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Iteris to Make Ford Lane-Change Sensor

Technology: Under a lucrative deal, the Anaheim company will be the auto giant's exclusive supplier.

August 16, 2000|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a pact worth millions of dollars a year to a Southern California technology firm, Ford Motor Co. will announce today that Anaheim-based Iteris Inc. will become sole supplier to the world's second-largest auto maker of a new lane-change warning system.

The system, developed by Iteris, a subsidiary of digital information pioneer Odetics Inc., also in Anaheim, uses tiny cameras and sophisticated software to detect when a vehicle begins unintentionally wandering into another lane--usually the fault of a sleepy or inattentive driver.

The "optical lane departure warning" system, as Iteris has dubbed it, sounds an alarm to alert the driver. The system is so sensitive, the company says, that it can detect the difference between intentional lane changes and unintended drifts.

Ford, which sells about 4.5 million cars and trucks a year in the U.S., began testing the Iteris system more than a year ago and signed an agreement earlier this month making the company the exclusive supplier of the system for all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brand vehicles built and sold in North America.

Iteris originally developed the system, called AutoVue, as a truck-based lane-change warning system in conjunction with DaimlerChrysler. Its first commercial sale was to DaimlerChrysler in Europe two months ago for use on Mercedes-Benz brand trucks.

The version developed for Ford is a second-generation system, said Francis Memole, vice president for Iteris' vehicle sensors unit. DaimlerChrysler, which makes Ford competitors Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep in the U.S., will get some royalties from the sales to Ford for the first few years, Memole said, but the payments dry up "by the time this gets into widespread use."

The deal doesn't cover other Ford brands: Volvo, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Mazda, but the auto maker has agreed "to help promote" use of the system on those brands, Memole said.

Financial details weren't announced, but Iteris says the first year's sales could hit 50,000 units. At an estimated $300-per-unit wholesale price, that would be worth as much as $15 million to the company.

On the retail end, the systems--likely to be offered as factory-installed options--should add about $200 to the price of a car once volume production begins and manufacturing costs drop, Memole said.

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