TRW Navigates Safety Technology

Engineers at TRW are working on systems that can repurpose information generated from in-vehicle navigation systems to improve occupant safety.

If you thought a vehicle's GPS navigation system was only good for helping to avoid traffic congestion or keeping you on the correct path, you only know half the story. TRW Automotive ( engineers are looking at ways they can leverage the road data information used by in-vehicle navigation systems to improve active safety, while also helping passive safety systems to better respond to impending crashes. The idea is pretty simple, yet complex: enable the vehicle's safety systems to calculate the speed of travel and compare that with the layout of the curves and twists in the road. If the system senses the vehicle is traveling at a higher rate of speed than is recommended for the layout of the road, an alert will be sent to the driver to slow down. If the driver fails to respond, the vehicle could autonomously apply the brakes or use the ESP system, adaptive cruise control or other technologies to slow the vehicle down to a more appropriate speed. Passive safety systems can also be tuned into the system to help reduce occupant injuries if a collision is unavoidable.

"We have been testing these technologies since 2007, working with one of the 3D-mapping system providers to combine our adaptive cruise control system and radar sensors with the road data to reduce accidents," says Alois Seewald, director of research and development and integrated systems and steering technologies at TRW, who envisions a day when the car can "see" a sharp curve up ahead through the navigation system, use other external data—such as weather—to help determine road surface quality, and then use appropriate warnings to tell the driver they need to take action or an accident is possible. "We can actually manage that curve using the mapping data; we can estimate the speed limit and slow the car down and adjust the suspension dynamics so that it can handle any aggressive maneuver," Seewald says. The data can also be used to provide information to the driver on when road conditions permit passing slower moving vehicles.

Beyond keeping the vehicle under control, TRW envisions using the data for improved airbag deployment—even having the airbags deploy milliseconds before an impact. "Several OEMs have told us they would like to deploy the airbag before the car comes to a crash and this is very difficult to calibrate and can be dangerous if not done properly," Seewald says, noting that most of the focus in this area is advanced deployment of side and thorax airbag systems.

OEMs are expressing strong interest in such technologies, but roadblocks remain. Repurposing the mapping data for use with the vehicle's ECU or other control systems isn't the most significant challenge. The most significant obstacle is finding reliable 3D-mapping data that can provide detailed topographical information, such as grade changes, curve degrees and road surface composition.

Magna Zeroes in on Pedestrians

Magna Electronics ( is developing a suite of camera- and sensor-based safety systems to reduce pedestrian accidents by visually identifying and then categorizing figures in the road and then taking appropriate action, such as warning the driver and applying the brakes to stop the vehicle before it makes contact with the pedestrian. The supplier says because the cost of camera-based systems continues to decline, they are the most-affordable option for OEMs looking to deploy these active safety technologies.

Visteon Shines Light on Safety


Visteon ( has developed an advanced predictive front lighting system that uses GPS mapping data to point light beams in the appropriate pattern based on the layout of the road. For example, the system will point the light beam into the curve before the vehicle actually reaches it, providing improved illumination. Besides predictive lighting, the system also uses shadowing technology to reduce the high beam intensity for oncoming drivers. The system uses a camera placed in front of the rear view mirror that to deploy shades when the system detects oncoming light sources.