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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.

A Look at Google Driverless Cars

Posted March 26, 2015 12:00 AM by CR4 Guest Author

The Google Self-Driving Car, powered by Google's innovative program Google Chauffeur, is certainly making waves in the driving world. With human error accounting for the vast majority of automobile crashes, as well as older drivers losing the ability to drive as well with confidence, it seems like the Google Self-Driving Car is the all-around cure for human-on-human road rage and traffic accidents.

Sebastian Thrun, Google engineer, is the current Self-Driving Car project leader, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and co-inventor of Google Street View. He created the robotic vehicle "Stanley" back in 2005, winning that year's DARPA Grand Challenge and its $2 million prize from the United States Department of Defense. The team that developed that particular system consisted of 15 Google engineers, including Chris Urmson, Mike Montemerlo, and Anthony Levandowski.

State legislation has been successfully passed to make Google Self-Driving Cars street legal for four U.S. states (California, Nevada, Florida, and Michigan), as well as Washington, D.C., with a third state legislation currently in review for stating criteria in the state of Texas.

Google engineer and project team member Urmson says, "We're spending less time in near-collision states. Our car is driving more smoothly and more safely than our trained professional drivers." This statement was prompted by the official road test in which the Google Chauffeur program was placed in the computers of a Prius and Lexus, and proved that while the professional drivers had sharper turns and brakes, the Google Self-Driving Car program proved to run more safely and smoothly through common road obstacles and general routes through a closed test driving course.

Despite the promising applications for people everywhere who are unable or otherwise gradually losing the ability to drive to remain mobile, there are safety concerns among the general public about how truly safe the Google Self-Driving Car will be in the long run. Seapine Software composed a study in February among 2,000 U.S. adults, and the results revealed that about 88% of them would be concerned about driving in a self-driving car, with the main cause for concern being a software malfunction or safety glitch. "We found, not surprisingly, that safety was the number one concern that survey respondents noted for their reluctance to adopt driverless technology," said president and CEO of Seapine Software, Rick Riccetti. "That means that until manufacturers - in this case Google - can prove, without a doubt, that their product is free from software glitches or failures there simply won't be a market for them for the average consumer."

Despite the obvious questions of safety, as well as more liability-related issues, such as who would be at fault in the case of a potential collision between two driverless vehicles, it's clear that only time will tell in the case of this new technological innovation.

As it is, prices are expected to be sky high for the potential first prototypes to be sent off the assembly line, which means that wealthier people with higher vehicular budgets will be more likely to experience it first before the average American gets a shot at it. The technology alone is estimated to cost more than $250,000 per vehicle - but like with the smart phone, perhaps we do need the wealthy to test the newest and latest gadgets for bugs before we get our hands on them.

Despite the negativity surrounding the cost affordability and potential safety bugs, the general buzz and excitement surrounding the unveiling of the Google Self-Driving Car is a good sign that, once we've reached a point that the appeal of the driverless vehicles is virtually flawless, more and more Americans will gradually begin to adopt this groundbreaking technology.

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4 comments; last comment on 03/28/2015
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Radar vs. Radar Detector

Posted March 25, 2015 10:12 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: highway radar radar detector traffic

It's been a while since I've been cited for a traffic infraction (*frantically searches for wood to knock on). In September 2011 I was pulled over for speeding through a school zone near my residence. In my absolute defense, the school itself had been closed for three years, and unbeknownst to me, that day was the first day classes had resumed at that building.

While it's more contextual and less excusal, I took the ticket to court and settled for a diminished punishment. It was the first time I had received points on my license since before I was 20. Most of the tickets in my life have come from the city's policy of alternate parking on my street.

However, when I saw that Monday's meh.com deal was a well-rated Cobra radar detector for just $18, well, my buying impulse couldn't be restrained, just like my breakfast sandwich needs back in September 2011. Thing is, I don't even speed (5 mph over the speed limit, maximum). Heck, I barely drive (city life and working from home does that you.) However, all I'm doing is expressing my right to buy and use a radar detector, something many people can't do. And trying to stay one step ahead of the cops is as old as speed enforcement itself; excuse me if I try not to be a rolling dollar sign.

