HELLA is working on technology that can fold or unfold an SUV's rear seats at the push of a button, integrate ambient lighting into vehicle seating and lock or unlock turntable seats in autonomous vehicles.
Semi-automated seat architecture under development at HELLA in Plymouth, Xiamen in China and Lippstadt in Germany, is designed to meet a wide variety of future market needs created by the emergence of "megacities," aging populations, the growing popularity of SUVs and interest in the development of automated vehicles.
HELLA already offers auto makers and system suppliers in North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region a unique portfolio of actuators, electronic control units, and position sensors. While this portfolio forms the basis of HELLA's current architecture competence, new applications will help OEMs meet a growing demand for premium-car seating and interior features among mid-range and compact-car buyers.
Further development of the existing architecture is being driven by the German company's product planners and development engineers and will expand the architecture offering to include features that will help adjust backrests, rotate seats, move entire rows of seats and even have the ability to support future active safety concepts.
Gary Hawkins, vice president of Program Management for HELLA Electronics in the Americas notes that optional "smart" latch actuators can be used to lock and unlock front seats for easy entry, adjust front- and rear-seat backrests, and allow for the fold down of second- and third-row seating. Seating functions designed with "smart" latch actuators will reduce the need for separate sensors and electronics as well.
With the control unit platform, car makers and seating suppliers can easily add a number of features into a seat's architecture, including heating, cooling and ventilation, as well as interior lighting.
Based in Guadalajara, Mexico, HELLA's Project Director for Interior Lighting, Roberto Bastida, says the company is expanding its current interior lighting portfolio by developing seat-integrated reading and ambient lighting to improve both comfort and safety. Seat-integrated reading lights, for example, can reduce distracting interior glare and provide efficient light sources for both front- and rear-seat passengers.
In addition to seat-integrated lighting, OEMs can work with their supplier base on further possibilities such as including sensors that enable health and safety features by monitoring brain activity, skin temperature, respiration, pulse rates and electrocardiogram information, as well as passenger weight and position. According to Hawkins, these are likely to be of special interest in the design of self-driving or autonomous vehicles. With features like this, future vehicles may enable the elderly or disabled to continue to drive safely for longer.
HELLA has provided auto makers and suppliers with more than 35 million actuators, sensors and electronic control units for a variety of seating applications and system solutions over the past 15 years and expects an annual growth rate of 10 percent or more for "luxury" seating features in compact and mid-size vehicles in the future.
"Semi-automated seating architecture will allow auto makers to reduce complexity and the cost of easy-entry seating, backrest adjustments, interior lighting and a host of other 'luxury' and safety-related seating features," Hawkins explains. "We fully expect a variety of driver-assistance, ambient-lighting and health functions will be integrated into car seats in the future."
HELLA Electronics in Plymouth, Michigan, will have global responsibility for the overall development of semi-automated seat architecture with global design responsibility for electronic control units in the U.S. HELLA locations in China and Europe will continue to be responsible for the design of actuators, sensors and interior lighting.
"New-car buyers can expect to see a significant growth in the availability of 'premium' seating features in mid- and compact-size vehicles in the coming years," Hawkins predicts. "In fact, several car manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors and Renault already have started to offer some of these features in the U.S., China and Europe."
"The growing popularity of sport utility vehicles will add to the demand for the economical back-seat flexibility, comfort and safety provided by semi-automated seating technology."
HELLA KGaA Hueck & Co., Lippstadt: HELLA is a global, family-owned company, listed on the stock exchange, with around 34,000 employees at over 125 locations in more than 35 countries. The HELLA Group develops and manufactures lighting and electronic components and systems for the automotive industry and also has one of the largest retail organizations for automotive parts, accessories, diagnostics, and services within Europe. Complete vehicle modules, air-conditioning systems, and vehicle electrical systems are also produced in joint venture companies. With more than 6,000 people working in research and development, HELLA is one of the most important innovation drivers on the market. Furthermore, with sales of 6.4 billion euros in the fiscal year of 2015/2016, the HELLA Group is one of the top 40 automotive parts suppliers in the world and one of the 100 largest German industrial companies.