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As Vehicles Become Smarter, Traditional Suppliers Ramp Up Focus on Driverless Tech

By James Amend

Automakers have a map to future  mobility, and the industry’s long roster of suppliers will play a major role in getting them there with a plethora of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies.

It is estimated that innovations from auto parts makers will account for 69 percent of value-added content in 2025, up from 30 percent in 2012. Delphi CEO Jeff Owens said his company examines the challenges confronting its customers and then composes a portfolio of solutions to choose from, either an à la carte or a system-wide option.

“We think about it in terms of what (OEMs)  need. What types of problems are they trying  to solve, and how can we be of value?” Owens said.

A view of hands-free driving from inside a vehicle using Magna International-developed technology.

A view of hands-free driving from inside a vehicle using Magna International-developed technology.

The approach led Delphi to recently acquire Ottomatika, a spinoff out of Carnegie Mellon University, to strengthen its advanced autonomous driving products. The automaker also bought Control-Tec, an expert in
telematics and cloud-hosted analytics to help OEMs find elusive quality bugs during late-stage vehicle testing.

Delphi is also working with MobilEye, an Israeli company focused on computer vision systems and mapping, on a fully autonomous technology package slated for commercialization in 2019-2020. The partnership underpins a large-scale, one-of-a-kind pilot program Delphi is conducting on the streets of Singapore.

But the United Kingdom-based supplier, which operates a sprawling R&D campus in Troy, continues to focus on more traditional customer demands, too. For example, it will begin offering a plug-and-play mild electrification option next year for an efficiency gain of up to 15 percent at a fraction of the cost of full-hybrid technology. Together with a next-generation cylinder deactivation technology under testing, fuel savings could rise to 25 percent.

Japan-based Denso, one of the world’s four largest automotive suppliers, is working on arguably the most critical element of autonomous vehicles: keeping the person behind the vehicle attentive, or “in the loop,” as its researchers say.

IAV Automotive Engineering is partnering with Microsoft and its connected highly automated driving (CHAD) vehicle to test vehicle-to-infrastructure connection.

IAV Automotive Engineering is partnering with Microsoft and its connected highly automated driving (CHAD) vehicle to test vehicle-to-infrastructure connection.

“Understanding attention is critical in  determining if the driver is in the loop. If we can sense when a driver is out of the loop, we can alert them to get back in the loop,” said Pat Bassett, vice president at Denso’s North American Engineering Center in Southfield.

Denso has established an entire laboratory dedicated to gaining a deeper understanding of driver attention levels and designing an interface that will safely disengage and reengage drivers during autonomous operation.

The company has also partnered with Detroit’s NextEnergy, a technology accelerator, to help the supplier scout out advanced mobility and smart city technologies still under development. The collaboration also will create networking, startup engagement and relationship-building opportunities with NextEnergy clients.

IAV Automotive Engineering, a Northville engineering house historically associated with engine development services, has its hands in the autonomous vehicle space through a partnership with Microsoft and its connected highly automated vehicle driving (CHAD).

CHAD combines Microsoft Azure and Windows 10 technologies for a forward thinking vehicle-to-infrastructure connection, where data can be gathered from connected vehicles, traffic-light sensors and wearable devices worn by pedestrians to enhance safety.

Andy Ridgway, president of IAV, said the technology will “pave the way for a safer, more intelligent vehicle of tomorrow.”

Other suppliers aggressively bent on filling future technology demands from automakers include American Axle & Manufacturing, BorgWarner, Brose North America, Magna International and Visteon.

A year ago, American Axle opened its Advanced Technology Development Center in Detroit. Now with more than 200 employees, the Center allows for greater synergy and collaboration in technology benchmarking, prototype development and advanced technology development in electrification and light-weighting.

“We are trying to drive mobility innovation here. We want to stay out in front of the competition and put our customers in the lead. We are deeply invested in Detroit, the mobility capital of the world. We never stopped believing that,” said Bill Smith, AAM executive director of government affairs and community relations.

Denso is dedicated to getting a deeper understanding of driver attention levels and designing an interface that will safely disengage and re-engage drivers during autonomous operation.

Denso is dedicated to getting a deeper understanding of driver attention levels and designing an interface that will safely disengage and re-engage drivers during autonomous operation.

The Brose product portfolio fulfills and anticipates current industry trends. The mechatronics specialist for doors, seats and drives continuously develops smarter and lighter versions of its solutions. Brose developed an expertise in its drives business division, supporting the electrification of drivetrain and demanding emission regulations. The company received a lot of interest when introducing its hands-free vehicle access solution since technologies related to autonomous driving require a combination of systems and sensors, as well.

BorgWarner of Auburn Hills has become a one-stop shop for automakers seeking vehicle efficiency gains. It offers a suite of advanced combustion technologies; hybrid vehicle systems spanning mild to full hybrid solutions; fully electric propulsion units; electrically operated turbochargers to boost efficiency; and all-wheel-drive systems that require less energy.

Canada-based Magna International, an industry leader in powertrains, safety systems and other big-ticket components, is developing a technology that monitors a driver’s heart rate to determine if they are becoming drowsy. The innovation, which relies on sensors embedded in the seat cushion and back rest, has not come to market yet, but is seen as an integral piece of safe autonomous driving.

Van Buren Township-based Visteon is redefining the driving experience with innovative instrument panel technologies such as SmartCore, which integrates advanced infotainment, instrument clusters, head-up displays and advanced driver assistance system domains.

The company’s dual organic light-emitting diode display technology saves automakers money by allowing them to retain existing human-machine interfaces — or the connection between the driver and the car — while adding the portable-device functionality drivers increasingly expect.

James Amend is a senior editor at WardsAuto in Southfield.