The feminine intellect behind the 2013 Ford Fusion Driver-Assist Technology

Early orders for the all-new 2013 Ford Fusion show roughly one in six new buyers are opting for the Driver Assist Package, that incorporates the Blind Spot Information System with Ford’s Lane-Keeping System, auto high-beams and rain-sensing wipers. This week Torque News talked with two women behind the technology once found only in premium vehicles.

Rebecca L. Seiler is an Active Safety Product Engineer for Ford who after school, joined the graduate program for new hires, allowing relatively free movement among departments to find their niche. She found technology moving towards controlling electro-mechanical systems and the possibility of a career developing software to autonomously control vehicle functioning. Finding this of great interest, she returned to college for a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, focused on Control Systems. When she to returned to Ford, she joined the advanced engineering Active Safety department and began writing algorithms for Ford's collision warning and mitigation technologies.

Jennifer D. Shaw is the Driver Assistance Electronics Supervisor at Ford Motor Company was hired after earning her Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She began by working in the Body and Security Electronics (BSE) department on projects concerning remote vehicle entry and engine immobilization. In a year, she moved into the Sustainable Mobility Technologies unit, working on the Focus Electric before returning to BSE and the Driver Assistance Electronics department.

Seiler writes algorhythmic codes to control advanced safety systems. Shaw has been working with sensors and the systems they control, like blind spot vehicle detection, parking assistance and rear proximity alerts.

Ford recently commissioned a survey by Penn Schoen Berland of American drivers over 18 to assay the prevailing attitude on Driver Assistance technology.

“We found the drivers we talked to were definitely inclined toward features that provided real practical benefits by alerting them to potentially hazardous situations they may have missed,” said Billy Mann, managing director of Penn Schoen Berland. “For them, assistance features that increase awareness ranked high among their priorities.”

Ford is taking the lead in making these advanced technologies available in mainstream vehicles. They have developed a suite of Driver Assistance technologies to mitigate the risks of driving – features previously only available in cars costing $50 to $60K or more. A lot of credit for that goes to these two feminine intellects and their hard work.

Torque News inquired how much of their time was devoted to system development as compared to systems testing?

“The majority of my job consists of developing software algorithms and testing them to ensure we've met the requirements of the system,” Seiler replied. “Our development process is flexible enough to change the code and/or calibrations directly on the test track and see immediate results.”

“We first start with a concept of what we would like the system to do,” she added. “In the development of an active safety feature we are juggling customer wants, internal requirements and government regulations. It may take weeks to develop the first level of code. Once we have a version of code that meets our initial requirements, we have the tools to evaluate the functionality both in simulation and in the vehicle. Our test vehicle set-up allows communication with the rest of the vehicle systems. This provides a framework to fully test our feature and the interaction with other systems in the vehicle.”

“My specialty is in the collision warning with brake support feature, which is also available on the new Fusion,” Seiler continued. “Collision warning with brake support utilizes a radar in the front of the vehicle to detect possible collisions with other vehicles in your driving path.”

If the system concludes a collision is imminent, the driver will get an audible and visual warning, while the system pre-charges the brakes and engages electronic brake assist system to maximize deceleration and vehicle stopping distance.

“The conception of collision warning and mitigation systems started with the adaptive cruise control technology,” she said. ”We wanted to expand the assistance we could provide to the driver utilizing the already existing radar on the vehicle.”

Over the course of a year, she spends about 60 percent of her time at the computer developing code and the rest testing the results of her efforts.

Over the last six months, Shaw and her team have worked on three separate systems available on the 2013 Ford Fusion.

“Part of my group develops video camera systems – on the Fusion we have a really nice rear video camera that includes some advanced features, like dynamic guidelines, visual park assist, and zoom capability,” Shaw said. “We also develop Blind Spot monitoring and Cross Traffic Alert systems, which are radar-based. When you’re in drive the radar detects vehicles in your blind spot and when you’re in reverse it detects vehicles coming from either direction as cross traffic.

“The third system we work on is the Auto Park and proximity sensing features – those are ultrasonic based and use ultrasonic sensors to detect when something’s behind the car.”

These systems have developed to such a degree they can parallel park for you.

“We actually work with the electronic steering system to automatically parallel park the vehicle for the customer. The customer controls the brake and accelerator pedals, but the vehicle controls the steering. When the vehicle identifies a parking space big enough, it will automatically steer itself into the space.”

“Many of the things we’ve been working on aren’t offered on mainstream vehicles,” Shaw observed, “but are features relegated to the luxury market and they are typically very expensive features. We’ve tried to put together a really nice Driver Assist program package for the drivers of the Ford Fusion so buyers don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to get the same features that someone would get in a luxury vehicle. We think that will pull people to the Fusion, because they will get this very attractive level of features at a reasonable price.”

“We are excited about the collision warning with brake support feature in the MY2013 Fusion,” Seiler interjected. “The NHTSA safety ratings now include assessments of crash avoidance technologies such as Electronic Stability Control, Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning. We were able to meet the new Forward Collision Warning safety criteria utilizing radar-only technology while other competitors achieve this functionality with radar and camera.”

The fact these two women have been able to accomplish more with less technology brings such benefits closer to the mainstream in Ford automobiles. They are looking into getting more from the technology with the addition of cameras, but at present the Fusion’s systems use an economy of tech to orchestrate a virtual symphony of safety.

One last aspect of the process we’ll all be grateful for is Seiler and Shaw’s efforts to keep Driver Assistance and Active Safety technology in its place.

“There are always environmental factors you have to work around,” added Shaw. “We do a lot of tuning on these systems to make sure they detect what they’re supposed to detect and don’t become an annoyance to the owner.”

What will the next level of Driver Assist technology bring to Ford’s new vehicles?

“We are always developing ways to provide more assistance to the driver in more driving situations", Seiler said, “as the sensor technology advances we can add more functionality accordingly.”

They may also expand into the use of more cameras and the resolution will continue to get better. More advanced auto-park features are also in the offing. Of course, the auto industry is highly competitive so they could only say so much of what tomorrow will bring.

One thing is certain, though. These two feminine intellects will continue to apply their considerable and incisive brainpower to further the technological sophistication of the automobile – in the service of the Ford owners of the future.

The 2013 Ford Fusion and its Driver Assistance Technology is a shining testament to their efforts.

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