Hella Working On High-Tech Auto Seating

PLYMOUTH — Hella, the German auto supplier with U.S. operations in Plymouth, announced that it’s working on advanced new auto seating technology — for example, locking and unlocking “turntable” seating in autonomous vehicles, or folding and unfolding an SUV’s rear seats.

Semi-automated seat architecture under development at Hella, as well as locations in China and Germany, is designed to meet a wide variety of future market needs created by the emergence of “megacities,” aging populations, the growing popularity of SUVs and interest in the development of automated vehicles.

Further development of the existing architecture is being driven by the company’s product planners and development engineers and will expand the architecture offering to include features that will help adjust backrests, rotate seats, move entire rows of seats and even have the ability to support future active safety concepts.

Gary Hawkins, vice president of Program Management for Hella Electronics in the Americas notes that optional smart latch actuators can be used to lock and unlock front seats for easy entry, adjust front and rear seat backrests, and allow for the fold down of second- and third-row seating. Seating functions designed with smart latch actuators will reduce the need for separate sensors and electronics as well.

With the control unit platform, car makers and seating suppliers can easily add a number of features into a seat’s architecture, including heating, cooling, ventilation, and interior lighting.

Based in Guadalajara, Mexico, Hella’s Project Director for Interior Lighting, Roberto Bastida, says the company is developing seat-integrated reading and ambient lighting to improve both comfort and safety. Seat-integrated reading lights, for example, can reduce distracting interior glare and provide efficient light sources for both front- and rear-seat passengers.

In addition to seat-integrated lighting, automakers can work with suppliers on further possibilities such as sensors that monitor brain activity, skin temperature, respiration, pulse rates and electrocardiogram information, as well as passenger weight and position. According to Hawkins, these are likely to be of special interest in the design of self-driving or autonomous vehicles. With features like this, future vehicles may enable the elderly or disabled to continue to drive safely for longer.

Hella has provided auto makers and suppliers with more than 35 million actuators, sensors and electronic control units for a variety of seating applications and system solutions over the past 15 years and expects an annual growth rate of 10 percent or more for luxury seating features in compact and mid-size vehicles 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 said. “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 will have global responsibility for the overall development of semi-automated seat architecture with global design responsibility for electronic control units in the United States. Hella locations in China and Europe will continue to be responsible for the design of actuators, sensors and interior lighting.

“New-car buyers can expect to see a significant growth in the availability of premium seating features in mid- and compact-size vehicles in the coming years,” Hawkins said. “In fact, several car manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors and Renault already have started to offer some of these features in the U.S., China and Europe. The growing popularity of sport utility vehicles will add to the demand for the economical back-seat flexibility, comfort and safety provided by semi-automated seating technology.”

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