Radar detectors are illegal to own or operate in many countries: Australia (except one province), most of Canada, Netherlands, Brazil, France, Germany, just to name a few. They're also illegal in Virginia and Washington D.C. However, they are legal in the rest of the U.S., U.K., Russia and Mexico. In Israel, cell service providers integrate radar detection into their smartphones. This just shows the divide over how to legislate these devices that supposedly enable motorists to practice unsafe driving.

But it's truly impossible to restrict citizens from owning a radar detector. First, radar detectors are surprisingly cheap and simple for a knowledgeable individual (such as you, or perhaps frankd20). Second, there is an endless amount of detector detecting. That's why some police detectors feature radar detector detectors, and to counter this, driver-oriented devices sometimes feature detector detector detectors, or metal-enclosures to prevent detectors from picking up stray EM signals.

As things have become interconnected, it can be virtually impossible for the police to surprise motorists with a speed trap. For example, radar detector manufacturer Escort has models that upload police locations to a database via Bluetooth-tethered smartphones. Other Escort users in the vicinity receive updates about speed traps, even before their detector goes off. Of course there are already pricey apps available, but they don't have the active sensing.

Lastly, consider the safety effects of radar detectors. It's assumed that detectors enable speeding, therefore unsafe drivers. According to a NHTSA survey (.pdf), drivers with radar detectors are twice as likely to be stopped for a traffic violation, yet the survey doesn't report on safety. In fact the only government study on the issue is from 1988 (.pdf); it found that "it remains to be demonstrated that detector usage influences speed in the absence of a detectable radar signal." The study also found that drivers with radar detectors slowed down considerably when in the presence of a detected signal, and that was a larger threat than the speeding. Lastly, it concluded that the study was a waste of money and that's probably why there aren't more studies on this issue.

Besides, if the police are actually determined to catch you speeding, they'll use LIDAR. Detectors will often alert drivers to the presence of a LIDAR gun, but won't perceive the signal until the LIDAR has already determined your speed. Sure you can jam the LIDAR, but that's an FCC violation, much worse than a simple speeding ticket.

Until autonomous cars promise a homogenous flow of traffic, there will always be a device war between radar guns and radar detectors. You don't have to pick a side, but you might be stuck in the slow lane.

24 comments; last comment on 03/28/2015
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Customer Input Improves Next-gen Chevy Volt

Posted March 22, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

The Detroit Auto Show saw General Motors reveal details regarding the Chevy Volt for 2016. Improved chemistry from LG Chem cuts battery weight about 30 lbs (14 kg), even while producing 18.4 kW hr of energy - up from 17.1 kW hr. In addition, the electric-only range jumps from 38 to 50 mi (61 to 81 km). The redesign was also paced by input from customers of the first generation plug-in vehicle. New features include a lighted charge port with improved charge status indication, added rear leg room, and a middle back seat rather than arm rest.


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1 comments; last comment on 03/23/2015
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Future Tires Widen Operating Conditions

Posted March 18, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

After an auto engine's power passes through the driveline, it is the task of the tires to put that power efficiently and safely to the road or ground. Winners of this year's Hankook Tire Design Challenge from the University of Design, Engineering and Business in Pforzheim, Germany, came up with innovative ways of operating a tire over a range of ground and weather conditions. First prize was the Dakar tire for on- and off-road driving. The tire is made of individual, inflatable hexagonal blocks that are positioned close together on pavement, and then spread apart on a special wheel for off-road traction.


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2 comments; last comment on 03/20/2015
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Cyberprotection for Robocars

Posted February 21, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

As connected, automated cars edge closer to reality, analysts begin to identify their pros and cons. While the possibilities conjure up excitement, the dangers give pause. In this IEEE Spectrum article, two experts sketch the extent of potential cyber threats, ranging from passive snooping and the jamming of transmissions to active manipulation and the introduction of false signals. To counter these vulnerabilities, the scientists recommend wrapping these vehicles in overlapping layers of armor, consisting of secure global navigation satellite systems, authentication based on encryption, and misbehavior detection technology.


