The new age of automotive seating
Smart Seat Positioning to Improve Driver Wellbeing
Innovation in the automotive seating market is moving at pace, with new concepts coming to the fore to meet new challenges. Safety and comfort remain priorities for auto manufacturers, but advances in ergonomics and biomechanics have offered designers new possibilities for seat function - aided and abetted by advanced electronics and computing power.
The move towards autonomous driving is also a key driver in the seating sector, as OEM’s consider the way seats will develop as driver responsibility diminishes. How can the interior be reconfigured to allow passengers in autonomous vehicles more freedom and luxury? How can seats facilitate the transition between autonomous driving and passing control back to the driver? These are questions that automotive designers are beginning to answer with a number of conceptual ideas of how the future interiors will develop.
In addition, the health and wellbeing of drivers is another consideration, with cameras and sensors now able to track occupants for signs of drowsiness or lack of concentration. Posture and comfort are huge factors in seat design, and personalized seat positioning is an exciting concept already penetrating the market. Can this be extended to ‘smart’ seats which assess the driver and react accordingly? Can the seat, in combination with interior lighting and warning systems, help the driver to stay alert thus avoiding potential accidents?
According to a report by Frost and Sullivan, Health, Wellness and Wellbeing technologies are on the verge of being integrated into new vehicles. Non-critical features such as reconfigurable seating and mood lighting are expected to penetrate 30-40% of new cars on the market by 2018, while functions such as blood pressure monitoring are predicted to be present in 5% of cars by 2025.
The concept of autonomous driving could fundamentally change the nature of the car seat, but there are a number of challenges in that transition. Fully self-driving cars are not predicted to penetrate the market until 2030 and beyond, but advanced driver assistance systems are already being integrated into new vehicles. Ultimately, the car seat may be considered a rest area, work station, or entertainment center, but in the short term the driver must be able to intervene and assume responsibility as driving and traffic situations demand.
Connectivity becomes very important in this context. Integrating the seat into the exchange of data in the vehicle’s electronic systems, will enable it to make quick and automatic adjustments as circumstances require. With electric motors controlling functions such as massage, back padding and leg support, the seat can make a positive contribution to posture, alertness and alleviating fatigue. Further, the seat could, for example, vibrate and automatically revert to a steering position when the driver is required to take control of the vehicle.
The concept of reconfigurable seating for autonomous vehicles is an exciting one, but at present restraint systems have not been developed which could protect occupants facing in a transverse direction to that which the car is travelling. This is another issue, which taps into the broader challenge for policy makers and insurers as they thrash out the framework for self-driving cars.
Let’s take a look at some of the new smart seating concepts that manufacturers have envisioned in the future of automotive seating.
Lear ProActive Posture
Lear’s ProActive Posture seating concept is an example of how medical analysis is being utilized to produce advanced systems to address health and wellbeing.
The posture seating concept uses Lear’s Proprietary MySeat technology, driven by the automotive supplier’s TheraMetric analytical process. The seating system has been endorsed by several medical institutions, including the American Chiropractic Association, and is designed specifically to promote better posture and cumulative wellness benefits. The associated MySeat smartphone app enables customers to input personal preferences and data to fine tune his or her recommended driving position based on individual biomechanics.
The system uses a series of bladders integrated into the seat structure, which can expand and deflate to coax the driver into the ideal driving position. Lear’s TheraMetric algorithm which controls the bladder system is based on a number of data types, including subjective feedback, anthropometry, demographic, FEA analysis, body pressure distribution and seat position data.
The smart seat does not stop assessing the driver throughout the journey. factors such as vibration transmission, heat and length of journey can all affect comfort and posture, so Lear’s app continues to monitor the driver for discomfort. A secondary setting in the system focuses on a ‘wellness’ position, providing support to the thoracic region of the spine, and secondary support to upper back, lumbar and sacral regions. Other settings allow the driver to optimize the seat to suit the trip. For example, long duration mode enables the system to make micro-adjustments to the seat at regular intervals to reduce muscular fatigue and soreness.
Recaro Intelligent Driving Seat
Recaro, a product group of Adient, unveiled new concepts for the commercial seating sector last year at the IAA 2016 in Hannover, Germany. The Intelligent driving seat concepts introduce partially automated memory and massage functions - innovations which Recaro says pave the way for the new demands of semi-autonomous and autonomous driving.
