NOVI, MI – While advanced safety and performance aids are providing new vehicles with ever-greater functionality with less driver involvement, Robert Bosch LLC believes linking together these various technologies will yield an even more-satisfying experience for consumers.

The thinking falls under the supplier’s new Vehicle Motion and Safety initiative, which aims to connect active-safety and dynamic systems for maximized driver protection, comfort and vehicle agility, Kay Stepper, marketing director-chassis systems controls, says at the recent Vehicle Dynamics Expo 2008 here.

“Our unique system-development process allows us to offer new functionality by linking existing vehicle technologies,” he says in a statement. “We’re not just providing a component; we offer the entire system solution our customers are looking for.”

Among Bosch’s suite of advanced comfort features are night vision, adaptive cruise control and automated parking systems, while driver-safety elements include lane-departure warning, predictive brake assistance and electronic stability control-enabled rollover prevention and trailer-sway mitigation.

ESC-based advancements geared to improve vehicle dynamics include active steering aids that build on the driver’s inputs and brake-enabled torque vectoring and hill-descent control, among others.

Although Stepper says it’s unlikely all of the company’s systems will appear on one vehicle, the features are expected to trickle down from high-end models to entry-level vehicles, much like other innovative technologies have in the past.

“It’s like a pool (of technologies), where auto makers can dive in and grab the elements they want,” he says, noting the proliferation of Autosar-like electronics standards and FlexRay communication will aid the connection of active systems in future vehicles.

Bosch’s domain control unit (DCU), for example, goes into production next year, potentially reducing the number of microprocessors in a vehicle by integrating redundant sensors into the electronic control unit, itself.

The DCU is scalable and Autosar- and FlexRay-compatible, allowing for greater connectivity by simplifying the overall electronic architecture.

However, suppliers such as Bosch, as well as auto makers, must be mindful of how much control they take away from the driver, Stepper says, adding the situation depends on the human-machine interface and if the driver realizes the car is acting on its own or not.

“The question of reliance on technology always comes up with each new (product) introduction, but the data shows past introductions, such as antilock brakes and ESC, have reduced traffic fatalities,” he says

ESC, which Bosch introduced to the market on the '95 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, actually is active braking technology and operates separately from the driver, Stepper adds, noting the U.S. FMVSS 126 regulation requires ESC to be standard on all '12 models with gross-vehicle weights less than 10,000 lbs. (4,536 kg).

To this end, the supplier is rolling out on the new '09 Ford F-150 pickup a version of its eighth-generation Electronic Stability Program geared specifically for light trucks.

The ESP8T operates the same as the car-oriented variant, yet is more robust to handle the greater forces exhibited by the weight of a fullsize truck.

Among the unique aspects taken into account for truck applications are changes in weight distribution from large payloads, rollover characteristics stemming from a truck’s higher center of gravity and the incorporation of trailer-sway control when towing heavy loads.

In addition, ESP8T can be adapted for use on three-quarter and 1-ton heavy-duty pickups, which currently are not required to feature ESC but likely will in the future.

“We’re supporting and assisting the driver, not taking anything away,” Stepper says. “If anything, ESP (and other technologies) adds to the experience by improving dynamic performance.”

Still, the proliferation of active driver aids is inevitable if the industry’s goal of accident-free driving is to be realized, he says, noting auto makers’ concerns about taking too much control away from the driver is one reason they are progressing incrementally, rather than applying everything available all at once.

“It’s important to act today (to improve driver safety), just in small steps,” Stepper says, stressing auto makers, suppliers, regulatory bodies and various third-party organizations will continue to study how new technologies impact the way people drive.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised to see regulations in the future requiring forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems, similar to ESC.”

msutton@wardsauto.com