DETROIT – With the help of CMOS cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors and increasingly sophisticated software, modern vehicles are able to see down the road, behind and even sideways.
German supplier Hella wants to enable cars and trucks to feel as well. The company unveils a new piezo-based electronic sensor known as the Intelligent Damage Detection System to detect whenever a body panel sustains a scratch, dent or worse. Think of the implications for rental fleets, car-sharing companies and personal vehicles.
“We basically implement a sense of touch for the whole vehicle for the outer shell,” says Kristian Döscher, Hella’s head of marketing-original equipment. “Everything that is digitized so far in terms of diagnosis is only related to electronic infrastructure, but not the outer shell of the car.”
The tiny foil-based sensor can be glued behind a body panel or added to an existing sensor used for Park Distance Control, the technology that allows a vehicle to parallel-park itself by sensing an opening along a curb and then taking control of the steering wheel to back in.
Vehicles now equipped with the system generally use four ultrasonic sensors in the rear and three or four in front.
The best way to integrate this sense of touch without adding a lot of extra cost or weight is to use the existing wires and infrastructure, says Marc Rosenmayr, a Hella board member and CEO of the company’s electronics business for North and South America.
Depending on how much information a customer wants about vehicle damage, Rosenmayr says the system can function with as few as four body sensors and as many as 12. The system works equally well with all materials – steel, aluminum, thermoplastic, fiberglass and carbon fiber.
The governing algorithm is powerful enough to detect structure-borne noise and determine the strength and even type of damage, whether it is hail, a door ding or a tree falling on a parked car.
“You can identify where the scratch is and how intensive it is,” Döscher says.
When No One Claims Responsibility
If a vehicle has onboard GPS, Hella’s system can pinpoint the time and place when the damage occurred. The information then could be sent to the fleet administrator.
For instance, there would be a record if the valet accidentally scuffed the rear fascia while backing up or if your teenager carelessly scraped the door on another vehicle in a mall parking lot. Each party may deny responsibility, but the evidence would be clear.
If rental-fleet companies or car-sharing services use the technology, there would be no reason to argue whether certain damage occurred while in a customer’s possession.
Rental companies inspect every vehicle after a loan. “That could be simplified because the moment you drive back on the lot, they can already remotely read the signal,” Rosenmayr says.
“If there was no damage, then you literally just drop off the car and you don’t have to speak with anyone. They email you the final invoice. If there was damage, then someone will come to assist you.”
A company with a fleet of taxicabs or cargo trucks could use the system to determine which driver is responsible for damage or whether the driver was even with the vehicle when it occurred.
For personal vehicles, the damage-detection system could piggyback on telematics networks such as OnStar and share information about scratches and dents with the homeowner.
“You could have an app so the car calls you the moment it happens,” Rosenmayr says. “If you’re close by, you can hurry there and see what happened and maybe even catch the guy.”
Working with forward- and rear-facing cameras, the system also can be helpful in identifying culprits in curbside parking mishaps.
“If another car bumps into yours and the guy is just leaving the scene, you take a picture of his license plate,” Rosenmayr says.
BMW and several other companies are interested in the technology, including one that wants to use it as an extension of an anti-theft system. The device also could help lower insurance rates if companies grant discounts to people willing to have the system on their vehicles.
Hella expects to have the technology in production vehicles by 2018.