International automotive supplier Continental is using intelligent electronics to transform car seats into multifunctional component features. The company provides the controls for diverse electric adjustments, sees to the integration of air conditioning, and realizes memory, massage, and numerous safety functions. “We make a wide range of seat functions possible and use innovative electronic controls to ensure that all passengers can enjoy a comfortable, relaxed, and safe journey,” explains Andreas Wolf, head of Continental’s Body & Security business unit. Continental has only very recently begun supplying the massage function for the new Mercedes S-Class. At the same time, Continental is working to develop a link between smartphones and the seat system for further personalization of seating functions. A demonstrator of this technology will be shown by Continental at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) 2013.
Electronic controls for seating set up
Position adjustment is a basic seat function. For a long time now, drivers and passengers have had more options than just that of adjusting the seat back and the amount of leg room. Modern seat systems offer up to ten different adjustment axes in the seat’s backrest, cushions, and headrests. They cover everything from the length of the thigh rests and the height of the shoulder pads through to the width of lumbar support. To accommodate these, some seats have eleven integrated electric motors, controlled by Continental electronics. A simple “On” or “Off” doesn’t do the trick here. Indeed, vehicle passengers want to be able to very finely adjust their seats, requiring a rather slow adjustment process. The electric entry assist system of the kind found in coupés and cabrios, on the other hand, must not become a test of patience for driver and passengers.
The electronics also control the memory function with integrated anti-pinch protection. At the press of a button, the seat moves into a position conforming exactly to the driver’s own saved settings. If this function is linked up with the car key, the driver’s seat moves into the individually preset position before the driver even gets into the car. For this to work, the system has to be able to accurately determine the seat’s position before activating the adjustment motors. That’s because the electronics have to know the present positioning of the seat before they can move it into any of the other saved positions. To ensure this, Continental has developed an intelligent, self-adjusting algorithm that gets by without additional sensors. Continental’s electronics and software solutions are also functionally scalable. This allows for seat comfort functions in vehicles in the lower and medium price segment as well.
Comfort thanks to an electronically controlled massage
Another comfort feature in modern car seats are pneumatic systems that can reduce strain by providing special support for individual parts of the body. These employ special air cushions located underneath the upholstery and covers. More than a dozen of these are integrated into some vehicles to provide — in addition to static systems that can be set manually by drivers and passengers — dynamic solutions as well. These promptly alter the seat contour and adjust the support or the lateral hold in response to the road — when cornering at high speed, for example. In addition to air cushions and airlines, more powerful compressors are needed here. Fast switching valves and a central control unit complete the pneumatic seat system. “This field of technology is gaining in importance. Initial massage functions are now already being offered in mid-range vehicles. So, we are making big strides to expand our expertise. We are integrating more and more pneumatic products and functions into seats,” notes Andreas Wolf, explaining the strategy behind Continental’s activities.
Climate management in and on the seat
A modern car seat incorporates ever more heating, ventilation, and air conditioning technologies. Here as well, the controls must be capable of doing more than just switching components on and off. For example, there is also the option of separately regulating the temperature of the seat’s surface and backrest, above all gradually in several steps. In luxury-class vehicles, for example, the temperature of the seats can be adjusted in up to four separate zones to suit the passengers’ individual needs. Active seat ventilation ensures thermal comfort for both the driver and front passenger, even in cars experiencing a major heat buildup. Small ventilators in the seat cushions suck in the air beneath the seats and evenly distribute cooler air across the entire seat surface. An innovative head-level heating system ensures optimum climate-controlled comfort in a cabrio and makes open-top driving comfortable – even at low external temperatures. Just like the active seat cooling system, ventilators on the back of the headrests suck in air. The air is heated and flows out again from air vents in the front of the seat to act as an invisible scarf, warming the front passengers neck and shoulders.
The networked car seat
Thanks to the seat’s electronics, Continental can now offer the complete range of options for greater seating comfort. It has taken the next logical step and created a seat prototype that will be shown at Frankfurt Motor Show IAA 2013. This allows drivers to use their home computers or tablet PCs to configure a very individual comfort program tailored to their specific needs. From seat heating and blower functions to individual adjustment of the preferred massage setting, drivers can create a comfort program that suits their requirements.
So many technologies into a simple car seat. Are the customers really asking for so many features?