Team Innovation

Michael Meier worked with his colleagues at Bosch Group in Plymouth Township to develop a rear-view camera system for pickup trucks.
The camera designed by Michael Meier and colleagues at Bosch Group. // Courtesy of Bosch
The camera designed by Michael Meier and colleagues at Bosch Group. // Courtesy of Bosch

During his 17 years working as an engineer for the Bosch Group in Plymouth Township, Michael Meier was awarded more than half a dozen U.S. patents for inventive solutions to various mobility issues — “pain points,” in engineering parlance — that show up in customer complaints.

There was a patent for reducing vehicle and animal collisions, another involved the maximum braking threshold for a motorcycle going through a corner, and yet another was for a “water slip control of watercraft” that benefits boaters.

None of these inventions had the same type of personal connection to Meier as the one that Bosch showed off in September at the North American International Auto Show in downtown Detroit. The invention, a rear-view camera system for pickup trucks, enables a driver to see behind their vehicle regardless of whether the rear-lift gate is in the up or closed position.

“I like to drive pickup trucks and I was reading some articles and saw some complaints regarding people with pickups when the camera is facing downward and they couldn’t see anything behind them, and this kind of resonated with me,” Meier says. “I had the same problem with my truck when I was backing up (with the gate down) and couldn’t see where I was going. I had worked on cameras in the past and I thought there must be a good way we can solve this.”

Meier says for six months he tinkered with ideas for a rear-facing camera and a system that would work with the rear lift gate up or down on his pickup truck. Given his workspace at Bosh is adjacent to another division, he approached a colleague and shared his ideas for an all-encompassing camera system.

“We were kind of brainstorming and I came up with the idea and a patent,” Meier says. “The executive (in charge of the group) at the time thought it was a pretty good idea and he pushed it through pretty quickly.”

As Meier explains, the company, which has its North American corporate headquarters in Farmington Hills, has teams that work on various challenges. He says for his projects, different experts oversaw such needs as low resolution, digital capability, and pixels for the camera. As a result, bringing his initial patent to reality became a group project.

Stephen Miller, a senior Bosch executive who oversees video-based trailering functions, says Meier’s innovation is part of the culture the company — founded in Stuttgart in 1886 by Robert Bosch — has fostered for more than a century.

Courtesy of Bosch
Courtesy of Bosch

In 1897, the company brought forward a magneto ignition device that proved to be a game-changer for mass production. A forerunner of ignition systems for vehicles, it helped make automobiles the common mode of transportation. Today, the business is centered on four sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology.

“The thing that we most try to do is to have an easy way for people to submit their ideas,” Miller says. “What we like to do is to make it possible for people to submit just the basic idea for something, and that goes on an internal website so it can get feedback from other peers. Then we have a group that actually reviews those (submissions) and decides whether this is something that should be pursued by our business unit or handed off to another business unit, or maybe we need to dig a little deeper or expand it.”

In Meier’s case, his invention brought forward a system for a rear-facing camera unit with two fields of view for the lift gate. One shows the open position and the other shows the down position. Both fields of view overlap in a shared field of view, whether the lift gate is up or down.

To make it work, a sensor indicates when the rear-lift door is open or closed, and relays that data to an electronic controller that receives image data from the camera unit and adjusts the image data to show the driver the entire shared field of view behind the vehicle.

In July, another patent application by Meier and two other Bosch colleagues was approved and published by the U.S. Patent Office detailing another advance on the back-up, rear-facing cameras for vehicles. This one involved programming a camera to default to a second camera when the view of the first is obstructed by the lift gate or a load in the back of the truck.

Miller says Bosch’s process of bringing in group or company-wide feedback and peer review speeds up the innovative process.

“It’s nice to have this clear way — and a pretty low barrier, I’d say, for people to get started down the invention path without fully having to write a patent, or even knowing how to do that,” Miller says. “I’ve taken advantage of that a number of times, and people on my team do that, and there’s a little bit of compensation (for the team and the inventor) up front if something gets patented. So it’s a little encouragement, but I think it’s mostly a creative outlet — an outlet for people’s creativity.”

Miller says inventions and patents that Bosch holds usually germinate from one of two paths.

“One involves people working on a problem and then they come up with a new way to do it, and we try to patent that,” Miller says. “Other times people learn about pain points from their own experience while driving, or hearing other people complain about things, similar to what Mike did, then making a connection with technology that Bosch has and how that could be adopted or modified and used (to relieve the problem).”

Tailgate Time - Frank Riggi, Meng Cai, and Stephen Miller, along with Michael Meier (not shown), from Bosch have developed a new  tailgate camera system designed to improve backing up while driving a pickup truck. // Courtesy of Bosch
Tailgate Time – Frank Riggi, Meng Cai, and Stephen Miller, along with Michael Meier (not shown), from Bosch have developed a new tailgate camera system designed to improve backing up while driving a pickup truck. // Courtesy of Bosch

Miller, who earned a Ph.D. in external physics from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, says while Bosch is a German company, it has a large presence in the Detroit area, specifically in developing functions that make it easier and safer for drivers who tow trailers behind their vehicles.

“When we look at trailering, Bosch’s developments in that area are happening here locally because we recognize trailering is a big thing in the United States, but not as big in other parts of the world,” he says.

It isn’t a surprise that Meier would pursue a career highlighted by the inventions he has to his credit. After graduating from Grand Blanc High School, he went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan.

From there, he joined the Delphi Corp. in Flint, where he was assigned to work on instruments. A transfer by Delphi sent him off to Indiana, where he enrolled at Purdue University and earned a master’s degree in computer engineering.

After joining Bosch in 2005, Meier spent two years in Germany working on platform development. The 44-year-old inventor now lives in Walled Lake with his family, where today he’s tinkering around with another idea.

He owns a Raspberry Pi computer that can be used to build hardware projects, learn programming skills, or take on industrial applications. “It’s a computer you can use to do some cool things and I’d like to come up with ideas for it,” he says.