Munich’s research and innovations boffins warn against unlimited electro-magnetic radiation.
BMW’s Vehicle Research and Innovations Centre, known by its German acronomym ‘FIZ’ (pictured), is on the frontline of a battle to contain electro-magnetic radiation – known within the organisation as ‘electro smog’.
Ultra-high frequency and microwave radiation waves are all around us, says BMW spokesman Andreas Metzner, but electro smog is especially hazardous around the historic city of Augsburg, where the American signals intelligence collection agency, the NSA, operates a facility.
Why is electro smog such a concern?
According to the BMW spokesman, strong radiation could interfere with a car’s on-board radar-based AEB (autonomous emergency braking). Such a conflict could be misconstrued by the car’s computer as an obstacle less than three metres ahead. At autobahn speeds that could be a catastrophic event considerably worse than just spilling your sippy cup of coffee in your lap.
Metzner cited an incident from the past, when a vessel passing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco stopped cars on the bridge, which acted as an antenna for radiation transmitted from the ship.
Electro-smog is a form of pollution that has to be countered – particularly as the auto industry inches towards autonomous motoring, says Metzner. But cars are not blameless in the rise of electro smog. Near-range radar used in sophisticated self-parking applications could stop pacemakers, Metzner says, and this has already been well documented.
At the FIZ, there’s a radiation testing room with a huge antenna slung from the ceiling. This device could literally microwave a person to death in 30 seconds, Metzner says. Measuring around 30 metres in each direction, the room is large enough to accommodate cars and inside looks like a conventional anechoic (noise) chamber. There’s a large access door that’s very thick and lead-lined, not only to keep safe the BMW workers at FIZ but also nearby residents – such is the power of transmitting antenna.
Testing the effects of strong electro smog on BMW’s cars is not by any means the sole activity going on at the FIZ. Far from it, the one million square metre facility houses around 25,000 staff who are engaged in everything from wind tunnel testing to durability and crash testing.
Many of the cars tested at the FIZ (pronounced ‘Fitz’) are kitted out with camouflage before they’re driven on public roads. Metzner says that the camouflage breaks up the car’s lines, which would otherwise be apparent in a two-dimensional view. It serves a very real purpose, and not just to excite anticipation in aspiring buyers.
The total time it takes BMW to bring a car from conception to production (ITO – ‘idea to offer’) is about four years. Pre-production cars begin to hit the roads after the Design Freeze – as much as three years ahead of production commencement. But such is the global market today, says Metzner, a rival could easily beat BMW to market with a design mimicking Munich’s latest product.
That has happened, the BMW exec revealed. The first generation of X5 was leaked online in the late 1990s, and a Chinese firm developed and brought to market a car with the X5’s design traits before the real X5 reached customers. That could be a cover story, of course: plausible deniability for parading your unreleased products in the public eye – as McLaren designer Frank Stephenson has previously suggested to motoring.com.au.
While Aussie journalists touring the facility were asked nicely not to snap photos, there were plenty of interesting cars on display – in varying states of camouflage. One was an example of ‘Project Cullinan’, the 7 Series-based Rolls-Royce SUV, looking rather forlorn after a crash test.
But officially, we never saw that car…