Delco's dream machine

It's the manifestation of every automotive electronics manufacturer's "what if ... ?" dream: A vehicle with every imaginable bell and whistle, working together to offer perhaps the safest, most secure and most communicative vehicle ever built. It's Delco Electronics Corp.'s SSC sport/utility demonstration vehicle.Unveiled recently at auto shows in Detroit and Los Angeles, the SSC (short for Safety,

Tim Keenan

March 1, 1996

6 Min Read
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It's the manifestation of every automotive electronics manufacturer's "what if ... ?" dream: A vehicle with every imaginable bell and whistle, working together to offer perhaps the safest, most secure and most communicative vehicle ever built. It's Delco Electronics Corp.'s SSC sport/utility demonstration vehicle.

Unveiled recently at auto shows in Detroit and Los Angeles, the SSC (short for Safety, Security and Communications) "explores the outer limits of transportation technology -- boldly going where no van, car or truck has gone before," gushes Gary W. Dickinson, Delco Electronics' president and CEO. "The SSC is loaded with more advanced electronic systems than any automobile in history."

That may be tough to refute. The SSC is equipped with more than 42 microprocessors (the average car has five) and has more computing power than a NASA space shuttle. SSC has the power to perform 130 million computer operations per second versus about 100 MOPS for a shuttle orbiter.

"As many as 100 scientists worked on this project over the last nine months," says Robert Schumacher, director of Delco's Advanced Technology Center. "This was a very large engineering effort. We spent in excess of $1 million."

The result of the project is a pair of SSCs, derived from six Chevy Blazers that were stripped of all badging and revised both inside and out to give the final products a distinctly high-tech "Delco" look.

SSC's safety enhancements include:

* Forewarn, a radar-based forward, side and rear collision-warning system.

* Adaptive cruise control.

* Infra-red night vision (developed jointly with Texas Instruments).

* High-intensity discharge (HID) lighting (developed jointly with Delphi Automotive Systems).

* Front and side air bags.

* Occupant sensing, which disables the passenger air bag if the seat is empty or holds a child safety seat.

* Low tire pressure sensing.

* Intelligent center high-mounted brake lights, whose intensity is determined by the severity of the braking action.

The SSC is a totally keyless vehicle, due to security features including:

* Keyless ignition.

* Electronic lock and latch (developed jointly with Delphi Automotive Systems), which unlocks and pops open doors so there are no handles on the outside of the vehicle.

* Perimeter lighting, a feature that allows a driver to see everything under and around a parked vehicle.

* Personalized presets of mirrors, radio, seats and temperature controls for multiple drivers.

* Keyless entry, which allows remote activation of the above security functions.

* Ultrasonic intrusion sensors that monitor the passenger compartment for motion.

* An anti-carjack system that coordinates and controls a cellular-telephone-based vehicle theft-recovery and automatic emergency alert. It can electronically signal its exact position or be instructed to blink the lights, sound the horn or gradually decrease power until it comes to a stop.

* Automatic (if the air bag deploys) and manual Mayday emergency communications. This system provides the closest 911 operator with the SSC's location and driver information.

Communications features include:

* Telepath navigation system, a full-function, GPS-based, turn-by-turn device.

* A fully integrated cellular phone linked to the audio system that employs a hidden microphone and uses voice recognition for hands-free operation.

* A vehicle-to-roadside communication system that displays information about approaching road conditions, traffic signs and points of interest.

* A premium CD audio system, featuring a 200-watt, eight-channel amplifier and eight speakers that automatically adjusts volume according to vehicle speed to cancel out road and engine noise.

* One-way data paging integrated into the audio system that receives standard phone messages and a full range of broadcast information including headlines, stock quotes and sports scores.

* An Eyes Forward liquid-crystal display (LCD) cluster and an EyeCue head-up display.

The concept vehicle's true significance, however, isn't its individual features, says Mr. Dickinson; rather, it's the integration of all these features into single package. "It is through integration that the tremendous potential inherent in electronics begins to be realized," he says. "We wanted to pass into a new dimension in transportation. To demonstrate how, by fully integrating the various electronics systems, we could offer customers a completely new driving experience coupled with the ultimate in safety, security and communications."

Component integration and software programming were the most time-consuming aspects of the SSC project, says Mr. Schumacher. "One-third to one-half of the job in new electronics is software programming. For instance, since there is so much information to give to the driver, the computer decides which information is most important at that moment, not unlike the display on a fighter aircraft."

The most obvious example of integration is in SSC's head-up display (HUD), which combines the night vision, cellular phone, navigation, one-way data paging, roadside-to-vehicle communications and tire-pressure sensing. "HUD is the pinnacle of integration," says Mr. Schumacher.

Another example of feature integration is the collision-warning system's use of the braking and audio systems to give drivers physical and audible warnings of an impending impact, temperature sensors to predict icy road conditions, adaptive cruise control to maintain a safe following distance and tire-pressure sensing (because inflation levels effect stopping distances): Warnings also are visible on the HUD.

"We wanted to show what was possible when, instead of using an add-on components approach, we used a systems approach, where all the electronics features are in sync, communicating to and reacting with each other," says Mr. Dickinson. "Through integration, we wanted to show that it really is possible to enhance quality, to make the car safer, more secure and a true communications device. We wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to do it today."

While the features of the SSC are integrated, the systems themselves are not. Systems aboard the vehicle do not share electronic control modules or wire harnesses. "That's the next step," explains Mr. Schumacher. "This vehicle is about the integration of features, software and communications."

Picture General Motors Corp. vice President and Chevrolet General Manager Jim Perkins and Bill O'Neill, Chevy's general director of communications, dressed as police officers, driving a Chevy Tahoe with a police package and arresting people driving non-GM vehicles.

No, it's not an auto writer's daydream; it was a real-live humorous video to intro the Tahoe cop concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

With the Caprice fading away after the '96 model year, Chevrolet is looking for another way to outfit police with wheels. Police packages made up for 25,000 Caprice sales in 1995 and will tally about 10,000 units by the close of '96.

"We're very serious about supporting our law enforcement customers with the best possible products we can muster," says Mr. Perkins. "Early responses indicate those customers would enthusiastically welcome a police Tahoe."

Chevy says the concept has been successfully tested by the Michigan State Police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept. Further market evaluation is continuing.

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