Convergence 2000 was held in Detroit from October 16-18. First staged in 1974, Convergence is a biennial show that brings the electronics and automotive industries together. Technologies on display this year ranged from the safety and comfort products, through to much more sophisticated, expensive Internet communication systems that are unlikely to reach the market for some time. Here's a brief look at some of the more interesting technologies from last month's event:
Dana Auto-leveling headlights
With the growing number of sport-utilities on the road, headlight glare becomes a problem for drivers in cars, particularly if the taller vehicle is towing a trailer. Dana Corp. showed technology that senses the load on a vehicle's suspension and automatically adjusts the headlamp reflectors to aim the light beam downward, providing better illumination for the driver of the tow vehicle and minimizing glare for oncoming vehicles.
Intel Multimedia consoles
Navigation systems remain at the forefront of in-vehicle multimedia technologies. Intel Corp. and CAA AG displayed a console in an Audi TT through which the driver can control a wide range of functions, including climate control, audio, phone service, e-mail and DVD (digital versatile disc). For simplicity, most functions are controlled with a single dial under the screen. Other functions, such as e-mail and phone service, are voice activated. Intel built the processor, called Xscale, and CAA developed the operating system.
Siemens Automotive Fingerprint identity
The German auto supplier pushes ahead with technology that seeks to eliminate the traditional car key. With the fingerprint identity system, a driver merely touches a small pad on the instrument panel. If the fingerprint matches, the car will start, and mirrors, radio presets and seats will move to programmed positions. The technology could also enable the owner to place limits on vehicle performance linked to a particular operator, such as a beginning driver.
Visteon Mach Rumble seats
Visteon Corp., which makes theater seats as well as car seats, showed its Mach Rumble seats at Convergence 2000. Electronic 'exciters' embedded in the seats make them shudder and vibrate. Visteon says the Rumble technology could be applied to the rear seats of a minivan or sport-utility as an enhancement to an in-vehicle entertainment system. The idea is reminiscent of the 'Sensurround' experience that made theater seats vibrate during showings of the 1970s disaster movie Earthquake.
PI Technology LED steering wheel
The Cambridge, England, engineering and prototype firm, which is owned by Ford Motor Co., is trying to put more information in the driver's line of sight. PI replaces the top part of a steering wheel with a clear plastic cover and uses LED (light-emitting diode) lights and a digital display to show the driver such information as speed, gear selection and rpm. The concept offers a cheaper alternative to head-up displays. Engineering challenges include selecting the right material for the wheel because it is exposed to harsh sunlight.
Johnson Controls AutoVision DVD damping
In-vehicle entertainment systems have been among the most popular options to be introduced to minivans and sport-utilities in the past three years. Johnson Controls sees such systems becoming portable in the future. A prototype DVD unit uses electrical damping so the disc can run vertically while the vehicle is in motion without road shocks disrupting the show. The self-contained unit can also be removed from the vehicle and attached to a base, which allows the unit to be used almost anywhere. Johnson Controls says the unit could be in production by 2003.