Chrysler, MIT on Trail of Driver DNA

If you climb into a one-of-a-kind Chrysler 300M in Cambridge, MA, be on your best behavior. You're being watched. Chrysler Group and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have outfitted the 300M IT-Edition with more than 50 sensors, cameras and infrared scanners designed to study the habits of American drivers.

Since June, a demographically diverse group of drivers has taken turns in the 300M IT as Chrysler and the university attempt to answer nagging questions about driver behavior — and suggest ways to minimize it.

Is the driver resting his right elbow on the arm rest? Is she taking a sip from a beverage? How long is only one hand on the wheel? An infrared grid placed directly in front of the center console monitors every time a hand crosses it to reach for a knob. How long does the driver spend on the cell phone (supplied by partner Motorola)? Is he confused, frustrated or stressed? Cameras mounted above the instrument gauges record every facial expression.

Chrysler displayed the 300M IT at the recent Convergence automotive electronics conference in Detroit, and the researchers presented a paper about the project.

“We want to know the state of mind of the driver. We want to measure what the driver is doing,” says Jerry Cilibraise, DC director-chassis engineering for Liberty and Technical Affairs.

Every time a test drive is completed, the MIT Media Laboratory research students plug in a laptop computer to the vehicle network and download reams of data for further study. The system also takes into account vehicle speed, throttle position, brake pressure and steering angle.

How the research impacts future production vehicles remains uncertain. Perhaps cars could have a “filter” that delays, for instance, a low-fuel message on the instrument panel or an incoming cell-phone call if the driver is turning, frustrated or in a panic stop.

The project also could lead to “rewards” for good driver behavior, says MIT Associate Professor Rosalind Picard. For instance, if a driver uses his turn signal to change lanes, a sensor could check the vehicle blind spot and alert the driver if another vehicle is present, she says.

Supplier Pegs Value of Innovations

There's a vast portfolio of new-generation engine technology, and every innovation promises a measurable benefit — but with increased cost.

At Convergence's Clean and Efficient technical session, Steve Kiefer, chief of Delphi Corp.'s engine-management systems business unit, disgorged a torrent of Delphi data to support his co-authored paper, “Economic Analysis of Powertrain Control Technologies.”

“It's becoming more and more important to do economic analysis of (powertrain-related) technologies,” says Kiefer. He presented a complex matrix of technical, regulatory and market-specific variables Delphi employs to “rank” available engine-improving technologies on a cost-benefit scale. Delphi assumes the “primary drivers” are the amount of desired gains in fuel economy, emissions, drivability and diagnostics. Also considered are fuel economy, torque, horsepower, weight and complexity.

The variables are intermixed and include scalable weightings for specific OEMs, different regions of the world and specific markets.

Do the math and Delphi's Economic Value Analysis Process will reveal which innovations deliver the most bang for the budget. The model produces a result that “best represents the total dollar value of that technology to that OEM.”

Delphi asserts that in 2006, a 1% improvement in fuel economy is worth $15 to $17 per vehicle in Europe; $10 to $17 in North America and $9 to $10 in the Asia/Pacific region. A 1% performance gain in those same regions, is worth: $10 to $12; $8 to $10 and $10 to $12, respectively.

Kiefer says it all points to broad regional trends for adoption of certain powertrain technologies. In North America, Delphi's numbers point to variable valve activation for I-4 and V-6 engines and cylinder-deactivation technology for V-8s.

In Europe, the trend points to common rail diesel engines, forced induction to boost the power of reduced-displacement 4-cyl. engines, and gasoline direct-injection systems.

The Asia/Pacific region, he says, is heading in the direction of a higher level of technical sophistication for all engines, as well as an increasing emphasis on hybrid technology.