Editor's Note: This news brief was brought to you by the Automotive Technology eNewsletter. Subscribe today to have content like this delivered to your inbox

3 comments; last comment on 02/22/2015
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Faked Engine Noise is Overhyped

Posted January 28, 2015 10:15 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: auto engine noise fake order content

Last weekend the 2015 North American International Auto Show wrapped up, and on display were many innovations and trends, as noted by this Eng360 article.

To optimize vehicle performance and efficiency, many manufacturers have implemented driving modes for traffic jams, city stop-and-go, highway cruising, off-roading and every other terrain scenario imaginable. Some vehicles promised park-and-retrieve technology: the car drops you off at the door, parks itself, and can then be recalled with a few swipes on a smartphone. Other cars promised seamless HUDs, advanced lightweight materials or a new spree of Ferrari murders (looking suspiciously at you 2017 Ford GT).

Yet few vehicles featured quiet cabins. No truck model offered the most tranquil driving experience yet. There were no sports car advertisements of sleeping newborns in rush-hour traffic congestion. And no manufacturer promised, "The most realistic fake motor sounds in the industry."

Yet that's exactly what's being sold, and it's not really a bad thing.

Recent media hot air tries to portray manufacturers who amplify or falsify engine sounds as dishonest, when there are about a hundred better examples of automaker deceit. Modern motor vehicle cabins have become increasingly soundproof, and the natural purr of an engine has been reduced as fuel economy and power density become more important considerations. Some automotive engineers implement "order content" audio to mimic the cylinder firing sounds of V6 or V8 engines, while others purposefully run exhaust components through the cabin to increase engine noise.

Here are just a few of the order content offenders

  • Ford surveyed Mustang fan clubs to find which engine sound seemed the most Mustang-y, according to the Washington Post. The winning engine sound is played at low frequency in 2015 Ford Mustangs equipped with EcoBoost engines, because they're almost impossible to hear from inside the car. Older mustangs were known to route a second exhaust that made the car sound more powerful to the driver. A similar technique is used on the 2015 F-150. Apparently Ford thought the turbocharge Ecoboosts were too whiny.
  • The BMW F10 M5 has used a throttle-responsive engine play track since 2011.
  • The VW GTI uses the Soundaktor, a hockey puck-sized speaker mounted to the firewall that VW says amplifies the engine's real sound. It's circled in the image at right.
  • Harley Davidson admitted that a mid-90s redesign eliminated the "potato-potato-potato" sound of a classic Harley. In conjunction with Porsche, Harley tuned the air intake, tri-pass muffler and transmission gears to provide the iconic Harley sound.
  • Practically every hybrid or electric vehicle.

And then there's my favorite, the upfront Renault Clio 200 Turbo. It allows drivers to customize how their order content sounds, including like a GTR, motorcycle, spaceship or a classic Renault.

Really, all these automakers are trying to do is meet customer expectations. Even the youngest current car buyer was raised when cars sounded like cars. What that exactly means is completely subjective. Ten years from now, are car buyers going to expect the whirr of a hybrid or EV? Who can rightfully complain about fake engine sounds when car buyers might downright dismiss a vehicle for being too quiet?

There is the argument that listening to the real engine might help diagnose engine issues, but outside the folks at Hemmings, very few drivers are capable of identifying these nuances.

Ultimately, a quiet car is an advanced car. It means that technology and materials have progressed to the point that we're able to eliminate something that our automotive ancestors would have eliminated if they could. In a decade, we won't even care about what sounds the engine makes and how it feels because we won't be driving at all.

This is like the shutter sound when you take a digital photo--why synthesize something that so feels archaic?

25 comments; last comment on 01/31/2015
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