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Auto electronics at SEMA and AAPEX: A brave new world

The Specialty Equipment Market Association celebrated its 50th annual SEMA show at Las Vegas Convention Center this month by showcasing a car culture of “do-it-yourself” garage mechanics who share a passion for customizing vehicles.

SEMA 2016 was staged at the same time the Automobile Aftermarket Product Expo celebrated its annual event in Las Vegas. The two trade shows shared reciprocal admissions policies, so registered visitors to one trade show also could attend the second.

AAPEX exhibitors featured products for maintenance and repair of existing stock, manufactured vehicles, while SEMA exhibitors featured products that enhance and customize driving performance, body styling, comfort, convenience and safety of automotive platforms.

John Waraniak, vice president of vehicle technology at SEMA, led a forum with the theme “Fast, Smart, Cool and Connected.” The panel discussed automotive technologies on the horizon in the next five to 10 years and the challenges they present to the aftermarket customization industry, as well as to vehicle repair and maintenance.

“GM and Ford are competing with Apple and Google over automotive technology,” Waraniak said. “The ‘cool’ factor of a car may shift to the inside of the vehicle.”

By 2025, government standards will mandate that manufacturers achieve average vehicle fuel efficiencies of 54.5 miles per gallon. Waraniak felt this goal could not be achieved without vehicle electrification technologies that use electric drive trains with advanced batteries, sensors and computer control technologies.

The panel also noted the auto industry movement to embrace advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, as well as autonomous self-driving features. These technologies should ideally improve transportation safety through the high-speed interaction of onboard sensors and vehicle control systems that can outperform human senses and reaction times.

Today’s production automobiles are more complex than aircraft systems, containing up to 100 million lines of embedded software code, 50 to 100 digital processor chip sets, multiple sensor systems, several layers of stacked software operating systems and miles of copper-wired communication network such as CAN, LIN, FlexRay and Ethernet.

All these elaborate systems need to work together in order to continuously deliver the same reliable responses for vehicle handling, comfort and performance.

Mitchell 1, a software tools provider for independent automotive repair shops, organized a tour of both the Delphi and Bosch exhibit booths during AAPEX 2016 to show off new ADAS components that repair technicians will encounter, as well as the terms and acronyms used to define them.

These included RADAR (radio detection and ranging), RACam (radar and camera), ESR (electronically scanning radar), LIDAR (light imaging detection and ranging), IFV (intelligent forward view camera), LDW (lane departure warning), PCW (pedestrian collision warning), EPS (electric power steering) and TSR (traffic sign recognition).

Any of these systems can be affected by a collision that throws calibrated sensors out of alignment. Manufacturers of aftermarket enhancement products also will need to be aware of how customized body components affect the operation of existing sensor safety systems on a production vehicle.

Repairing a damaged vehicle to bring it back to factory-built condition can involve much more than just straightening the chassis frame, restoring the body form and touching up the paint. Sensors must be recalibrated, then tested as a system with related sensors and then verified at a third level to ensure the repaired combination of sensors is communicating effectively with other interactive systems.

Vehicle intelligence restoration will need to be accomplished by an automotive technician, who first must test each sensor system individually with unique calibration jigs in a static repair garage environment, then follow up with more dynamic testing under real-world driving conditions.

Onboard diagnostic systems and software tools can help simplify this process by allowing a technician to plug a laptop or tablet computer into a standard OBD II connector on each modern vehicle, then follow sequential menus displayed on the screen to walk through the unique testing procedures associated with each make and model.

Bosch diagnostic software tools perform an immediate scan of the onboard VIN from the vehicle under test, in order to identify all the components and options available, then load the appropriate testing menus and application software.

Before self-driving cars can usher in a brave new world of transportation experiences, the auto industry will need to ensure that service technicians can deliver continuous, reliable support for all these vehicles’ internal processing systems.

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