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APIA looks forwards, Backwards & sideways

APIA (Active Passive Integration Approach from Continental Automotive Systems). Photo source: Continental  AG.

With APIA (Active Passive Integration Approach from Continental Automotive Systems), cars that can effectively avoid accidents and the resultant injuries, or at least mitigate the consequences, will soon be more than just a vision.

The basic idea behind APIA is to enable situations that could lead to an accident to be identified in good time by monitoring the vehicle environment, and to use phased assistance and protection measures to prevent such situations escalating. Along with an application for driving-in-line traffic scenarios, which is about to be ready for volume production, the next APIA application - for lane-change scenarios - has completed the pre-development stage.

In its first application, APIA will provide protection in driving-in-line traffic against hazards located ahead of the vehicle. APIA monitors this area with special distance sensors. Depending on the configuration of the system, these sensors can also provide input for other systems such as Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC).

APIA prototypes were shown at this year's Frankfurt Motor Show last September, to illustrate the potential to offer protection during lane changing, as well.

One practical by-product of this application of APIA is that the additional high-performance environment sensors that monitor the sides and rear of the vehicle can also be used for measuring parking slots.

The resultant data can be used by parking assistance systems that help park the car by means of largely automated intervention in the steering system. In addition, other safety systems such as Lane Departure Warning (LDW) can also be implemented.

Basically, APIA is a different control action for hazards threatening from the front, rear and sides. When an accident looks imminent and the driver has to act fast and cannot afford to make a mistake, many people cannot cope.

In such situations, APIA with its central danger control module can help. This module draws on the data captured by all on-board safety systems and the relevant vehicle environment sensors to compute a hazard rating that equates to the current accident risk. If this hazard rating exceeds a predefined limit, the danger control module triggers phased protective measures.

If the car is threatening to run into the vehicle in front, for example, the driver receives a visual or haptic warning. If the risk of an accident nevertheless increases, APIA will then pre-fill the brake system, pre-tension the seat belts, and close the side windows and sunroof.

Then, if APIA identifies an emergency situation from the speed at which the driver lifts off the gas pedal, in the next phase of preventive measures the danger control module applies the brakes at up to 0.3 g, triggers the reversible belt tensioners, and moves the power seats and headrests to the optimum position.

When the driver hits the brakes, the Brake Assist function provides support by applying maximum pedal servo power. At the same time the reversible belt tensioners are activated with maximum power. And if, despite all of this, a collision occurs, the danger control module triggers the adaptive front airbags.

APIA for lane-changing scenarios - "In the context of our work on APIA, we have combined the latest camera technology with powerful computers. As a result, we can monitor not only the traffic situation ahead of the vehicle but also the situation behind and alongside," says Dr. Peter Rieth, Head of Advanced Engineering at Continental Automotive Systems. Prototypes equipped with APIA for lane-changing scenarios have produced some outstanding results.

Cameras are mounted in the door mirrors to monitor the areas alongside and to the rear of the vehicle. "These cameras are far more powerful than the ones in use today," says Rieth. "Current systems supply 25 images per second and need a minimum luminance of 1.0 lux. The cameras we use deliver 45 images per second and can get by on as little as 0.1 lux."

The image data are analyzed by suitably powerful microprocessors. The system scans an area behind the vehicle many times the size of the blind spot zone. If a car approaching from the rear enters the critical zone for a lane-changing maneuver, red LEDs positioned in the line of sight between the driver and the door mirror light up. The critical zone is defined in terms of the level of deceleration that would be required of the approaching vehicle.

If the driver nevertheless signals that he is about to pull out, an acoustic warning signal will sound, although the system can also be made to generate haptic feedback, such as vibration in the steering wheel. If, for whatever reason, the driver still tries to pull out of the safe lane, APIA for lane-changing scenarios will increase the steering effort required to do so. And if a collision still threatens, the system will activate the belt tensioners, close the side windows and sunroof, and move the seats and headrests into a position that enables the seat belts and airbags to offer maximum protection.

NHTSA - In its Traffic Safety Facts 2003, published in January 2005, the U.S. road safety authority NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) documents the fact that, in more than half of the passenger cars involved in fatal accidents, the initial contact was with the front of the vehicle, while in more than 25% the initial contact was with the side of the vehicle. "The APIA approach opens up a new dimension in enhancing vehicle safety," underlines Dr. Karl-Thomas Neumann, President of Continental Automotive Systems and a Member of the Executive Board of Continental AG. "It will have a decisive influence on the future development of cars.".

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