Autonomous driving brings new challenges to driving comfort

Q&A with Dr. Jörg Böcking, CTO, Vibracoustic

Autonomous driving is one of the biggest trend topics in the automotive industry and has the potential to revolutionize driving in the upcoming years. Aim is to make the flow of traffic safer and more efficient and to protect the environment. Whether autonomous driving will actually be suitable for mass use in the future remains to be seen; drivers and passengers will then have time for other things during the journey and the requirements for driving comfort and the perception of the driving experience will thus change significantly. This poses challenges not only for manufacturers, but also for suppliers. Vibration control technology can make an important contribution here.

Q: Autonomous driving is to become an integral part of our everyday lives in the future. The road to mass suitability is still a long one, as the necessary technologies are highly complex and the current field trials of some manufacturers are still at the very beginning. What challenges do you see for the automotive industry?
A: Autonomous driving is indeed highly complex, and its successful implementation is influenced by many factors. A special challenge arises as it is a completely new topic for the industry. There is no history or data that manufacturers and suppliers can rely on when developing products and technologies. There is a lack of experience on how autonomous driving will affect the driving experience and perception in the medium and long term. But that is exactly what makes the subject so interesting and awakens our passion for engineering: We work closely with our customers worldwide to find solutions to current and future mobility challenges in our fast-paced industry. Our comprehensive expertise, product portfolio and understanding of the entire vehicle system form the basis; in combination with extensive testing procedures and simulations as well as the development of suitable materials and prototypes, scenarios for autonomous driving and their influence on the driving experience can be simulated very realistically. One thing is certain: if drivers and passengers no longer must concentrate on traffic, they will use the time while driving in a different way, for example enjoying the in-car entertainment system, reading the newspaper or work. This is one of the big challenges for us as a provider of NVH solutions, because time can only be used comfortably if you don't have to fight against discomfort or are distracted or disturbed by vibrations and noise. No matter how connected the systems are, however sophisticated the safety technology, autonomous driving will only be accepted if the passengers feel comfortable and safe during the journey. Here, vibration control technology can make a decisive contribution.

Q: To what extent does vibration control technology play a role in this area, which is mainly characterized by computer-controlled technologies?
A: In principle, vibration control technology contributes to the successful implementation of trends such as autonomous driving – it is crucial for driving comfort. Because driving comfort does not just start with the equipment or the interior of a vehicle, but already with the chassis. The engine and road unevenness generate noise and vibrations that have a noticeable effect on comfort on board. Solutions such as mounts, springs, dampers or absorbers – and air springs – can help. Now, the chassis tuning focuses on the driver. It defines the dynamic characteristics and the decisive driving experience. But as soon as the vehicle drives autonomously, this coordination must change completely and place passive passengers at the center of attention. This is a necessary paradigm shift, so that autonomous driving is perceived as pleasant at all. Switchable air spring systems can help here: Firstly, the air spring keeps the vehicle at a constant level – no matter how heavy it is loaded. On the other hand, the driver can adjust his chassis individually and, for example, choose between a tight sports chassis and a comfortable set-up. Thanks to intelligent switching, we can even offer up to four different degrees of hardness. Especially in the transition period from semi-autonomous to fully autonomous, the driver can thus focus on himself or the passengers and influence driving comfort accordingly.

Q: An important factor in autonomous driving will also be in-car entertainment. Here, vibrations and noise play a decisive role in the user experience, too. What solutions does vibration control technology offer here?
A: More and more vehicles are equipped with entertainment systems for the passengers in the back seat. But the quality of the film or gaming experience depends not only on the content, but also on the vibrations of the vehicle. Movements are transferred to the front seat and thus also to the devices themselves, since these are usually integrated in the seat or the headrest. The result is visible vibrations and thus a limited entertainment experience. This can lead to discomfort or even nausea for the passengers in the back seat. Customized, modular seat dampers with rubber elements provide a remedy. These are specially adapted to the seat and installed in the rear seat back. The vibrations of the seat, especially when no one is sitting on it, are thus reduced significantly.

Q: Voice control is a trend that will certainly become even more important in autonomous driving to make the driving experience even easier and more comfortable.
A: That is also our assumption. More and more voice control features are already finding their way into the vehicles. Using voice commands, you can read and write messages, operate your navigation system, answer or make calls, call up your favorite song and play it at the desired volume – all this will be part of everyday life in the future. However, vibration control technology is necessary to ensure that the integrated microphones required for this can always understand the user reliably. It isolates and dampens disturbing noises and vibrations caused by the drive or road unevenness. Engine mounts, for example, isolate the vibrations that occur when the vehicle starts and prevent or reduce booming noises and load change shocks while driving. Undesired vibrations and excitations from the drive do not even reach the driver or the microphones.

Autonomous driving and vibration control technology go hand in hand in several areas. We are ready for tomorrow's mobility and NVH challenges. Driving comfort will play a decisive role in the development.

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