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September/October  2004

Off the Line
      oem news from detroit

Express Yourself:
A Car that Can Really Emote

The New York Times recently reported that four inventors working for Toyota in Japan have been granted a patent for a car that they say can help drivers communicate better by glaring angrily at another car cutting through traffic as well as appear to cry, laugh, wink or just look around. 

According to the article, the inventors’ patent explains their desire to give drivers more than a single-note horn to communicate with other drivers. The horn, the inventors explain, sounds the same no matter the intended message, be it one of anger, thanks or friendly gesture. Kenji Mori, Naoto Kitagawa, Akihiro Inukai and Simon Humphries work for Toyota Jidosha Kabushiki Kaisha of Japan, which owns the U.S. patent issued last month. 

Their patent further outlines a car with an adjustable body height, headlights that vary in intensity, an antenna that will have the capability to wag and hood slits and ornamentation designed to look like eyebrows, eyelids and tears, all of which could glow with colored lights to create “moods” and physical features. 

If the patented car comes to fruition, the car will have a computer and software system that will detect road and vehicle conditions like steering angle, braking or speed. 

“The headlights, antenna and windshield and exterior panels can be regarded as the vehicle’s eyes, tail and a body surface,” the inventors write. As a baseline, they describe a “sleeping” car as one with “the shutters, or eyes, closed, the antenna limp, and the glass and exterior panel are a dark color, and the vehicle height is lowered.” 

An “awake” car would have “open shutters, headlights fringed with complementary ‘eyebrows,’ an erect antenna and brighter glass and exterior panels.” 

Data on the state of the car, the road and the driver are collected and stored in the car’s computer, which attributes points to certain factors - like “the occupant reacts to reckless cutting in,” or speed, handling angle or brake pressure - that might contribute to an angry response. When enough points are accumulated to indicate anger, the computer’s software will trigger a reaction in the car’s appearance. 

The patent includes a chart that shows how the car might display a number of emotions. It shows categories that correlate driver reaction, road or car condition to color and position of features like the “eyebrow,” the antenna, the headlights and the vehicle height. 

For anger, the hood lighting color glows red, the eyebrow lights up, and the headlights, antenna and height are in standard position. 

The inventors also say their idea, which was awarded patent No. 6,575,593, is not just for cars but could also be used on motorcycles, ships or aircraft. 

DaimlerChrysler Wants to Sell Pollution-Free Cars
DaimlerChrysler has announced that it hopes to sell pollution-free, fuel-cell cars to the public within a decade but acknowledges that making them cheap enough will be its toughest challenge.

“We can expect to see a commercialization of fuel-cell cars in 10 years,” DaimlerChrysler’s head of technology and environmental communications Edith Meissner said here as the company delivered five cars for road testing in the Southeast Asian city-state.

Prototype hydrogen-fuelled vehicles typically cost US$1mil to US$2mil each, including the US$200,000 cost of making the fuel cell itself, according to industry estimates. 

“At the moment, the cost is the biggest challenge we face. We are sure that with the economies of scale and the development of the techniques we will reach the goal,”’ she added.

The announcement was reported on the AP Newswire in July.

Hyundai Introduces Tucson SUV with Front Windshield De-Icer
Hyundai has introduced the Tuscon sport utility vehicle (SUV), its first entry into the small SUV market. The vehicle is equipped with a front windshield de-icer, heated outside rear view mirrors, tinted glass, rear intermittent wiper, a power sunroof with tilt and rear privacy glass.

Jeep Rescue Features Smart Glass
Research Frontiers of Woodbury, N.Y., has announced that its SPD-smart glass is being used on the new DaimlerChrysler Jeep Rescue. nspecTech Aero Service is the SPD licensee who worked with DaimlerChrysler to bring this innovation about. In addition, another Research Frontiers’ licensee, Laminated Technologies/LTI Smart Glass, I did the lamination work for the Jeep Rescue’s 9-square-foot SPD-Smart retractable sunroof. Hankuk Glass Industries/SPD Inc., another licensee, provided ultra-dark SPD light-control film for this vehicle.

Volkswagen Utilizes Gentex Mirrors
Zeeland, Mich.-based Gentex Corp. has begun shipping interior and exterior automatic-dimming mirrors for Volkswagen’s 2004 Golf. The car currently is available in Europe and is expected to be available in North America in 2005.

Gentex automatic-dimming mirrors automatically darken to reduce glare from the headlamps of vehicles approaching from the rear; the brighter the glare, the darker the mirrors become.

For the German market, a base feature Gentex interior mirror will be standard on the comfort line and as part of a rain sensor and headlamp control package on the Sport and Trend lines. Driver- and passenger-side exterior auto-dimming mirrors will be a stand-alone option on all three lines.

“This is a significant program for Gentex because the Golf is the leading vehicle in the European market, where more than 60 percent of all Golf models are sold,” said Gentex executive vice president Garth Deur. “We expect Gentex interior mirrors to be on a high percentage of the Golf models sold worldwide.

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