An automotive evolution

Joe Preston, of Medius, points at the sensor mounted on the front of the company’s prototype while another sensor is shown in the foreground. The prototype places the technology, which would not be visible, in plain view for illustrative purposes only.  - Julie Busch photo
Joe Preston, of Medius, points at the sensor mounted on the front of the company’s prototype while another sensor is shown in the foreground. The prototype places the technology, which would not be visible, in plain view for illustrative purposes only.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

Designed on the island, Medius will give drivers a better sense of the road.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, they’re giving the person who controls it the benefit of better sight.

The car of the future resides on Bainbridge Island as Medius, a systems engineering and software firm on Hildebrand Lane, develops a cognitively advanced prototype that may one day change the way you drive.

The goal, says Medius President and CEO Dan Preston, is safety, survivability and fewer highway fatalities.

“We’re extending human senses and experiences,” said Preston, of technology that essentially gives the car itself 360 degrees of awareness.

The prototype was to be unveiled yesterday at the 39th annual Bainbridge Island Antique, Classic and Special Interest Car Show. Medius is passing the midway point in a 10-year development scheme of products that it hopes will be incorporated by major automobile manufacturers starting in 2010.

The products would serve the entire automobile spectrum, from economy to luxury cars and discussions with manufacturers are already under way.

The company has been issued seven patents thus far; 14 more are pending and 36 are under development.

According to company brass, which includes Preston’s son Joe, the new technologies could cut auto accident fatalities in half.

Medius software, modeled after the radar of fighter jets, connects to sensors that locate potential “targets” as one drives.

From careening ice cream trucks to daydreaming pedestrians, every substantial object, moving or stationary, is registered by the car’s sensors.

The system judges the speed, size and shape of the objects around the car to determine potential dangers and, hopefully, help the driver avert them.

Applications vary.

For example, the car can actually brace for a collision prior to impact by adjusting seat belt tension and pre-deploying airbags.

The steering includes a haptic response to guide drivers, performing a function much akin to the bumps along the center line that divides opposing traffic, and warns drivers who drift too close to oncoming cars.

In addition to that, Medius could also pave the way to lighter, more fuel-efficient designs.

Newer, sleeker building materials are already available that could drastically reduce fuel costs, but are not currently in use because of safety concerns.

Tim Carlsen, vice president of corporate development at Medius, said the preventative technology created by the company would give manufacturers the opportunity to use those materials, with consumers reaping the benefits in the form of better gas mileage.

“Things have to change,” Carlsen said. “There’s no reason for people to drive to the grocery store in a Hummer.”

If the claims sound ambitious, it’s because they are; Medius intends to be at the core of the automotive industry long into the future, something that, to a certain degree, many at the company have already achieved.

Airbiquity, Medius’ predecessor company, was also founded by the Prestons.

Once one of the island’s biggest employers, Airbiquity was a major contributor in the development of OnStar, a subscription-based tracking and communication technology that gained notoriety through its use in General Motors vehicles.

The technology connects users to a dispatch service that can give directions, send for emergency services and even unlock car doors by remote.

The Prestons left Airbiquity to found Medius six years ago, enlisting the services of 12 engineers.

Even six years into development, they still face a number of challenges.

For one thing, drivers would require a small amount of training to use the technology, something that may be viewed by some as an inconvenience. The biggest hurdle, though, is economic.

The idea, though complex in execution, is simple enough: enable the car to assess its surroundings and anticipate potential danger.

But in order to be cost-effective and thus attractive to manufacturers, Medius has had to wait for the technology costs to catch up with their innovative concept, something they are confident will happen soon enough.

According to an analysis done by the company, electronics currently account for four percent of vehicle cost. But times, they say, are changing.

By 2010, Medius says electronics will amount to 35 percent of vehicle cost, offering software makers the chance to cash in on more than $100 billion of new revenue annually.

Incorporating Medius technology today would cost about $5,000 per car. But Preston said that with improved technology and increased volume, costs will dip to $80 per car in 2010, when Medius-equipped vehicles are first expected to role off the assembly line.

Until then, development continues.

“Right now there’s a convergence between safety issues and high fuel costs,” Carlsen said. “We need to think of transportation differently if we’re all going to live together.

“We wanted to find a different approach. For us this isn’t just a job. It’s a mission.”

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