Intelligent side-impact protection for cars

European researchers have developed a car body that thinks intelligently and protects its occupants before a side-impact. These future cars will be equipped with radar sensors and cameras integrated in the doors. If another car is about to collide with your own vehicle, the system will detect it 200 milliseconds before the impact. And it will activate a new side-impact protection system. This system, which is part of the APROSYS -- short for Advanced Protection Systems -- program, has been publicly demonstrated for the first time last week in Valladolid, Spain. So it should take a few years before it becomes generally available. But read more...

European researchers have developed a car body that thinks intelligently and protects its occupants before a side-impact. These future cars will be equipped with radar sensors and cameras integrated in the doors. If another car is about to collide with your own vehicle, the system will detect it 200 milliseconds before the impact. And it will activate a new side-impact protection system. This system, which is part of the APROSYS -- short for Advanced Protection Systems -- program, has been publicly demonstrated for the first time last week in Valladolid, Spain. So it should take a few years before it becomes generally available. But read more...

One of the APROSYS sensing systems

You can see above one of the APROSYS sensing systems. It can detect and track objects impacting the side of a car by using two radar sensors and a stereo video camera. The system will decide if there is a collision risk with another car 200 milliseconds before impact and can survey an area of 20-meter range around the car. On the above image, radar sensors are shown in blue while the stereo camera appears in red. (Credit: APROSYS project)

Now, here are some quotes of the German Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft news release about this project. "But how do you get the car body to change its properties? And how does the car know when its occupants need protection? The researchers have devised a kind of sixth sense for cars that anticipates accidents and emits the necessary impulse to activate the side-impact protection system. Stereo cameras and radar sensors continually scan the environment, and a central computer analyzes the data. 'During the journey, the system has to distinguish moving objects -- meaning other cars that could potentially cause an accident -- from stationary objects such as houses or trees,' explains Dr. Dieter Willersinn of the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing (IITB)."

With his colleagues, Willersinn has developed "a software program capable of predicting a lateral collision just in time -- about 200 milliseconds before the crash. The impulse from the central computer releases a surge of electricity that heats a wire made of a shape memory alloy. This wire is the actual trigger. 'We opted for this solution because it is faster than any conventional solenoid switch,' says Björn Seipel of the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability (LBF). The heat bends the wire, which then releases a spring. The spring slackens and pushes a steel bolt, which is integrated in the seat, towards the door. At the same time a stable metal body in the door is brought into position to support the steel bolt. 'The system of the bolt and the metal box stabilizes the car door and absorbs energy on collision,' explains Seipel."

Now, let's look at the APROSYS program. It started in April 2004 and is expected to end in March 2009. The EU funded about €18 million on a total budget of about €30 million. Here is a link to a presentation of APROSYS (PDF format, 30 pages, 7.07 MB, July 2006). The features about the advanced safety systems described above are shown on pages 22 and 23.

This side pre-crash sensing system has been demonstrated during a workshop held in Valladolid, Spain, on March 6-7, 2008.

For more information, you can read three technical presentations given during this workshop.

Sources: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Research News, March 2008, Topic 1; and various websites

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