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Dr. Marc Rosenmayr holds a tablet with a rendering to illustrate how Hella's IDD technology functions. In this example, a collision with a shopping cart occurs while the driver is elsewhere. For a connected car, IDD would send a real-time message to the driver's smartphone that vehicle damage has occurred. 

Hella's vehicle-damage detection technology moves toward production

A technology that uses acoustic signals to detect vehicle exterior damage can use the connected car network to inform the driver’s smartphone that the vehicle has sustained a dent, scratch, or other harmful hit.

“Intelligent Damage Detection (IDD) is a great example of how you can connect the vehicle with the user beyond just the normal driving applications," noted Dr. Marc Rosenmayr, CEO of Electronics North and South America for Hella Electronics Corp. "This technology works not only when you are driving, but it works if you are away from the car,” 

After more than 18 months of advanced engineering work that included a pre-development project with a European automaker, Hella’s IDD technology is now in the series production development stage, Dr. Rosenmayr told Automotive Engineering.

The springboard for IDD is Hella’s Structural Health And Knock Emission (SHAKE), which provides the basic hardware and software foundation for different functions and applications, according to lead engineer Klaas Hauke Baumgärtel.

“One of these applications is the function of IDD, which allows for the identification of scratches and dents on the outer shell of the vehicle in real-time,” he explained. In a connected vehicle application, an immediate damage notice could be messaged to the driver’s smartphone, an automotive dealership, police, or another source.

Hella’s engineering team has performed numerous destructive tests in the lab and on the road as a means of distinguishing vehicle damage vibrational patterns from those of non-damaging car sound patterns.

IDD’s intelligence relates to the precise interpretation and classification of sensor-identified acoustic signals, and how those inputs correlate to a scratch, a dent, or a slammed door.

“It took us several years to develop such a competence," Baumgärtel noted. "It was an ambitious task to find a combination of signal features to separate all of the non-damaging and damaging signals. But finally, we have made it.”

Depending on the vehicle application, between four and 11 sensors are used to obtain acoustic signals from the car’s outer panels.

“Each sensor unit contains a small control unit for the analysis, interpretation, and classification of the signals. Based on this decentralized approach, each sensor is able to judge the signal and only delivers an incident message to the body control module or comfort control module if the signal has been classified as critical,” explained Baumgärtel.

Virtual vehicle observation technology is gaining industry traction. For instance, BMW reported on its ‘Bumper Detect’ sensor system R&D work during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show.

Hella’s damage detection technology relies on acoustic sensors. “For this application field, we found out [through in-house testing] that other sensor technologies are not precise enough and have a different focus of detection,” Baumgärtel said. While ultrasonic and radar are good at detecting objects, the sensors “are not so good for monitoring surfaces,” he added.

Dr. Kristian Döscher, Head of Hella’s Global Marketing for Original Equipment, pointed out that an IDD application can be connected to the existing wiring harness in a vehicle.

“IDD will be an appealing technology to OEMs. But it will also appeal to vehicle sharing and car rental companies because they have frequent driver changes,” said Döscher. “Whenever a vehicle is damaged, it’s important to know when it occurred.”

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