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Automotive Technology

The Automotive Technology Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about electrical/electronic components, materials, design & assembly, and powertrain systems. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Tech Takes the Wheel

Posted December 04, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Bosch's VisionX concept involves platoons of "super trucks" electronically linked to a lead vehicle. As they travel down the highway, trucks in the platoon steer, accelerate, and brake in sync. Drivers, however, would control the trucks before and after they join a platoon.

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NHTSA: Quiet Cars Must Imitate Noisy Cars by 2019

Posted November 16, 2016 11:13 AM by HUSH

Recall back in January 2015, when there was sensationalized outcry about how automakers were purposefully making their cars sound louder. As vehicle cabins became more soundproof and engines more efficient, many manufacturers opted to either, (A) play fake engine noise through a vehicle’s sound system, or (B) redesign systems or include components so the driver was better able to perceive the engine resonance. This was primarily done to meet driver expectations of what a car sounds like.

This is called ‘order content’ in automaker nomenclature. Greater numbers of hybrid and electric vehicles are entering the U.S. auto fleet (although EVs are less than 1% and hybrids are roughly 3% of the market share) and these vehicles are even quieter than the internal combustion engine vehicles that were under scrutiny two years ago.

So to help visually-impaired pedestrians—or more likely the thousands of phone-staring urbanites who would helplessly walk right into traffic without a glance—the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued regulations that all new electric and hybrid vehicles need to emit exterior noise when powered on and stopped or travelling below 18.6 mph (including in reverse) by September 1, 2019. This noise must also increase or decrease in pitch, to indicate acceleration and deceleration, and be able to indicate constant speed or reverse.

The NHTSA has also determined that not enough vehicle noise research has been done in regards to motorcycles and heavy-duty vehicles. So two- and three-wheeled vehicles are exempt from this policy, as are vehicles over 10,000 lb. The sound can also be eliminated when the vehicle exceeds 18.6 mph, as it should create enough operational noise to be a sufficient auditory cue.

This isn’t unlike the Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System legislation the European Union passed in 2014. AVAS systems have to be in place on all new EV and hybrid cars in the EU by July 2019 and retrofits have to be completed within two years after that. Probably the best feature of the AVAS ruling is EVs and hybrids can put their supplementary noise on pause.

It remains to be seen what sounds hybrid automakers will elect to use on their EVs and hybrids but some, such as Nissan, have already begun implementing acoustic warnings. The Nissan Leaf sounds a bit like a spaceship, but not in the cool way.

Compelling high efficiency vehicles to make noise eliminates one of their key features. Never forget that noise is indeed a type of pollution and wasted energy.

Of course Tesla, the manufacturer who has anted the most into the EV market, sees this as a problem. Electrek points out that in 2013, when AVAS and NHTSA’s quiet car rules were just beginning to take shape, Elon Musk saw this as a future possibility. He floated the idea of directed noise, using proximity sensors that recognize pedestrians and speakers that propagate sound at them. This might be the best compromise between EVs that make, arguably, too much noise, while also keeping blind or distracted pedestrians aware. With Tesla’s new Enhanced Autopilot, this is a very real possibility, but who knows if the NHTSA will believe it complies with their new mandate.

(Sarcasm: Next on the list are cars that send you a text message to tell you when it is safe to cross the street.)

No matter what noise car manufacturers elect to use on their EVs and hybrids, I don’t think anyone is going to be completely satisfied with the result. We’ll have cars that make genuine engine noise; cars that imitate engine noise; and cars that potentially sound nothing like cars at all.

It’s true that quiet vehicles could be a real danger in urban environments, but the answer of intentional noise pollution isn’t optimal. And at some point, even though we all can and do make mistakes, pedestrians need to have some self-reliance on their ability to navigate basic sidewalks.

22 comments; last comment on 11/18/2016
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Automated Ubers Now on the Streets

Posted November 14, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Ride-hailing vendor Uber has begun a self-driving pilot project in Pittsburgh. The real-world experiment is designed as a viable alternative to individual car ownership. Available 24 hrs a day, the self-driving Ubers provide a safety driver in the front seat for intervention during certain conditions, such as bad weather.
In a related story, Apple has abandoned its electric vehicle effort to focus on autonomous driving.

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Welding Technique Could Benefit Auto Assembly

Posted October 22, 2016 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

A new welding method, dubbed vaporizing foil actuator welding (VFAW), claims to create bonds 50% stronger than those produced by common welding techniques — while consuming one-fifth the energy. In addition, VFAW can join widely disparate combinations of metals. This enables manufacturers to make auto bodies from high strength-to-weight-ratio materials such as aluminum and magnesium instead of steel.
For more on this subject, subscribe to the Engineering360 e-Newsletter, Fastening, Joining & Assembly.

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4 comments; last comment on 10/23/2016
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A Motorcycle So Safe You Don't Need a Helmet

Posted October 19, 2016 2:20 PM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: accident autonomous bmw Motorcycle

Story time! Long before I stumbled down the amiable career path that is technical writing, I was a writer and editor for the obituary section of a large newspaper. It was…interesting.

It was depressing being in the business of death. It was comforting knowing that I was helping families grieve. It was rewarding when families would smile while offering memories of their loved one. Dreadful when I once made a typo that described a decedent as "deaf" instead of "dear."

One of the most pragmatic things this stepping stone provided was a fear of motorcycles. At the time, I had several friends with bikes, and I hoped to save my meager wages enough to join the fun. Yet, without fail, every other day during the summer, I’d see or hear of another motorcyclist’s life claimed in an auto accident. Much later, I found an entirely different vehicle as a hobby.

Last week, automaker BMW debuted the Motorrad Vision Next 100, a concept motorcycle that BMW claims is so safe, riders won’t even need to wear a helmet. That is because the Vision Next 100 features self-righting technology that keeps it upright even at a standstill. The self-balancing feat is accomplished by an internal AI system that is still in development, but is built upon the recently unveiled Intelligent Emergency Call system BMW debuted less than six months ago, which senses when a biker crashes and sends a distress signal to local emergency services.

Instead of a helmet, Vision Next 100 riders would wear special glasses with an integrated HUD. These smartglasses will provide vital vehicle data to the operator, but will also be outfitted with sensors that electronically link the rider to the motorcycle. In concert with the onboard AI and sensors, the motorcycle anticipates rider movements and corrects delays or mistakes while riding. The AI even controls things like a moving engine block that widens or thins depending on the ride. BMW believes this will safely integrate new riders into the bike culture, while also providing enough thrills for seasoned enthusiasts. (But don’t bikers want just a little bit of risk?)

The vision, according the BMW engineers, was to create a motorcycle that can seamlessly blend with the autonomous vehicle traffic of the 2020s and beyond. While this means things like assisted braking and other safety features, this motorcycle will not be autonomous. BMW is well aware of how human drivers will likely bully autonomous vehicles in mixed traffic. (If you want autonomous motorcycles, go to see the extra weird Cyclotron.)

Even though the Vision Next 100 may very well be the safest motorcycle of all time, there is no reason to think it will be fatality free. Even the most advanced sensors and balancing technologies won’t be able to cope with the extremely diverse challenges of navigating roadways on a motorcycle. If I were to ever ride the Vision Next 100, I would definitely want a helmet and a durable jacket, not the Cyclops goggles and ergonomic windbreaker BMW recommends.

It seems like we’ve finally found the boundary with autonomous vehicles, the one that straddles the arguments of, “Yeah, autonomous cars are really safe” and “Maybe we’re getting complacent.” Either way, BMW has a decade or more to figure it out.

43 comments; last comment on 10/27/2016
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