Small Sensors Drive Big Auto Safety Improvements

Automotive safety has come a long way from the invention of the seatbelt. New sensors and compute capabilities are ushering in advanced protections for everyone—drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Now the task for design engineers is to deploy these technologies quickly and efficiently so their benefits can spread as widely as possible.

Case in point, automobiles are sprouting an ever-growing array of vision sensors, including cameras, lidar and radar. These sensors are enabling vehicles to detect many potential dangers, such as another driver coming up alongside; sudden breaking of the vehicle ahead; or even a child walking behind a car that has shifted into reverse.

With these capabilities, drivers can receive warnings in various forms, whether it’s an illuminated signal on a side mirror, an audible tone or even haptic feedback, like having the driver’s seat vibrate. Sensors can also tie into braking systems, forcing a car into a rapid stop if a driver continues to move toward a collision event. And these same capabilities are critical to the advancement of automated driving.

Upgrading In-Car Networks

As vehicles add more of these sensors—and as sensor resolution increases—bandwidth requirements are skyrocketing. To accommodate the load, in-vehicle networks need to grow capacity without adding weight or taking up more space.

Considering the many varieties of these sensor systems, next-gen vehicles will need multiple new types of cabling and connectors. That’s why developments like the High-Speed FAKRA Mini (HFM) coaxial cable systems are so important. In addition to delivering data speeds up to 20 GHz, the HFM systems are up to 80% smaller than current systems, providing greater design flexibility and the ability to support a multitude of applications. And reliable cables and connectors are critical for the continual performance of these applications.

Safety Beyond the Car

But sensors are only the beginning of the auto safety story. The latest technical concept entering the market is V2X, which stands for vehicle-to-everything. Eventually, V2X will allow automobiles to communicate with other vehicles (V2V), road infrastructure (V2I) and even pedestrians (V2P). Vehicles will provide drivers with rich information that no previous system alone—radar, lidar, or camera—can offer.

The result will be ever-safer vehicles that can also improve comfort and help contribute to systems that create more efficient traffic control. For example, these systems will be able to warn drivers of environmental hazards such as black ice, approaching emergency vehicles, and the presence of pedestrians and cyclists.

The interconnected systems will also bring benefit. When drivers know an emergency vehicle is approaching, for example, they can clear a path and avoid having first responders stuck in traffic. These capabilities will be particularly important as self-driving systems become commonplace, as entire transportations systems will be able to prioritize and optimize traffic patterns.

Integrating Multiple Systems

Making this future a reality will require tight integration between systems—not only so they can communicate with one another, but also so that their physical dimensions can be kept to a minimum and their performance optimized.

Take V2X signaling as an example. To maintain strong connections, a vehicle is likely to need multiple antennas in different locations. By mounting a primary antenna on the roof and a front antenna under the windshield, for instance, engineers can achieve a 360-degree panoramic coverage around the vehicle.

As with sensor systems, these antennas require high-quality connections to ensure sufficient signal strength and signal integrity. To meet the needs for both high-quality connections and maximum integration, Molex developed a V2X antenna system that uniquely integrates a bidirectional into the front antenna. This smart amplifier balances cable losses and optimizes RF power, helping the system become the first officially certified active 802.11p V2X antenna.

New Sensor Types Emerge

While safety innovation has largely focused on vision, other data types have much to offer. For example, audio signals from roads, surroundings and vehicles themselves can reveal complex layers of information that a camera could never capture.

Cars are already using noise cancellation to detect and reduce these sounds for a more comfortable ride. Could these microphones listen for audible clues to potential hazards?

The answer is yes—and it’s already happening. The latest noise cancellation systems can be used within ADAS/AV technology to augment the current spatial sensors. For example, the microphone function can also be used to identify and triangulate Emergency Vehicles located outside of the field of view of the spatial sensors currently employed by ADAS technology. Greater notice and visibility of emergency vehicles en route allows for advanced precaution action.

These examples are only the beginning of what’s possible. New developments that add big capabilities while also reducing size, mass and power consumption are making it easier than ever to build advanced technologies into vehicles. The future of automobile travel will be more comfortable, and safer, thanks in large part to the ongoing advances in sensors and connectors.

Molex brings its heritage in networking and longstanding reputation for product quality and customer collaboration to meet growing consumer needs across the automotive ecosystem, spanning electrification, Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS), automotive high-speed networking, vehicle antenna systems, connected mobility solutions and vehicle-to-everything communications (V2X). With an advanced portfolio of connector and sensor solutions for next generation vehicles, Molex is enabling automotive OEMs to usher in a new era of safer, more enjoyable driving experiences.