helping the driver merge into traffic and change lanes."
Will it be produced? No, but Denso is using this advanced cockpit to explore new ways of communicating critical information to drivers.
Curved display screen Company: Panasonic
What it is: The dramatic active-matrix LCD display screen sweeps from the instrument cluster across the entire instrument panel, using concave and convex curves. It gives interior designers flexibility to design displays for maximum visibility for the driver and other occupants. Panasonic says its transparent optical-bonding process means glare is greatly reduced.
Why it's cool: Provides high-resolution displays equal to those on laptops or smartphones and adapts them to curved surfaces. Panasonic says it has overcome a key obstacle to producing curved displays — the ability to optically bond a curved display to a very thin piece of curved glass.
What the company says: "Just about all of our customers are showing a lot of interest in curved displays. Their design studios have wanted them for the longest time," said Steven Bower, staff engineer of displays.
Will it be produced? Panasonic says the curved display is production-ready and that it is talking to a number of customers. Bower predicts it will be in production by 2020 if not sooner.
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