Executives from automotive tier suppliers at the automotiveIT International conference in Atlanta explain how, with the help of sensor technology, traditional mechanical car components can be equipped with new digital functionality.

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Tenneco CTO Ben Patel says it’s early days in industry moves to make components smart (Photo: Sam Diephuis)

Senior executives from Tenneco and Schaeffler, speaking at the conference, said their companies plan to soon roll out redesigned versions of existing “dumb” parts that will include digital connectivity features.

These digitized parts will not only help cars perform better and enhance the rider’s experience, but in the future could turn parts suppliers into data suppliers by gathering real-time data on vehicle usage, weather and road conditions.

Tenneco showed its DRiV digital shock absorber, which is undergoing final road testing, while Schaeffler Automotive announced that its “customized configurable sensor bearings” will go on sale over the summer.

“It’s just at the beginning of figuring out how to make dumb products smart,” Ben Patel, Tenneco’s chief technology officer, told the Atlanta conference. He brought an example of the new shock absorber to show on stage.

Besides enhancing the ride on higher-end vehicles, Tenneco’s new shock absorber aims to deal with an often-overlooked problems with autonomous vehicles: motion sickness. Patel pointed out that 25% of people get carsick when riding in a vehicle, and that figure could pose a serious challenge for automakers hoping to turn the car into an entertainment center on wheels.

But the shock absorber has a longer-range purpose as well. Because just as it can inform both car and driver about road conditions and other threats, it can potentially pass on that information to other drivers, as well as tell cities about the need for road repairs and weather conditions.

Screen-Shot-2018-05-29-at-6.09.51-PM-198x300. Schaeffler’s Bhamani: IT not in driving seat yet, but moving up front (Photo: Sam Diephuis)

Schaeffler Automotive sees similar functionality for its sensor-equipped bearing, which will enter production in July. The digital bearing module will collect data on speed, temperature and vibration, said Shoukat Ali Bhamani, Schaeffler Group Americas CIO and CDO.

He noted that the German automotive supplier is also introducing connectivity to its active roll stabilizer products. While he did not give a timeline for release of that product, he noted that similar to Tenneco’s digital shocks, the connected stabilizers can produce valuable information on road conditions and weather that might offer new revenue streams to the parts supplier.

“IT is not yet in driving seat [of automotive manufacturing], Bhamani said, “but it has moved from the back seat to a passenger seat in the front of the car.”