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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.

Do Fluoropolymers Herald the End of the Car Wash?

Posted January 20, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Imagine driving down a dirt road without ever having to clean the dust or mud off your car. Or, hiking a rugged, mucky trail and never having to pick the gunk out of your boots. Scientists are developing a new, self-cleaning material that may make getting dirty a thing of the past. The new material not only mimics the famous water repellent qualities of the lotus leaf, it also features chemical properties that can repel oil. "Fluoropores" are fluorinated super-repellent polymers, similar to non-stick Teflon, that can be applied to a roughened surface. The coating repels both water and oil and virtually eliminates the adhesion of particles, from dirt to paint to ice.

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1 comments; last comment on 01/25/2015
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Self-Service vs. Full-Service, That Is The Question

Posted January 14, 2015 10:17 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: gas petrol refuel station

For the first time in ages, five bucks is gas money. Most prices I've encountered in the Empire State are less than $2.75, and at least for now, there is no end in sight to the low prices. Count that as one less first-world problem.

Of course that doesn't mean there's nothing to complain about. See, I sometimes find myself filling my tank crossing the Lincoln Tunnel (when it's not being clogged by protesters) to make my way to New Jersey (on purpose). All the jug-handle turns are worth finding a full-service station, where I get to sit in my warm car while the attendant fills it, wipes the windshield and checks my oil, and the dollar tip makes it worth it for both of us.

New York, with the exception of Huntington (located on Long Island), doesn't require full-service gas stations. In fact, Oregon and New Jersey both make it downright illegal for drivers to fill their own tanks. In Oregon, the joke is that newborns are spanked with a sticker that reads, "No self-serve and no sales tax." In many ways, not pumping your own gas has become part of the culture. Now, Massachusetts has legalized hold-open clips, the mechanisms that keep gas nozzles depressed until the pump kicks off, signaling a full tank. Though hold-open clips may be prevalent elsewhere, they're still a rarity here in the Northeast.

So why can't we have nice things? Or at least, why can't we have helpful things, such as station attendants or hold-open clips?

Oregon and New Jersey cite unique concerns when dealing with gasoline. Its flammability is well-known, but that doesn't prevent absent-minded or just plain stupid people from smoking or keeping their car on when filling the tank. I've also observed the occasional gas-into-empty-milk-jug procedure. Gas also has toxic fumes, perhaps best handled by an employee that's been trained not to sniff them on purpose. Attendant jobs do keep a good number of low-skilled people employed in a minimal wage job that gets a decent bonus from thankful patrons. There is also the concern over increased criminality, whether it be from gas thieves or suspects preying on unsuspecting self-pumpers. In regards to hold-open clips, there was concern that people may reenter their car while the gas pumps fuel, generate a static charge from fabric-on-fabric friction, and then discharge within the vicinity of gas fumes (which does, quite rarely, occur.) Spillages because the clips didn't eject are also rare.

Yet in 2015, nearly all of these concerns are disputable. Stations are outfitted with powder extinguishing system that eliminates fire in the event of flammability. Cameras reduce drive-offs, muggings and gas sniffers. Eliminating the attendant will drop fuel prices, so its effect on the job market and economy is harder to ascertain. Nonetheless, even in Oregon and New Jersey, operators have recognized that full-service is superfluous; motorcyclists and diesel customers regularly fill their own tanks.

So, until robots are filling our tanks, or battery swapping replaces fill-ups, I'm stuck with the old ways of doing things, at least when I refuel in my home state. Yet with new attitudes about these traditions, and the slow tech upgrades to standard pumps, perhaps one day before those refilling my car with unleaded octane will be zero hassle. It will almost certainly jack up the price back up, but it might be worth it for the sake of convenience.

12 comments; last comment on 01/18/2015
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Preparing for a Driverless Future

Posted December 02, 2014 9:09 PM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

The emergence of the "connected" car marks the melding of information systems and safety devices, with mobile technology providing the catalyst for the transformation. This new kind of car promises to deliver unprecedented sophistication and automation that will ultimately change the relationship between the car and its driver. The Economist describes the layers of connectivity involved, the new bundles of technologies and services that will enter the market, and the budding class of providers who may displace traditional automotive technology suppliers. It also speculates on the rise of an entirely new transportation infrastructure.

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Turning Promising Prototypes into Real Products

Posted November 10, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

In the UK, there's an "unusual" manufacturing venture supported by the likes of Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Steel. Appropriately named "Proving Factory," the venture seeks to introduce new technologies that promote low-carbon emission vehicles. Engineering360 describes three. One combines a motor/generator with a magnetic continuously variable transmission. Another, a "power-shifting transmission," provides continuous torque to the wheels. A third technology improves upon the non-rare-earth, permanent magnet generator.

