The business environment in the automotive industry is undergoing dramatic change, as customers demand more driving support technologies ranging from automatic park assist to autonomous driving – combined with uninterrupted access to information and superb sound.
Audio and autonomous technology leader Clarion is responding to the changing landscape by transforming its business focus to become an “In-Vehicle Information Solutions Provider” from being an “In-Vehicle Information Device Manufacturer”. It is working in collaboration with Hitachi Automotive Systems on the development of vehicle peripheral perception technologies based on the in-vehicle cameras and image processing capabilities which Clarion has developed over the years.
“Combining our own businesses of long-established technologies, including car navigation, HMI (Human Machine Interface), cloud services and vehicle cameras and sensing devices, with those of Hitachi Group, we will continue to lead the world in providing integrated system solutions. In these innovative processes, we are transmitting to our global customers our motto of: ‘(Clarion) moves you – connects you’ since 2012. This motto represents our thoughts: ‘Clarion moves you by connecting you to sound, information, comfort and safety/security,’” says the company.
These advanced sensor fusion technologies combine cameras with other in-vehicle sensors to enable more accurate peripheral monitoring. Clarion is also developing an automatic parking function using its Overhead View Monitor and the vehicle peripheral view monitoring technology. Using parking space recognition technology — which includes recognizing the outline of the parking space by means of image recognition — the parking space is determined and automatic parking takes place. If a pedestrian or an inanimate object is detected during automatic parking, automatic braking is employed to pause the vehicle’s movement. This system’s image recognition performance has been enhanced through the use of Clarion’s newly developed high-resolution cameras.
Clarion implements peripheral view monitoring technology for applications on commercial vehicles such as trucks and construction machinery. Being larger than passenger cars, commercial vehicles present more blind spots from the driver’s perspective. Clarion provides an Overhead View Monitor camera system for large vehicles such as buses, trucks and construction machinery, contributing to driving safety for large vehicles.
In addition, because commercial vehicles are far more varied than passenger cars in terms of size, shape and other factors, once in-vehicle cameras are installed, it is essential to perform calibration using image processing. Clarion is also developing technology for future products that allows the customer to perform calibration even more conveniently.
High resolution audio
Clarion used the CES 2017 to showcase its Full Digital Sound (FDS) high resolution audio system which is the industry’s first in-car audio system to maintain a digital audio signal from the source to the speaker voice coils, resulting in pristine sounding audio with zero loss in quality and no added noise from analog connections.
According to Research and Markets study titled “Global In-Vehicle Infotainment market, Analysis & Forecast, 2017-2022”, the in-vehicle infotainment market was worth US$33.78 billion in 2016, and growth is expected to accelerate. The global in-vehicle infotainment market is driven by a number of factors such as increasing production and sales of passenger cars, increasing smartphone penetration, and lowering in the cost of wireless connectivity. However, the major safety and distraction issues caused by infotainment systems along with data safety and privacy concerns are restraining the growth of the in-vehicle infotainment market.
The in-vehicle infotainment market is experiencing an increased rate of participation from non-core players in the form of electronics and software companies, which has resulted in an increase in popularity and adoption of infotainment systems among all the vehicle types. The in-vehicle infotainment market has been divided on the basis of vehicle type, distribution channel, device type, technology type, and geography. Passenger car segment is currently experiencing a higher growth rate as compared to commercial vehicles. The higher production and sales of passenger cars especially in emerging countries along with increase in disposable income and improved offering from car manufacturers are fueling the market growth for in-vehicle infotainment systems of passenger cars says the study which mentions Clarion as a major player in this market.
Clarion says that its technology and highly flexible production systems has earned it a strong reputation in the global market, and in the OEM market in particular, where it supplies OEM certified parts. “Clarion has built secure and long-lasting relationships of trust with major automotive manufacturers. Our business in the OEM market began as early as 1951, when we delivered our first original radio to Hino-Renault. We now supply an extensive range of in-vehicle devices to customers all over the world, and this is arguably the backbone of our business.
“In the future, with the spread of EVs (Electric Vehicles) and HVs (Hybrid Vehicles) in developed nations, there will be an increased demand for more advanced in-vehicle device capabilities. On the other hand, in rapidly growing emerging markets, products tailored to the diverse requirements of different markets will be needed. By leveraging its long-established expertise in applied vehicle technologies and its ability to offer solutions that anticipate customer needs in the rapidly-changing in-vehicle device market, Clarion aims to further expand its OEM business on a global scale,” says a company statement.
