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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.

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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The Dawn of Active Suspensions?

Posted October 15, 2014 12:17 PM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: active automotive passive suspension

If you want to gauge the trickle down of technology from development to consumer availability, the automotive industry is a good test subject. Huge research budgets, extensive supply networks, cutthroat competition and big name partnerships means car companies maintain appeal by staying on the cutting edge of modern innovation and development.

And the auto industry is certainly one in upheaval. Staggering fuel mandates loom heavily. Aluminum alloys represent the future of automotive materials. Smaller engines are being super- and turbocharged to squeeze every engine rotation out of available fuel. Tesla doesn't plan on being a competitor, but rather a supplier, so other automakers can use their electric powertrains. Now one knows exactly when sensors and CPUs are going to drive our cars, but bets placed for sooner rather than later will surely pay off.

Yet many automotive designs have remained stagnant, sometimes for over a century. Take your average automobile or light truck suspension. With some exceptions, the vast majority of auto suspensions in the past 100 years have either been leaf springs or coil springs. These types of suspensions are known as passive suspensions, simply because they're reactive to different grade levels and road conditions. Passive suspensions represented a major improvement on the suspensions of the 1800s, which were primarily for carriages and low speed vehicles, and consisted of leather belts slung between mounts that insulated the cabin via oscillation. Of course, such designs were unacceptable for automobiles, so early automakers relied on leaf springs (and still do for heavy cars and trucks), the same suspension principle used on ancient Egyptian chariots. In this sense, passive springs are a much, much older suspension technology than what is represented in automobiles. Coil springs couldn't be accurately produced until industrialization, and still weren't implemented in significant numbers until post-World War II. Torsion bar suspensions are primarily used on B-segment European cars, where simplicity and space savings are a primary concern.

So where am I going with all this? Hopefully a new generation of active and semi-active auto suspensions will reinvigorate an exhausted product that is easily improved by modern technology. Automakers are learning how these suspensions can help them in other developments, such as improving gas mileage, and creating a more enjoyable ride experience as well.

Active suspensions have force actuators that can both add and dissipate energy from a vehicle axle, meaning that ride quality and excellent handling isn't a compromise like it is with a passive suspension. Vehicle heights can be adjusted according to speed, improving aerodynamics and therefore gas efficiency. Active suspensions can also eliminate the sway or pitch resulting from vehicle inertia when in a tight corner, braking, or accelerating, which significantly improves vehicle safety and also enhances tire lifespans. Pretty much you would never spill coffee on yourself because of sudden stops or turns during your morning commute.

Of course, just because they've been used sparingly doesn't mean active and semi-active suspensions have been ignored. Instead, their use has been limited for two reasons: additional cost has limited deployment of expensive vehicles, and standard hydraulic suspensions are slow in response but high in power consumption.

One of the more intriguing kinds of active suspensions is the electromagnetic recuperative suspension. By utilizing a normal passive spring, an electromagnetic actuator, control unit and batteries, it reportedly increases ride quality by 60 percent, and also improves safety by eliminating sway and pitch while cornering and braking. Even if electric power to the suspension fails, the passive spring can still handle dynamic loads. Furthermore, some of the power consumed by this can be regenerated by using the motors as generators. Its small package footprint means it can even be retrofitted for many cars, according to Bose. The company best known for stereo equipment has sunk over $100 million in research on an electromagnetic suspension, as a testament to its belief in the system. Bose has even demonstrated bunnyhops with the system.

Magnetorheological dampers are another active type of suspension, but have seen further implementation than electromagnetic recuperative types. In this instance, a shock absorber is filled with magnetorheological fluid and connected to an electromagnet. When the fluid is magnetized, metallic particles align according to field lines to make the fluid stiff. By controlling this stiffness with sensors and a PLC, shock and vibration is isolated from the vehicle chassis. It has been deemed the most advanced suspension control system in the world.

Perhaps the last active suspension worth mentioning is only applicable if some manufacturers implement in-wheel motors, as speculated. It would be Michelin's Active Wheel. Not only is the wheel itself powered by an electric motor, but a separate electric motor controls each wheel's torque distribution, traction and weight distribution. The Active Wheel is perfect for electric or hybrid drivetrains. This design hasn't been incorporated into a production vehicle yet, but some analysts believe an in-wheel motor realization is on the horizon.

Of course, all of this development means nothing if it can't be scaled to an affordable, middle-class targeted vehicle. Even with inflation accounted for, vehicles are getting more expensive due to additional creature comforts and tighter government regulations. Considering that active suspensions can improve MPG, safety, handling and ride quality, there may be a day where this burgeoning technology is an inevitable cost of vehicle ownership. For now though, many of us ride around on a spring that hasn't been improved in 3,000 years.

5 comments; last comment on 10/16/2014
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Who Controls Your Car?

Posted September 22, 2014 2:43 PM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Cars rely on computers to optimize performance, and these systems often reside on the same network that connects the vehicle to the Internet. This cyber link to the outside world becomes a gateway for hackers to access critical functions like steering and brakes - as demonstrated in this article's embedded video. CNN looks at popular models such as the Jeep Cherokee and Toyota Prius and gauges the vulnerability that car owners face. On the positive side, hacking today's vehicles is more time consuming and difficult than breaking into more vulnerable PCs and smartphones.

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1 comments; last comment on 09/25/2014
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