SEAT Leon Cristobal previews new tech to keep an eye on young drivers

The Smart City Expo in Barcelona was chosen by SEAT for the reveal of the Leon Cristobal which points to the future of car safety

SEAT is showcasing safety technology that could be rolled out across the wider Volkswagen Group with a new concept called Leon Cristobal, which has made its debut at the Smart City Expo in Barcelona.

The Spanish manufacturer’s creation takes an existing Leon hatchback and introduces almost 20 new features designed to help reduce the number of road accidents. Significantly, many of the systems involved are based on software, not hardware, potentially making them suitable for fast-tracking through to market.

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SEAT’s engineers were inspired by EU data which suggests that 30 percent of road accidents involve excess speed, 36 percent involve distraction (such as using a mobile phone) and 25 percent can be attributed to alcohol or drug use.

To counter these causes, the Leon Cristobal won’t start unless all occupants have fastened their seatbelts and the driver has taken a breathalyser test (an eye monitoring sensor prevents them from switching seats with a sober occupant). If the user fails the alcohol test then they’ll be offered three options - calling for a taxi, taking a re-test or, in the case of someone who’s not the vehicle owner, phoning that ‘master user’ to ask for permission to drive the vehicle.

Remote parental supervision

Once it has started, the Cristobal will run by default in what SEAT calls ‘Guardian Angel’ mode, under which the car’s 15 regular driver assistance and safety features (including the likes of lane-keep assist, road sign recognition and adaptive cruise control) are all activated on their most conservative settings.

The owner of the car can also use a smartphone monitoring app to set speed limits, allowing a parent to warn their child remotely if they’re travelling too fast, and limit a geographical area in which the car can be driven. The system relies on warnings instead of deactivation once it has started moving, however - notifying the ‘monitor app’ if a certain speed is exceeded or the car is being driven too far.

As Stefan Illijevic, the Cristobal project leader, told Auto Express, “This is not an autonomous car and deactivation is not an option, because of the scenarios it could present the occupants with. It’s more about having an awkward conversation with your parents about where you’re going or what speed you’ve been doing.”

Cameras and eye tracking tech

Other hardware installed on the vehicle includes a dash camera that could be used to send footage of any accident to the user’s smartphone (or, potentially, the insurance company), along with data on which of the safety systems were activated at the time of the crash. There’s also a wide-angle camera, fixed to the top of the rear hatchback glass, which transmits a picture to a digital rear-view mirror. SEAT believes this is safer because it removes blind spots.

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The eye-tracking system notices if the driver looks down - as if they were checking a phone - and offers to send a message through a simplified and contextual interface on the car’s main infotainment screen. The system could also use geographical data to realise what the driver is looking at outside of the vehicle and make appropriate suggestions based on that information - asking them if they’re hungry if it suspects they’ve looked across at a restaurant, for example.

Software features making use of existing hardware include protection when opening a door; the Cristobal uses the blind-spot monitoring system to watch for cars or cyclists who may hit the opening door. If it senses that’s going to happen, it vibrates the seat, flashes the blind-spot warning lights and issues a verbal warning inside the cabin.

Potential safety gains and insurance savings

SEAT claims that if half of the vehicles on the road had the same feature set as Cristobal, the amount of road accidents could be reduced by as much as 40 percent.

Stefan Illijevic, the Cristobal project leader, told Auto Express that four key factors stand in the way of the car’s features making production: technical feasibility, a business case, customer acceptance and legal clearance. He hopes that discussions with the insurance industry could help to negate the cost to customers, helping to improve the chances of the technology being introduced.

“We think there’s real potential to work with the insurance industry on this,” Illijevic said. “The issue of who has to pay for the technology is one barrier, of course, but we are already talking with insurers, and there are signs that a car with this tech could be between 10 and 30 percent cheaper to insure, with a particularly big advantage for younger drivers.”

Illijevic also said that the arguably the system’s biggest bit of hardware - the eye tracker - could be ready “within two years” but he acknowledged, “I think it would have a different design, and we’d probably need multiple sensors - perhaps integrated into the A-pillars and rear-view mirror.”

What do you think of the tech on the SEAT Leon Cristobal? Let us know in the comments area...

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