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TRW unwraps tech wizardry

TRW Automotive Electronics & Components GmbH says it’s working with two major German vehicle manufacturers to bring new touch sensor technology to market. Meanwhile, its sister unit, TRW Airbag Systems, is working on silicon-based inflator initiator technology. ART Advanced Recognition Technologies and Cirque Corporation also plan to co-market touch input technology (see story below).

Planned for deployment in 2007, TRW’s touch sensor technology uses a control surface like that of a laptop computer to replace mechanical control functions ranging from on/off switches through heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls. A multifunction control module supports handwriting recognition for operation of mobile phones and navigation systems.

“Touch sensor technology has significant advantages for the driver. We can group many functions together, and our research has demonstrated that it offers significant ergonomic and packaging improvements,” says Ernst Hafner, new business development manager of TRW Automotive's Body Control Systems organization for Europe and emerging markets.

"Independent tests have demonstrated that the handwriting recognition touch sensor offers reduced driver distraction and improved control and character input speed compared with the driver interfacing directly with a mobile telephone or navigation system,” Hafner says. The technology recognizes handwritten numbers, letters and symbols. A user “writes” individual characters with a single finger on the touch sensor area. The characters are recognized by software and can be acknowledged by audible feedback, thus enabling complex input without requiring the driver's eyes to leave the road.

Other touch sensor applications include controls for doors and mirrors, air outlet functions, and steering wheel functions. It offers new possibilities for interior design and materials and 3D integration with styled vehicle surfaces.

TRW is developing silicon airbag initiator technology as part of its partnership with the CiS Institut fuer Mikrosensorik GmbH, Erfurt; Munich Technical University, with funding provided by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).

"The use of silicon as a material for airbag igniters is a new concept,” notes Bernhard Vetter, TRW Automotive’s worldwide engineering director for airbag inflators. “We see great opportunities for the integration of electronic components directly on the pyrotechnic activation device. The size of the igniter is reduced because the material produces a higher energy output than normal pyrotechnic materials. It is also positioned in its own sealed housing making it less affected by humidity than normal pyrotechnic materials."

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