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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.

Honda Is Developing a System That Informs Drivers of the Status of Traffic Lights

Posted April 18, 2014 6:00 PM by Jordan Perch

Honda has announced that it is going to start testing its driving support system, that can help drivers as many green lights as possible. The main goal of this system is to reduce congestion, by enabling a faster traffic flow, with less stop-and-go traffic, resulting in reduced fuel consumption and lower carbon dioxide emissions. In essence, it's pretty similar to Audi's Traffic Light Assist, which the German automaker demonstrated at the CES in Las Vegas last month, but they transmit traffic-light information to vehicles in a different way, and Honda's system has a few additional features that tell the driver exactly how fast they need to go in order to make a green light.

The Driving Support System developed by Honda is part of the Universal Traffic Management System project, conducted by the National Police Agency of Japan, which aims to create a safer and smoother traffic and reduce air pollution, and will be tested in Utsunomiya City, Japan. The main thing that this system is supposed to achieve is ensure a smooth traffic flow at intersections, by utilizing information that it gets from infra-red beacons installed on the roadside, or attached to a traffic light, which are connected to a city's traffic control center, and by monitoring the speed at which a vehicle is moving, and its location.

While you are approaching an intersection, the system will be monitoring the traffic light and will be aware of when it is about to turn green or red. When the light is green, the system calculates whether there is enough time for the driver to make it, in which case, it informs the driver what speed they need to maintain in order to make it before the light turns red, by displaying the recommended speed on the car's dashboard screen.

In case the light you are approaching is red, the system will notify you that you need to slow down, which helps you avoid harsh braking once you get to the light in order to come to a full stop. This way, you can start accelerating and decelerating slowly and early on, depending on whether the light is green or red, which will save you a lot of gas.

In addition to this, once you've stopped at a red light, the system displays a countdown that shows the time that is left until it turns green, so that you can press the gas pedal in time and resume driving, which is another way to ensure a faster traffic flow, considering that many drivers don't pay attention to the signalization while waiting at a red light, and don't continue driving right after it turns green, creating a delay of several seconds.

Honda believes that this system will contribute significantly to improving fuel efficiency, and reducing CO2 emissions, by eliminating unnecessary acceleration and deceleration. In addition to that, it could enhance traffic safety, too, by making drivers realize that they can't make a green light, which would hopefully prevent them from running red lights, reducing the number of intersection-related crashes. They recently announced the Honda Smart Home project as well, so exciting times come for Honda.

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Automakers Perfect New Aluminum Welding Systems

Posted April 14, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

New federal fuel economy requirements are pushing automobile manufacturers to use lighter materials, including aluminum. Assembling aluminum body parts to steel frames has typically depended on adhesives and rivets. However, both methods have limitations due to cost and how well the joints hold. Automakers have developed three new welding methods for joining aluminum to other metals: stir, laser, and resistance spot welding. Both stir and spot welding use modified heads that break down the oxide layer of the aluminum, enabling stronger bonds between aluminum, steel, and other metal alloys. All three methods can join parts at production speeds at comparable or lower cost than rivet joints.

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.

1 comments; last comment on 04/15/2014
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Walmart Is Testing an Unconventional Fuel-Efficient Hybrid Truck

Posted April 11, 2014 9:29 AM by Jordan Perch

Walmart, the world's largest retailer has been working on various sustainability projects for a while now, which include using 100% renewable energy, trying to create zero waste, and committing to selling products that are not harmful to the environment. They have also been trying to cut transportation costs and use more eco-friendly trucks, in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. Fuel expenses make up a huge portion of Walmart's operating costs, so the company is always looking for ways to make its truck fleet more fuel-efficient. These efforts have resulted in a new truck concept, that is nothing like conventional transport trucks.

They have joined forces with a few companies to develop the WAVE (Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experiment) concept. These include Peterbilt - the prominent truck manufacturing company, Capstone Turbine - manufacturer of gas turbines, and Great Dane Trailers, which builds high-quality trailers. The WAVE features a pretty innovative design (video) that is very unusual for a truck, with an extremely aerodynamic cabin, and a convex nose, which reduces drag drastically. The company claims that it's 20% more aerodynamic than other trucks that it's using currently.

The cabin design is not the only thing that provides the truck with great fuel efficiency. The truck's trailer is made entirely from carbon fiber, and it's 4,000 pounds lighter than a conventional trailer. It features two 53-foot long side panels, which according to Walmart, are the world's longest single-piece panels made of carbon fiber. This makes it possible for the truck to carry more freight, without having to burn more fuel. The cabin's interior is also quite extraordinary. First of all, you access it by sliding its door, which has a large window for better visibility. The driver's seat is positioned centrally, and the dashboard features LCD screens that have replaced the traditional instrument cluster. The intention to make a very narrow cabin is one of the reasons for the central position of the driver's seat. Finally, there is a sleeper cabin behind the driver's seat.

The WAVE is powered by battery-electric hybrid drivetrain, that consists of an electric motor and a microturbine, along with an internal combustion engine. It can run on various fuels, including natural gas, biodiesel, diesel, and other fuels that may be developed in the future, as Walmart claims. The hybrid powertrain is mounted under the cabin. While the company hasn't released any specific info on the truck's fuel economy, it's safe to say that it's far better than 6 mpg, which is what other trucks of similar size get. Even with a minimal improvement of Walmart trucks' fuel economy, the company would save a significant amount of money, considering that its fleet consists of nearly 7,000 trucks.

