Issue: May 2009


Automakers Strive to Add Content Without Clutter



As New Driver-Assist Features Fight for Space on the Windscreen, Gentex Carves a Niche by Providing Custom Sensor Clusters

by Nick Palmen

Increased demand for new and emerging driver-assist safety features is creating an engineering dilemma for automakers. 

How do you effectively integrate these features into the vehicle when collectively they require a myriad of sensors, imagers and vision systems -- all of which need to be affixed on or near the windscreen?

Complicating this issue is the fact that for any given vehicle in development there are multiple suppliers providing multiple sensors that often need to meet multiple performance specifications. In addition, all of these sensors need to fit on the same windscreen without impeding driver vision.

This growing windscreen management challenge has been quite beneficial for Gentex Corporation, the U.S.-based supplier of automatic-dimming mirrors and advanced electronic products for the worldwide auto industry.

Gentex knows windscreens. For over 25 years, nearly every product and feature the Company has shipped has been affixed to the windscreen, integrated into high-tech automatic-dimming rearview mirrors that come packaged with technology like displays, hands-free microphones, compass transducers, garage door openers, telematics components, rain sensors -- even vision systems that control your headlamps.

Over the past few years, however, Gentex has found itself assisting multiple automakers integrate various features into their vehicles not only via the rearview mirror, but also by developing custom sensor clusters that reside on or near the windscreen and are typically affixed to the rearview mirror.

"It's not uncommon for a single Gentex-designed cluster to house separate cameras for features like lane departure warning and/or collision avoidance, as well as individual sensors that operate the vehicle's headlamps, door locks, wipers, defroster, compass, interior climate control and built-in garage door openers," said Enoch Jen, Gentex's senior vice president.

Take the case of the XC60, a new crossover vehicle from Volvo.
Gentex helped Volvo Car Corporation engineer a custom windscreen- and mirror-integrated sensor cluster that houses rain, infrared and humidity sensors, a multipurpose camera, and components related to Volvo's City Safety collision avoidance system. In addition, Gentex supplies an interior auto-dimming mirror with compass and humidity sensor features. The vehicle is available in Europe and the U.S.

All of these advanced components need to reside on or near the windscreen so that they're protected from the elements yet have a clear, unobstructed, wiper-swept view of the road and/or sky.

For another European automaker, Gentex help create a custom package for integrating rain, light and humidity sensors with a multipurpose camera, automatic-dimming mirror and Gentex's SmartBeam(R) High-Beam Assist, which uses a miniature camera and complex algorithms to automate and optimize high-beam usage.

"It's a complex engineering task because each sensor cluster is vehicle-specific and comprised of multiple brackets, covers, mounts and wire harnesses," continued Jen. "Gentex also works to manage the different suppliers of the various sensors and components to ensure that the system not only functions properly but also meets relevant legal, styling, ergonomic and manufacturing concerns."

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