When did you first get involved with the development of radar systems for cars?
Most of my career in TRW has been involved in radar development, with excursions into other areas like steering. I was first involved in the team that developed the radar that went into the VW Phaeton in 2002.
Since then I’ve been involved in second-generation and now third-generation systems. The work has given me a broad spectrum of knowledge on electronic design for automotive applications.
The Phaeton was one of the first cars to use radar. What were the engineering challenges?
At that time it was about understanding the integration into the vehicle. I spent quite some time at development centres and test tracks doing the initial iterations and trying to get the thing to work.
The interesting thing about radar systems for cars back then was that it was a wholly new technology that hadn’t been used in the automotive sector before. The principal technology was based on military-grade radars. So we had to reduce complexity and bring the cost down.
How has radar technology progressed in recent years?
It’s been a relatively slow evolution. In the early 2000s, the optimists said that we would all quickly be driving with radar systems on our cars. But it has proved to be one of those technologies that takes a lot of time for the public to accept, mainly because of concerns about handing over control of the car to technology.
But, as time went on, Euro Ncap safety assessments resulted in increased interest in using radar for collision detection and mitigation. That sped up development. We started off thinking radar would help the driver primarily as a comfort system for long journeys. But now it is used to improve safety.
That’s where the market is pushing us and that’s where we are going to make our money. For Euro Ncap there is extra points towards five stars if the car has got collision mitigation systems. Eventually we will see such systems on all cars – not just those in the luxury sector.
That’s an example of legislatory pull. But are there signs that drivers actually want assistance technologies on new vehicles?
Getting the public to accept these technologies has been much slower than we thought it would be. At the moment we have assistance and safety systems where the driver is still very much in control. That will change. Look at anti-lock brakes – they control the brake pressure on the vehicle without the driver realising. It took years for those systems to be accepted but now everyone wants them. I think we will get to that stage with radar.
How will the technology progress and what will that mean for the motorist?
There is much work on camera development within TRW. We are now getting into an area where we are going to be able to fuse data from both radar and cameras, using multiple sensors to build up a picture of exactly what’s going on. It’s a new beginning of an exciting phase of development. We are once again pushing the boundaries of what we can do with electronics.
So what projects are you working on now?
I’m working on third-generation radar systems. One such system is going into production next year on a C-segment vehicle for a European OEM and we are getting towards the end of development for that. The drivers are smaller systems and better distance detection. And cheaper. We are also working on the next generation of cameras, integrating them with radar so that data can be shared. I’m at the forefront of TRW activity in that area.
As an engineer, what do you most enjoy about such work?
It’s the same as it was in the early days of radar – we are working on new technology that others have not developed yet. It’s also interesting working closely with the manufacturing side of the business. That can be a challenge, trying to get an established production line to do things in a slightly different way.
Looking forward, where do you see your career going?
I see myself moving more into management. I’m happy to do that. I enjoy the process of working on projects that are multi-site and multi-cultural across different continents. I’m also very keen to work with the next generation of engineering talent coming out of university and helping to mentor them. TRW is always trying to develop teams that have the best blend of technical and managerial people. There’s a lot of exciting times ahead in the automotive industry in terms of hybrid vehicles and energy-efficient technologies. The automotive sector offers a huge opportunity as it is an incredibly fast-moving industry.
Radar technology was adopted on the VW Phaeton as part of its automatic distance control (ADC) system which was developed to keep a safe margin between the car and the vehicle in front.
The system detects if traffic ahead slows down and automatically reduces speed. If the Phaeton is too close to the car in front, the driver is warned with visual and acoustic signals, and then with a short braking jolt. If necessary, the system will bring the car to a complete halt.
The ADC controls the brakes and accelerates the car within a preset range. It does this in conjunction with the front assist system which primes the brakes if it senses a collision is likely.