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During the presentation of its Move Up plan last February, Valeo cited thermal comfort as one of the pillars of its strategy. An aspect that seems to have gone unnoticed by analysts and the media.
But it goes without saying that the control of temperature and comfort will gain more and more importance, with the generalization of the electric and connected vehicle. The equipment manufacturer is even talking about a revolution in the cabin, as its expertise in artificial intelligence, acquired in the field of driving aids, will also apply to the monitoring of the driver and passengers.
This is the promise of a soothing cocoon that changes from warm to cold according to each person’s profile and harnesses all the power of Big Data without compromising on respect for privacy.
The challenge of thermal comfort in electricity
But first, we need to get back to the basics of the habit-shaking electric vehicle. “There is no longer the free heat that the internal combustion engine provides, and the quiet operation makes the sound from the air conditioning system more disturbing. In addition, heating can cause up to 40% of the autonomy to be lost in winter,” says Pascale Herman, director of innovation and product planning in Valeo’s thermal systems division, in the preamble. The approach was to use a heat pump, which reduces energy consumption by three and will be widespread in 2030.
This system uses a refrigerant that converts the ambient energy to efficiently heat, cool or defog the cabin of the electric vehicle. And this with a gain of 30% on autonomy in winter and 20% in summer.
In addition, the equipment manufacturer has chosen radiant panels, as in the construction industry. The center console, the underside of the dashboard and the inside of the doors are used as radiators, to heat – and in silence – the lower part of the bodywork.
What makes the difference is that Valeo uses its interior cameras to determine the needs of the car’s occupants.
From the start, the built-in system will analyze how many people are in the car, distinguish between their gender and even their age,” says Pascale Herman. “We use facial recognition or even a thermal camera to assess the number of layers of clothing and the needs to be met,” she continues. If the cameras have been configured to scan the profile – “without storing or sending data to the cloud”, specifies the Valeo expert – there has been preparatory work upstream.
Valeo has collaborated with the University of Liège in Belgium (which has a physiology center) and with doctors to refine its algorithms. Tests have been carried out with sensors on a large number of users. Depending on whether you are a man or a woman, your metabolism is different, and you more or less support the climatic limitations.
With this data, the system is therefore able to know how many watts must be generated to create heat or cold. The software will then offer to raise or lower the temperature by affecting the climate control, the heating panels, the seats and even the steering wheel. The priority will be to maintain driver alertness with a cooler temperature.
Combines comfort and environment
Credit photo – Valeo
“Everything is connected to the autonomy of the electric vehicle”, insists Pascale Herman.
In this way, the computer will adapt to the control system and route type (coasts, mountains) to predict needs and adjust thermal comfort,” she explains. Note that the system asks for the opinion of the driver, who must confirm these suggestions (a bit like Waze when it suggests an alternative route). And to meet the wishes of customers who have a great environmental awareness and above all want to consume less, Valeo can go to the limit of discomfort.
Again, the algorithms will be based on data shared with scientists. Thanks to the multi-zone air conditioning system, it is possible to offer à la carte comfort. Valeo has developed solutions so that their cameras can analyze passenger profiles, by row and seat, to offer an individualized service. “What we’re aiming for is rollout to as many people as possible, not just the Premium segment,” our expert emphasizes.
The first bricks on the market
In the United States, regulations now require new vehicles to be equipped with body temperature sensors, so as not to forget babies inside. Valeo is already responding to this limitation in the multi-manufacturer market. But the equipment manufacturer has a more global approach.
The aim is to act on all the senses by influencing temperature, light and even sound. For example, if the driver is stressed (which the system can determine from his facial features or the tone of his voice, picked up by a microphone), and his discomfort comes from the atmosphere in the vehicle, the computer will do everything to alleviate it. It will spread scents (based on essential oils), activate waves of light and heat or cool the cabin. At this stage, emotion detection will soon be the subject of a first application from a manufacturer.
Similarly, Valeo announces the arrival of its predictive thermal comfort algorithms for 2028 at a major European generalist manufacturer. It is the realization of work carried out for several years and presented until now in the form of a rolling demonstrator and a simulator in events such as CES in Las Vegas, Vivatech in Paris or even the Shanghai car.
“Every region in the world has its priorities,” observes Pascale Herman.
For example, Europe emphasizes low consumption for issues of autonomy, while the US favors security and Asia more emotions,” she says. In this last part of the globe, we are also concerned about the quality of the air. This is why Valeo offers very high-efficiency cabin filters (they remove 98% of fine particles and absorb almost 100% of harmful gases) and ionizers (which perform the same role as home air purifiers).
Covid obliges, the French equipment manufacturer has also developed filters that capture viruses in collaboration with the Virnext infection center on the Lyon campus. They are of interest to Asian manufacturers and more recently to Europeans. “Technology must bring something extra with a double mechanical and chemical effect that makes it possible to capture particles,” explains Pascale Herman. “We continue to work with the University of Liège to find out how we can provide a built-in response to diseases like fever,” she continues. “We can also treat the problem of blood circulation, which particularly concerns women, by directing the flow of fresh air to, for example, the legs and ankles,” she adds.
Valeo also plans to use sensors to measure heart rate and breathing. “However, it is not a question of replacing the doctor, but rather of intervening as a companion”, emphasizes the expert. The equipment manufacturer still reserves the right to request that the autonomous car take control if the driver shows signs of fatigue or failure.
Laurent Meillaud, the high-tech specialist at Autonews, talks about the innovations that Valeo presented last winter to improve the lives of residents of electric cars, as well as the innovations that come in the more or less long term.