Offering a high-tech take on basic bit of mandatory safety equipment, TRW Automotive Holdings Corp has developed a new Electronic Horn System (EHS). Activated when the driver touches a conductive area on the steering wheel airbag cover, TRW claims the new EHS setup offers numerous functional and cost benefits compared to a conventional horn setup.

In commenting on the new system, Guido Hirzmann, group leader, new technology, Mechatronic, noted that: "Classic vehicle horn systems can be bulky and expensive. Our new EHS includes a significant reduction of components like springs, silver contact, screws, fixation clips and more. Furthermore, there are no moving parts, allowing the driver airbag to be fixed directly into the steering wheel -- resulting in an improved fit and symmetry."

Harvey added that the secret of the EHS package involves the use of special coatings on the airbag cover that allow it to act as a 3D conductive surface. It has the ability to detect the position of a hand or finger and send a signal back to the electronic control unit that activates the horn with literally no physical pressure required. A special design configuration for its sensor can determine whether the approach motion of the driver's hand is intentional or accidental, thereby preventing any unwanted activation episodes.

"We have chosen this capacitive solution partly because more and more electronic devices are using the technology, making it very familiar to many users, including younger occupants," he noted, observing "A similar concept could also be integrated into surfaces near to the fingers of the driver to incorporate a 'greeting horn', or  into multifunction switches or any other function."

TRW's new EHS package will be ready for production in 2014. At this point, the component supplier says that several vehicle manufacturers are showing interest, although there are no firm contracts to be announced at this time.

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