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Hands off wheel, feet off pedals on a metro Detroit freeway as driver  Andrew Whydell explains his company's SAE Level 2 technology during a recent ZF TRW demonstration. Automated highway driving "is a way to reduce the effort that's needed to drive long distances on the highway while improving safety by keeping the car in the lane and away from other vehicles," he said. (Kami Buchholz photo)

Cameras are focal point at ZF TRW's new global tech center in Michigan

With its newest work space designated a center of excellence for cameras, ZF TRW underscores the critical role that vision-systems technology plays in automated driving.

“As our Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) business grows, we need to do a higher volume of development and testing. With this new  facility, we’re now  much better suited to do that work,” said Brian Loh, Senior Vice President of ADAS in the Active & Passive Safety Technology Division.

Loh and other ZF TRW technologists spoke with Automotive Engineering at the opening of the company’s newly opened $30 million Global Electronics Technical Center in Farmington Hills, MI.

The 171,000 ft2 (15,886 m2) center, staffed by more than 600 engineers and support staff, contains 35,000 ft2 (3252ft 2) of lab space for radio frequency, passive and active safety products, including the company’s S-Cam family of cameras in single- and multiple-lens versions.

“This facility is where the technology is being developed for our TriCam, a tri-focal lens camera with near-, mid-, and fisheye views," Loh said. "With the combination of all three of these lenses, the sensing envelope is much broader than a traditional single lens camera.” The TriCam is slated to enter production in mid-2018 for application on vehicles with automated driving capability.

As the only R&D lab of its kind within ZF TRW, the electronics tech center’s optics-target room enables technical specialists to access a camera’s focus and alignment, according to Mike Babala, Senior Technical Specialist for Optics Engineering.

“Our job in the core optics group is to make sure everything in front of the lens, which is object-based, gets accurately represented behind the lens, which is image space,” Babala explained.

The optics target room is a highly controlled environment, unlike the supplier’s former work space in a converted garage bay. “In the past we had to take special care to be sure that stray light didn’t enter the room from underneath the doors or walls and cause glare on the optic wall targets during measurements,” Babala said, adding, “There’s no stray light in this light-tight lab.”

Raad Konja, Director of ADAS Engineering, said developing a robust and reliable camera system relies on repeatable measurements. “Everything is standardized, so there’s no drift from test to test. The only thing that needs to change are the improvements that we drive into our optical path, which is comprised of a lens, an imager, and the technology that converts the images into electronics,” Konja said.

For the purpose of systems development, the engineers are using four Opel Insignia vehicles equipped with ZF TRW braking and steering. "We’ve added long- and short-range radars and a forward-looking camera with everything cooperatively operating on internally developed algorithms,” Loh said. The cars' SAE Level 2 technologies permit hands-free steering and foot-off pedal control at highway speeds, including lane changes prompted by the driver using the turn indicator.

The roadmap for ZF TRW engineers is to take these R&D cars to SAE Levels 3 and 4 capability. “We’re adding more sophisticated sensors, and now with our 40% stake in Ibeo Automotive Systems GmbH we’re working to add solid-state LiDAR,” Loh said.

Media who attended the new  facility's opening were given the opportunity to ride with Andrew  Whydell, the company's Director of Product Planning and Strategy for Vehicle Systems, which includes the company’s automated driving activities.

“We’re demonstrating technologies that are close to production, and I would say around 2018 you’ll start to see these technologies in the U.S. on passenger vehicles,” Whydell said while the Insignia was traveling at highway speeds on a metro Detroit expressway in its SAE Level 2 automated mode.

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