Driving Innovation: IEEE Honors Three Automotive Technology Pioneers

They helped develop GPS navigation systems and several safety features

14 April 2015

Photo: iStockphoto

If you use GPS to get where you’re going, or if the safety features in your vehicle have prevented you from getting into an accident, you have these engineers to thank. They are being honored for their contributions at this year’s IEEE Honors Ceremony in New York City in June.


Life Fellow James J. Spilker Jr. was one of the principal designers of the Global Positioning System, the satellite-based navigation system now known simply as GPS. The electrical engineering professor at Stanford will receive this year’s IEEE Edison Medal for “contributions to the technology and implementation of civilian GPS navigation systems.”

Before During the 1970s Spilker designed the Coarse Acquisition or C/A code, which is transmitted on the L1 frequency picked up by civilian GPS devices.  (Military devices use the Precise or P code). He also invented a process for tracking code division multiple access signals, which is now essential to GPS accuracy. Spilker has since helped develop the L5 civilian signal, first launched in 2011, which provides better accuracy and more resistance to the effects of interference—such as space weather—on navigation. He also coinvented the split spectrum mode (now known as binary offset carrier) for modern GPS ranging that allows civilian and military signals to use separate areas of the spectrum.


The contributions that Rodolfo Schöneburg, Marica Paurevic, and Hans Weisbarth made to sensor networks and driver assistance systems have saved lives by significantly improving car safety and encouraging seatbelt use.

The three researchers at Daimler AG, an automotive technology company in Stuttgart, Germany, will receive this year’s IEEE Medal for Environmental and Safety Technologies. They are being cited for “significant contributions to automotive safety through crash prevention and passenger protection using sensors, warning systems, and autonomous restraint systems.”

The team, led by Schöneburg, helped develop a system that employs a network of sensors, radar, and cameras that can sense when a crash is imminent and prepare the vehicle and its occupants. Known as Pre-Safe, the system tightens the front seat belts, adjusts seat positions, and closes windows and sunroofs when it senses conditions such as skidding or sudden braking. First introduced by Mercedes-Benz in its 2002 models, the Pre-Safe system has proven its effectiveness in protecting front-seat occupants.

While much of their technology focused on the front-seat occupants, the researchers realized improvements were needed to better protect passengers in the back seat. They developed the Active Seat Belt Buckle (ABB) to encourage seat belt use. When a rear door is opened, the ABB is illuminated, making it easier to locate. After the passenger buckles in, the ABB automatically retracts, reducing the belt’s slack. When the Pre-Safe system senses an impending crash, the ABB applies reversible belt tensioning to further reduce any slack to more securely restrain the passenger. When a crash occurs, the buckles illuminate, making it easier for first responders to locate them when rescuing rear-seat passengers. Mercedes-Benz introduced the ABB in its 2013 models.

Read about the rest of the pioneers who will be recognized at this year’s Honors Ceremony and find out how to nominate someone for IEEE’s most prestigious awards. 

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