Intelligent memorization means that up to 100 personalized preferences can be saved into the system - a huge advantage for transport companies with multiple drivers. All settings in the system are electronically controlled and interconnected with one another, so that when the driver is digitally recognized, the seat automatically configures for his or her preset preferences. The seat not only stores this preset configuration, but also remembers fine-adjustments made by the driver. The seating system was controlled by a tablet computer at the auto show, but can be integrated into cockpit touchscreen system for series production.
For improved ergonomics, Recaro also introduced a massage seat designed to improve comfort on long-haul trips. The system works with air chambers on two levels in the backrest to support the upper body’s spinal and postural muscles. Three massage settings are available in five degrees of intensity - ‘Active’, ‘Intensive’ and ‘Wellness’ modes. In the exhibition seat the mode is manually selected by the driver, but Recaro says it is viable to integrate the seat into a system whereby it is operated automatically based on a timer or sensors assessing the driver’s condition.
Faurecia Active Wellness 2.0 Seat
Faurecia take the concept of driver sensing further with the Active Wellness concept, the 2.0 version released last year. The concept was recognized in the iF Design Awards in March 2017, winning in the ‘Professional Concept’ category.
The Active Wellness system utilizes information from sensors in and around the seat to monitor and detect the mental and physical status of the driver throughout the journey. According to Faurecia, Active Wellness is an example of how the cockpit of the future will become predictive through occupant monitoring and data management to ensure comfort and safety in a variety of driving modes.
The 2.0 generation of the system utilizes biological and behavioral data such as, heart rate, respiration rate, body movement, humidity, temperature, eye gaze, percentage of eye closure, blinking, head tilt and facial expressions. Data is collected and analyzed and they system not only remembers driver preferences, but also predicts how the driver will be most comfortable based on physical condition, time of day, travelling conditions and semi-autonomous or autonomous driving mode. Sensors detect motion sickness, stress, discomfort, drowsiness and readiness to assume control, and the seat is automatically adjusted to provide the most comfortable position.
Faurecia believes the Active Wellness concept will play a key role in the development of autonomous driving. When a vehicle is in autonomous mode and the driver wishes to sleep or rest for example, the interior and the seat can be configured to provide the most relaxed position. When leaving autonomous mode, the system will assess the driver’s condition against a checklist, ensuring that he or she is ready to take back control of the vehicle.
Adient AI17 Automated Driving Seating Demonstrator
Johnson Controls separated its seating division to create a new publicly trading company, Adient, in 2016. The new organization wasted no time in debuting it’s AI17 Automated Driving Seating Demonstrator at NIAIS in January 2017.
The demonstrator is the result of three years of research into the impact of trends such as autonomous driving, the internet of things, electrification and artificial intelligence. The interior vision explores Adient’s belief that the function of vehicle seats will change significantly as autonomous technology penetrates the market.
Among the innovations are ‘greeting’ and ‘conversation’ modes. In greeting mode the front seats, which sit on a rotational platform integrated into the floor, can rotate by 70 degrees and move outwards enabling the driver to enter and exit the vehicle easily. When in autonomous driving mode, the seats can rotate 15 degrees inwards into a conversation setting, creating a more social atmosphere while the car takes care of the road.
The seats benefit from Adient’s latest thin seating technology, and incorporate armrests on both sides of the seat which move with the body when rotating or reclining. The armrests also feature a retractable display which controls all functions at the touch of a fingertip. For level 3 autonomous driving, the seating demonstrator applies a ‘zero gravity’ concept to reclining, ensuring perfect balance at the hip for maximum comfort. Related components such as the headrest are moved in synch with the body to ensure the driver’s gaze remains on the road as the seat reclines.
Autonomous driving, electrification and connectivity are changing the interiors of our vehicles, and seating is one area where we are seeing rapid innovation. Once driving is no longer a prerequisite of passenger car travel, the possibilities for the interior space enter new realms of design. The challenges that come with this - in terms of the framework for autonomous driving, and of course safety - are there for the industry to overcome, but the concepts already being introduced give us a clear idea of the direction of travel in the seating sector.
In the interim, sophisticated sensing technologies are enabling advanced driver monitoring. Systems which can assess the driver’s mental and physical condition have the potential to reduce road accidents by predictively stimulating the driver when drowsiness is detected, or emitting warning signals when attentiveness drops. What is clear, is that the car seat of the future is set to become a much more interactive component of the vehicle and driving experience.