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Digital mapping firm targets auto suppliers

USA – Mapping technology that helps the U.S. government predict flood impact from hurricanes ahead of time is being courted to auto suppliers in ways to help drivers negotiate hairpin turns on highways and determine truck speeds on steep hills. Steve Zaroukian, director of business development for the automotive division of Intermap Technologies said automotive navigation potential is unlimited.

“The world is getting more connected in real time. That is where technology companies are looking to be involved,” Zaroukian said.

Navigation and mapping giants include Navteq out of Chicago and Tele-Atlas in the Netherlands.

An increasing number of automotive suppliers are using navigation programming to help steer, brake, slow or stabilize a vehicle based on real roads in real time.

Zaroukian, a veteran of Panasonic and other automotive electronics companies, helped open Intermap’s office in Auburn Hills this July after operating a year in a home-based setting. Clients include Visteon, Eaton Corp. and Ricardo Inc. who are conducting research projects. Intermap, the parent company, helped these efforts by producing comprehensive terrain maps of roads, bridges and more in Metro Detroit to better test its technology.

“Intermap provides general data positions, the mapping of roads with an accurate level of positioning, particularly elevation,” said John Jahshan, chief engineer for the control and electronics product group organization at Ricardo Inc. in Van Buren Township. Such data could be fed into the power train for advanced transmission shifting control on hybrid electric vehicles.

Intermap Technologies, based in Englewood, Colo., established offices in Ottawa, Calgary, Munich and Metro Detroit among other places.

Founded in 1996 as Geospacial Data Mapping Co., it now has 700 employees. Revenues have skyrocketed from $21.8 million in 2006 to $33.8 million in 2007 and are expected to reach $40 million in 2008, according to its investor relations data.

Automotive clients such as Visteon are finding new uses for mapping, trading upon the old notion of a “Cyclops” directional headlight on the 1948 Tucker Torpedo.

“Intermap provides the high-resolution, 3D maps to Visteon for integration into the next generation adaptive front lighting system. Visteon is currently demonstrating this technology to various auto manufacturers,” said Viren Merchant, electronics engineering manager, Visteon exterior lighting department. Instead of a rotating light that turns with the steering wheel, an advanced system that contains road data could shift lights before a curve.

Jahshan said global positioning systems have been around a long time but the technology is advancing daily. His team is working with Intermap to analyze gear selection for hybrid vehicles — when to engage the gas engine to recharge the battery or when to use the electric mode.

Ricardo engineers are testing hybrid vehicles on Pleasant Valley Road in Milford because it has a 5 to 6 percent slope. Teams downshift and upshift their way along highway overpasses to test resilience.

Future consumers and automakers will decide how much technology — such as real time navigation — should go on board an automobile.

To be sure, one of the technical sessions at the October 20-22 Convergence 2008 at Cobo Center will deal with model-based design for safety, advanced driver assist systems and unmanned agricultural vehicles. See www.ctea.org for more details.