Alps Alpine has announced the development of an electronic control unit (ECU) for hands-off detection to support autonomous driving systems by distinguishing between variations in a driver’s grip on the steering wheel.
Mass production began in spring 2021 and the plan is to gradually expand deployment to a range of vehicle models.
To accommodate advancements in autonomous driving support and further contribute to safe and comfortable mobility, development for next-generation models is already underway.
One aspect is hands-off detection, a function for determining the status of the driver’s grip on the steering wheel that interacts with other systems for assessing driving status to enable safe switching between driver-controlled and system-controlled modes.
Capacitive sensing is the dominant technology used for steering wheel touch detection due to its cost and functional performance. The ECU uses data obtained via a special-purpose capacitive sensor, wrapped around the steering wheel, to determine if the driver is touching it and conveys the assessment to an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS).
Whereas existing hands-off detection systems are mono-zone setups, with a single electrode, Alps Alpine has developed a multi-zone configuration with four electrodes.
Dividing the steering wheel and grip patterns into smaller sections enables efficient system switching and enhanced touch assessment reliability.
Resilience to physical stress is a necessary consideration when employing capacitive control, as is the need to maintain resistance to environmental factors – temperature, humidity and electromagnetic noise – and the feel of the sensor itself. It is also essential to have separate, optimal control for sensor materials specific to the application.
Alps Alpine started producing touch panels for notebook PCs and game consoles in the 1990s and automotive control panels for capacitive touch-type in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems in the 2010s.
The company has plenty of experience applying capacitive control technology to a diverse range of sensor materials and environments spanning product domains from consumer electronics to automobiles.
Utilizing this knowledge, we have developed a hands-off detection ECU for use with a special-purpose steering wheel capacitive sensor. Deliveries to steering wheel manufacturers began in spring 2021.