Navigation devices, which are one of Clarion’s main product ranges, are supported by multiple technologies that have been developed over the years to strengthen the company’s expertise in automotive devices. The devices and systems include a proprietary map format, positioning technology that can pinpoint a vehicle’s location accurately from road and vehicle sensor data, and a route planning system that will reroute a vehicle if road conditions change. “We aim to contribute to the development of vehicles that provide safe travel for everyone by improving our navigation technology,” says the company.
Clarion adds its own information to the data supplied by map companies before compiling and storing it in its own proprietary format. This is used as a core source of information in its navigation systems. By maintaining a proprietary format for map data, which is directly linked to navigation performance, it can flexibly adjust to customers’ needs by combining information freely like a patchwork quilt. This contributes to improving the precision of the Clarion navigation system as the company optimizes extensive map data. “Map data that cannot be found anywhere else is what supports Clarion’s Navigation.
“Map data is regularly updated to respond to ever-changing road conditions in order to ensure we are able to provide the best in car navigation. By providing the latest maps and route information to the driver we reduce their load and ensure they have a more pleasant drive. It is part of what we at Clarion call our “Safety & Information,” business, which uses advanced mapping, image processing and image recognition technologies to assist in the driving and parking of cars in order to improve road safety.
“The main focus of development is the ‘Overhead View Monitor,’ which provides a 360-degree view around the vehicle, and sensing systems to alert the driver of approaching pedestrians and cars. We are also devoting our efforts to enhancing camera products, which are the bases of safety and security. Clarion will continue to enhance image sensing functions by developing new in-vehicle cameras with higher resolution and sensitivity that can withstand harsh night lights or strong backlighting experienced throughout the world,” says Clarion.
The company is also focusing on the emerging hot space in the automotive and technology industries – autonomous cars. Fundamentally, these new vehicles need to ensure safety within their own peripheries and vicinities. At autonomous driving Level 2 the system performs two out of the three operations: acceleration, steering or braking. On Level 3 it performs all three. “Although some legislative hurdles remain to be cleared, Clarion is speeding up the pace of its development work, with a view to launching mass production of products employing these technologies in 2016. Meanwhile, working in collaboration with Hitachi Automotive Systems, Clarion has forged ahead with the development of vehicle peripheral perception technologies based on in-vehicle cameras and image processing capabilities which Clarion has developed over the years. These advanced sensor fusion technologies combine cameras with other in-vehicle sensors to enable more accurate peripheral monitoring,” says the company.
Extending the life cycle
Clarion provides integrated in-vehicle application services, in-vehicle information terminals and server systems in order to implement its Smart Access cloud information services. Considering the vehicle usage environment, the Smart Access in-vehicle application services are designed to enable the user to access the most up-to-date contents and applications at all times, without the inconvenience of logging in and/or downloading/updating applications for in-vehicle devices.
This allows Clarion customers to continue providing in-vehicle equipment – which has a longer product life cycle – with the latest cloud services as well as services that respond to social and infrastructure changes. The server system, which was jointly developed with Hitachi, provides security functions, market functionality for in-vehicle applications, and diverse management/control functionality, in the form of an in-vehicle service platform.
In addition, Smart Access, which has provided telematics services in products to car manufacturers and aftermarkets, will expand and enter the B to B services for commercial vehicles as “Smart Access For Enterprise” (SAFE).
Clarion says it is committed to developing technology that can seamlessly provide safety and security-related information and services to cars, making the connected car a reality by using automobile communications devices called TCU (Telematics Communication Unit). The use of the TCU does not only improve the convenience of driving through telematics services, it can also perform automated self-diagnosis to prevent breakdowns before they happen, it can make emergency calls in the case of accidents, and it can notify the proper parties quickly in the case of trouble such as car thefts.
Most drivers will never see a TCU, but a TCU has a back-up function that ensures communication during times of emergency. Various precautions have also been made to ensure that the communication system would not be affected even if the mobile access built into the vehicle is interrupted. As the connected car becomes more highly computerized, it will contribute to making a ubiquitous vehicle society a reality.