Is Driver Assist Next 12-Volt Wonder?

By Amy Gilroy On Feb 25 2008 - 8:00am

A new class of car product is heading for the aftermarket under the heading of "driver-assist" devices. The products use cameras, image processing and sometimes radar to help drivers park, stay awake and steer clear of other drivers.

Anything that actively helps the driver falls under this category, which is expected to become a multibillion dollar market in new cars over the next five years, and is heading for the aftermarket as well.

Driver-assist products include collision-warning systems, night-vision aids, blind-spot detectors and lane-departure warning systems. They also include parking-assist cameras and — an area already familiar to the aftermarket — rear vision "backup" cameras or sensors.

Two companies, Mobileye and Nav-TV, are already offering aftermarket products in this area including a night-vision product from Nav-TV and a combination collision- and lane-departure warning system from Mobileye (see sidebar below).

Alpine is researching parking-assist systems and other driver-assist products. It is "making significant investments now for the future of this category, including a multimillion dollar 'Drive Assist Test Course' and R&D facility," according to marketing VP Steve Witt. He foresees the aftermarket supplying multi-camera systems with DSP for parking assist or night vision.

"This is the next big thing for automotive electronics both for the aftermarket and OEM," Witt added.

Audiovox Electronics is a bit more cautious. President Tom Malone called it an "area of opportunity," but said, "I don't see anything that will be a volume product within the next 18 months." An exception is the "backup" rear vision camera/sensing devices that have been available for the past few years in the aftermarket. Malone says that backup devices are gaining momentum and have reached a sales volume equivalent to about 10 percent of the security/remote starter business (valued at $255 million in 2007, according to the Consumer Electronics Association).

Newer areas of driver assistance would include cameras placed around the car to help with parking, giving the driver overhead and side views of the cars next to him. Companies are also adding sophisticated digital image processing to a camera placed in the front of the car so it can intelligently "decipher" objects and become forward-collision warning systems, or "pedestrian detectors," and may be combined with radar for adaptive cruise control.

But much of that technology will be in the OEM market first, said Malone, adding, "It will be an area where any one in the 12-volt market will be looking for the opportunity for growth because of some of the shortfalls in our traditional category. You'll have people experimenting. Rear obstacle sensing is the anchor for that category."

ABI Research estimated the North American OEM market for camera-based lane-departure warning systems, blind-spot detection and adaptive cruise control alone will reach $1 billion by 2013, marking five-fold growth from the $800,000 market now. If you add forward-collision warning, parking assistance, night vision and other products, the figure should climb to "multiple billions of dollars" over the next five years, said ABI.

Ido Amir, marketing manager for Mobileye, an aftermarket pioneer in this area, said, "For the last 20 to 30 years [car makers] have invested in making cars crash worthy and now they realize that it's better to invest in preventing the crash. They are spending more money on it. And as a result, the customers will be spending more money on accident protection."

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