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Driverless Cars vs. Railroads, Round 1

Posted November 05, 2014 10:43 AM by HUSH

First let me self-expose a bias: I'm a rail fan. Maybe not as big a rail fan as this guy, but a rail fan nonetheless.

It began in the days when I was a young kid and my mom would take me to the rail yard to see locomotives idle down, detach cars or push rolling stock over the hump. It continues today, even though most of my current train experiences are standing-room only, someone smells and the subway car is invaded by a team of street acrobats.

For most people outside large cities, trains aren't a true transportation option, but then again neither are cars. For everyone else, there is seemingly a 'sweet spot' for travelling by train, somewhere between 100 and 600 miles. Anything closer can be trekked by car; anything farther should require an airplane.

But even with these considerations, travelling by car is typically preferred. The advantages are numerous. There is no set itinerary. You don't have to adhere to luggage limits or fees. No rushing to the station to make departure. It's comparable in price, and usually faster than a train. Metrics back up the American penchant for driving over riding. The U.S. has more than double the rail network size of second-place China, but ridership stats rank behind railroad-deficient countries such as Egypt and Mozambique.

Despite this, investment in railway improvements and high-speed rail development continues to create political pressure in the U.S. In many ways it's a foreign issue too--take Britain's own HS2 high-speed rail debate as evidence that train tickets aren't an easy sell in many places.

So when one of train travel's primary advantages--the ability to sleep, work, game, watch a video or completely zone out--arrives in automobiles, by way of autonomous driving, is it the deathstroke for travel by train?

Seemingly so, according to this Forbes article that articulates that trains are already approaching obsolescence, and that the ability to sit down in a privately owned car (either yours or one you arranged for by emerging ride-sharing programs), travel at 100 mph, and enjoy the time as your own will significantly increase most people's reliance on and utilization of automobiles. Envisioning a fully-developed autonomous vehicle market, cars can be complemented by automated tractor trailers and flatbeds, further devaluing trains as a whole, but this time from the freight and logistics perspective.

But a few things can keep supply-chain-by-train a thing of the near-present and forever-future. First, a real, tangible tunnel or bridge that connects Alaska to Siberia via the Bering Strait would go a long, long way (figuratively and literally) in keeping locomotives relevant. Foremost, both Alaska and Siberia have sparse infrastructure, and the ability to keep cars fueled and serviced in the remote corners of these continents would be an enormous and expensive challenge. Not only that, but crossing the 125-mile tunnel or bridge via automobile would be much more risky proposition. When the first bridge over the Bering was conceptualized in 1890, the engineering was not up to task, but governments on both sides believed it would be an enormous economic advantage. One-hundred-twenty-five years later, the engineering is more than capable of creating such a design, but the political goodwill doesn't exist anymore. The most recent news on this front comes from China, who wants to build a China-Russia-Canada-U.S. high-speed railroad to transport people and goods from China to the U.S. in just two days.

A separate option is update trains themselves. First, train engineers can be replaced by automated systems as well. Though this can be controversial, as since July 2013 freight trains carrying potential hazardous materials have received increased scrutiny, this is ultimately leveraging the same technology that makes trains obsolete in the first place. Enormous operational costs can be recouped by integrating things like automated process controls, remote inputs and advanced ticketing systems, effectively saving railroads from themselves. Hybrid or hydrogen-powered trains are viable ways to decrease fuel dependencies.

Lastly, is to market trains less as a way to the destination, and more as a destination in itself. Take ocean liners as an example. Once airplanes turned a 10-day voyage on the open sea into a 10-hour power nap, ocean liners became terribly archaic. But for those who prefer the scenic route, don't have a schedule or purse strings or don't want to fly, the Queen Mary 2 still operates trans-Atlantic voyages for most of the year. Guests are surrounded by luxury during a seven-night crossing from New York to Southampton. In many ways, passenger trains could remodel themselves as a luxurious means to scenic travel. Rail lines like the JR Kyushu have taken this idea and implemented a four-day sightseeing trip around Japan. The image at right is from one of the suites on this train, while this gallery exhibits ideas for future rail liners.

No one can really predict if trains will become outdated or if autonomous vehicles will even work. But the precedent is there, and now it's up to the railroad industry to decide how proactive about its fate it needs to be.

11 comments; last comment on 11/07/2014
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VR's Wild and Wonderful World

Posted October 26, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

If you think that virtual reality isn't a serious engineering tool but merely the stuff of video games, read this thorough report on how VR is changing the design landscape. Get the latest on hardware, such as portable and permanent computer-assisted virtual environment (CAVE) systems. Learn about leading corporate and university VR labs and their role in getting engineering teams inside their designs. Also discussed: software tools that enable VR simulations, as well as background on companies like ESI Systems that can help you get started in the world of virtual reality, no matter what your budget.

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