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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.

Cars Go Optoelectronic

Posted April 17, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Optoelectronics - including LEDs, optocouplers, and infrared components - have increasingly supplanted more conventional electronics, especially in automobiles. LEDs, with their higher efficiencies and longer lives, have replaced incandescent bulbs, reducing power consumption in display backlighting and headlights, including daytime running lights (now mandatory in the EU). Infrared detectors can determine whether to switch on headlights or turn on windshield wipers. This video looks at the growth.

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Printing a Car

Posted April 14, 2015 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Is it feasible to print a car? That's the question the 3D Printed Car Design Challenge recently took on. Using a 2 x 4 x 0.9 m printer capable of depositing 17 kg/hr, the winning entrant completed the 454 kg main body structure in 47 hours (watch). Composites World reports that an even bigger printer currently in development will do the same job in less than 24 hours and produce parts double the size of the current machine.

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1 comments; last comment on 04/14/2015
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Autonomous Cars: More Questions Than Answers

Posted April 01, 2015 9:43 AM by HUSH

At this point, autonomous cars are a given, right? Pretty much every automotive discussion needs to involve the impending availability of driverless autos. This coming summer (if it ever truly arrives), Tesla will supply all models with an over-the-air software upgrade that will provide cars with some of the rudimentary concepts of driverless tech: park-and retrieve and highway autopilot. While highway autopilot has been featured on some high-end brands before, it's interesting to see that Tesla has been preparing their products for this essentially from the beginning.

These vehicles will constitute an L3 vehicle according to the Society for Automotive Engineers, which has devised 6 classes of automated vehicles. An L0 vehicle has no automation whatsoever, while an L5 has complete automation with zero human involvement. Within this range vehicles require varying degrees of human intervention. By 2035, IHS predicts that there will be 51.4 million L5 vehicles on global roadways (though it's a fraction of the expected 2 billion passenger vehicles overall).

Many words have been spent on the technology developments that need to take place to make the autonomous car a reality, as well as how automakers are going to keep them safe from hackers. Less text has been spent on all the peripheral changes that need to take place in how we regulate and maintain our autos.

First, will autonomous cars completely abolish the driver's license? Obviously some form of government ID will be needed, but taking an exam to earn a permit to learn how to drive will be superfluous. However, what's to stop an adventurous 7-year-old from driving to the toy store, or a rebellious teen from driving away from home? Sure, a parental control and GPS tracker can solve this, but how do we know when individuals are mature enough to make their own destination decisions? Do we lower the "driving age"? Do we let parents decide when kids can ride around in the auto-car? California's DMV has offered autonomous vehicle licenses as of last fall, but only to qualified individuals who already possess a typical license. This clearly won't and can't be the status quo once L5s are common.

Personal responsibility remains a huge threat on the road. Too many people text while driving or drive drunk. Thankfully, autonomous cars will eliminate these threats completely. Heck, they'll probably eliminate fender benders and door dings from parking to close too. So what does this do to auto insurance? Do rates bottom out, or is the concept eliminated all together? (Insurance giants aren't going to go down quietly.) After all, in an L5 vehicle, the human will have zero responsibility for what happens on the road. So if an accident happens, injury-causing or not, who pays? The automaker? The programmers?

Also, assuming that L5 vehicles overtake the car market en mass, what happens to the billions of driver-needing cars around the world? Are they converted to be autonomous? Are they outlawed? Elon Musk expects they'll become illegal, but here in the U.S., it will be like trying take our guns-not going to happen in a country built on firearms and backfire. And are the millions of classic cars and enthusiasts going to accept that their hobby/passion isn't the same? Not likely.

Clearly, the autonomous car revolution offers many, many more questions than solutions. Inevitably each of these will questions will have an answer, but the autonomous car market may be chaotic in the meantime.

1 comments; last comment on 04/04/2015
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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.


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 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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