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Old 07-28-2003, 23:45   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.: Product replaces auto door handles

New technology helps carmakers eliminate unnecessary assembly

By Barrett Kalellis / Special to The Detroit News

How to get people in and out of vehicles has always been of interest to automotive engineers.

In the last decade, keys were replaced by electronic signals that unlocked doors with the press of a button on a key fob. The next generation of technology -- "passive keyless entry" -- gets rid of keys and fobs entirely.

While many companies are designing complex systems that use encrypted codes or voice-activation, Key Plastics LLC has taken a simpler approach. The Farmington Hills-based company's "Intellitouch" essentially replaces traditional mechanical door handles with a sensor embedded in the handle that triggers the door latch.

To open the door, the driver presses a button on a key fob to activate the sensor. As the driver approaches, the handle senses the driver's hand, electronically releases the latch and opens the door. Once the driver is inside, the door closes and latches. When the vehicle is in drive, the sensor is automatically disengaged so the doors are always locked when the vehicle is in motion.

With no moving handle components, pinched fingers and torn fingernails are a thing of the past. Plus the handles are air- and water-tight, cutting wind noise, rattles and corrosive moisture inside the doors.

And by eliminating many parts normally inside a car door -- rivets, bumpers, springs, bell cranks, rods, clips and so on -- carmakers eliminate unnecessary mechanical assemblies and cut a vehicle's overall weight. Car and truck designers gain styling flexibility with fewer packaging constraints.

"We had to make a system not affected by rain on the outside of the vehicle, as well as making it operable in rather extreme temperature situations," said Richard Pudney, Key Plastics' director of advanced technology for exterior products.

"The other issue was the sensitivity of the actuating sensor, which had to be adjusted so that it would work when a person wearing gloves wants to open the door and opens only when a hand approaches the door handle from a certain minimum distance."

Peter McElroy, vice president of marketing for Key Plastics, said automakers are interested.

"The technology is readily available to be in production within 30 to 40 weeks," McElroy said. "But I anticipate the first application will be on a next generation vehicle, I would think 2005 or 2006."
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