HELLA is working on several technological innovations when it comes to the seating technology for cars of the future. These include getting the rear seats of an SUV to fold and unfold at the push of a button, integrating ambient lights into the seating design and locking and unlocking turntable seats in autonomous vehicles.
Currently, at its plants in Lippstadt, Germany as well as those in Plymouth, England and in Xiamen, China Hella is working on semi-automated seat architecture that is designed to meet needs that might arise in the future like those of a population that is ageing at a fast pace, the emergence of “megacities,” the high popularity of SUVs and a greater degree of automation in vehicles.
HELLA has already made a name for itself in the automotive aftermarket as a manufacturer and supplier of actuators, electronic control units, and position sensors to automotive companies in North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region. The new seating innovations will help HELLA to meet the growing demand for premium-car seating and interior features among buyers of mid-range and compact-cars.
The company’s team of product planners and development engineers are taking a keen interest in coming up with features that will eventually help rotate seats, adjust backrests, and even move complete rows of seats.
Speaking about the drive to develop new seating solutions, Gary Hawkins, vice president of Program Management for HELLA Electronics in the Americas said that optional “smart” latch actuators can be used to adjust the backrests of front and back seats, lock and unlock front seats to facilitate entry and allow for the fold down of second- and third-row seating. The seating functions that are thus designed with these “smart” latch actuators will minimize the need for separate sensors and electronics. Using the control unit platform, automotive manufacturers and seat suppliers can effortlessly add a number of features into a seat’s architecture, including ambient lighting, ventilation, heating and cooling.
HELLA’s Project Director for Interior Lighting, Roberto Bastida, who is based in Guadalajara, Mexico,said that the company is expanding its range of interior light options by developing seats that incorporate reading lights and ambient lighting. Integrated reading lights can serve as good light sources for both front and rear seat passengers and can go a long way towards reducing distracting interior glare.
Other technologies that are likely to receive attention in the future include incorporation of sensors to measure health parameters like skin temperature, brain activity, heart rate, respiration, and electrocardiogram information, in addition to the passenger’s height and weight, especially in the case of self-driving or autonomous vehicles. Using technologies like these, it might become possible in the future for the elderly or disabled to continue to drive safely for a longer period of time.
As of 2016, HELLA has produced over 35 million actuators, sensors and electronic control units for a variety of seating applications and system solutions in the past 15 years and expects the market for “luxury” seating features in mid and compact size cars to grow at a steady pace of 10 percent or more on an annual basis in the future.
“Semi-automated seating architecture will allow auto makers to reduce complexity and the cost of easy-entry seating, backrest adjustments, interior lighting and a host of other ‘luxury’ and safety-related seating features,” Hawkins explains. “We fully expect a variety of driver-assistance, ambient-lighting and health functions will be integrated into car seats in the future.”
HELLA Electronics in Plymouth, Michigan, will have global responsibility for the overall development of semi-automated seat architecture with global design responsibility for electronic control units in the U.S. HELLA locations in China and Europe will continue to be responsible for the design of actuators, sensors and interior lighting.
Hawkins predicted that new-car buyers can expect to see many more mid and compact size vehicles with ‘premium’ seating features in the future as several leading manufacturers like GM, Ford and Renault have already begun to offer some of these features in the U.S., China and Europe. Hawkins said that the rising popularity of SUVs has led to a corresponding increase in demand for flexibility and the greater safety and comfort that semi-automated seating technology can offer.
Hamid Moaref has always been fascinated by cars and the automotive industry. His family has a longstanding association with the industry and has been in the tire business for the past 35 years. Raised in Dubai, Hamid attended Capilano University in Vancouver where he graduated with a BBA in marketing before attending an intensive course in magazine publishing in 2005. He has been the publisher and chief editor of Tires & Parts magazine for the past ten years.
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