The 2019 Frankfurt Auto show is smaller in scale than it’s ever been, reflecting the general softening of the worldwide auto market as well as some automakers’ increasing reluctance to participate in what they consider an inadequate return on the huge costs of showcasing their wares.
But whether or not more people buy cars, they’re going to want and need the very latest in safety systems, and there are no shortage of companies willing to invest in keeping drivers safe in the event of a crash.
German automaker ZF designs and manufactures some of the most modern, cutting-edge safety components on the market, components that aren’t affected by whether a car runs on gasoline or electricity. “Efficiency and lightweight design” are two simple phrases that drive this 40-billion-dollar company with its 150,000 employees across the globe.
Aine Denari, Senior VP Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS), told us at the auto show: “Our software started with front-collision warning and lane-departure warnings. It’s now advanced to the point where it’s actually going to keep you in the lane, or brake for you. The key thing is we’re focused on the proper amount of redundancy we have,” meaning as many as three different systems can be in place to ensure the driver and passengers are protected, sometimes in a split second.
“We’re taking the driver completely out of the loop in some cases,” says Denari. “The systems have got to be able to ‘see’ in the dark or the snow. They have to able to detect a bicycle versus a pedestrian versus a meridian.”
Redundancy in this case means cameras, radar and LiDar, an expensive, sophisticated surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with laser light, and measuring the reflected light with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can then be used to make digital 3-D representations of the target.
“LiDar is going crazy,” said Denari. “There were about 50 companies at last year’s CES show in Las Vegas who are developing LiDar.”
ZF’s new, reinforced side airbags (SABs) also help to meet relevant crash test requirements. In contrast to conventional vehicles, the restraint systems are positioned in the aluminum door beam instead of the seat backrest.
The SAB design takes into account the fact that the central driver’s seat leaves more space between the driver and the door, and that the airbags no longer adjust lengthwise to the seat. The company’s curtain airbags (CAB), are positioned along the A- and C-pillars with external retaining straps, provide further efficient protection in the event of impact from the side.
Another innovation is the concept of each individual rider in a car being protected in their own individual way. For instance, nobody in a car is ever the exact same size, obviously. But ZF has systems in place where different automatic reactions occur for a driver who is 100 pounds, a passenger who may be 200 pounds and a kid in the back who weighs 40 pounds – and the software knows this and responds to it.
“The point of all of this is that many cases is that if a crash is inevitable, we can minimize the damage,” says Denari. “The software needs to be 1,000 times better than the best driver out there.”
Car crashes killed 1.4 million people globally in 2018.