However, the WAVE is only a concept for now, and there is no indication as to whether it will ever go into production, with Walmart's CEO Doug McMillon himself stating: "It may never make it to the road, but it will allow us to test new technologies and new approaches."

8 comments; last comment on 04/13/2014
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In-car Emotion Detectors to Improve Road Safety

Posted April 04, 2014 8:43 AM by Jordan Perch

Facial expression analysis software has been used extensively in various fields, primarily in marketing and medicine, to measure a person's sentiment and use the feedback to change the approach when trying to sell a certain product to a customer, or for assessment of pain in patients. Additionally, it can also help improve traffic safety, since it can detect driver drowsiness and prevent crashes caused by fatigued drivers. There are a few other ways that this technology can enhance driver safety, as it has the ability to recognize the universal facial expressions of emotion - surprise, fear, sadness, disgust, anger, joy, and contempt, and it's a fact that emotions have a significant effect on a person's driving abilities.

The impact of specific emotions on people's driving skills is exactly what a team of researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) wanted to investigate, so they have partnered up with PSA Peugeot Citroen to develop an emotion detector that can be mounted on a car's dashboard and measure drivers' emotions. Their system employs an infrared camera that is attached behind the steering wheel, that monitors the driver's face at all times, tracking specific movements of the musculature of the face, which can reveal what emotion the driver is feeling at a given moment.

Hua Gao and Anil YĆ¼ce, who led the research, found that it was very difficult to determine when a driver is irritated, because each person expresses this feeling in a different way, so they decided to focus on two emotions that can be easily identified: anger and disgust. Based on the movements of a driver's eyes, nose and mouth, the software can detect when they are feeling angry or disgusted, which indicates that they are under stress and they are at risk of overreacting in a certain driving situation, leading to road rage, which is one of the most common causes of car accidents. If the system determines that you are angry or disgusted, it informs you that you have the symptoms of road rage. In this case, you should pull over to the side of the road and take a couple of minutes to calm down.

Hopefully, as the technology develops further, it will be able to connect with cars' steering and braking system, so that it can apply the brakes for you in case it detects you are driving too aggressively and you are about to hit the vehicle in front of you, or prevent you from making a sharp turn and drift away from your lane.

In the future, the system is likely to be updated, so that it can detect driver distraction, looking for signs that indicate that a driver has taken his/her eyes off the road, as well as signs of fatigue, by measuring the percentage of eyelid closure.

The findings from this research can be very useful to developers of semi-autonomous vehicles, which can use this type of software to help cars identify the emotional state of the driver and decide whether they should perform the most important driving tasks or allow the driver to continue operating the vehicle.

18 comments; last comment on 04/07/2014
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Tesla Plans Advanced Battery Factory

Posted April 04, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

By the time this is read, EV maker Tesla will have revealed detailed plans for its Giga battery factory. Initial reports indicate the facility will integrate all aspects of battery production - from precursor materials to cell, module, and pack production.

The goal is three-fold: accelerate the pace of battery innovation; drive down battery costs; and "create a compelling and affordable electric car in approximately three years."

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

4 comments; last comment on 04/06/2014
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Extreme Weather Reduces Electric Car Range

Posted March 28, 2014 1:16 PM by Jordan Perch

Ever since electric cars were first introduced to the market, range anxiety has been one of their biggest problems. That's one of the reasons why they haven't caught on the way, on top of the high purchase price and long recharging times. In particular, electric car batteries have a reputation of not being able to perform at their best at low temperatures. There have been many reports of electric cars losing range in cold weather, with the most notable examples involving arguably the best all-electric car on the market, the Tesla Model S, which has been having issues when temperatures drop below freezing. Tesla, and other electric car manufacturers obviously claim that electric vehicles' performances are not affected by cold weather, but a recent research conducted by the AAA shows that range of electric cars does fluctuate in freezing weather.

What's more, the AAA says that battery range of EVs is not only affected by freezing temperatures, but by extremely hot weather, as well. The AAA Automotive Research Center in Southern California has tested the batteries of three electric cars: the 2013 Nissan Leaf, the 2014 Ford Focus, and the 2012 Mitsubishi iMIEV, and has found that their range drops up to 57% on average, depending on the temperature.

The range of these three vehicles was tested at cold, moderate, and hot temperatures. The AAA conducted simulations that replicated city driving, with stop-and-go traffic. The batteries of all vehicles were fully charged before the beginning of the tests, driving on a dynamometer in a climate-controlled room until their batteries were drained. When driving at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a moderate temperature, the average range for a full charge was 105 miles. When the temperature dropped to 20 degrees, the average range was cut to 43 miles, which is a 57% decline. The difference wasn't that drastic in very hot weather, but still, when tested at 95 degrees, the average range was reduced to 69 miles, or 33% lower than at moderate temperatures. The tests were performed between December 2013 and January 2014.

Greg Brannon, AAA's director of automotive engineering, said that the Ford Focus and the Mitsubishi iMIEV had special devices that managed the battery temperature. He said: "We were expecting that difference would yield differences in the optimal range of the vehicles in extreme temperatures,", but it turned out that it did not. Brannon added that this huge fluctuations are probably due to the fact that in very cold or very hot weather, a significant amount of an electric car's battery is being used to heat or cool the battery, which leaves less power for the car's range.

AAA says that the goal of this research was not to highlight the drawbacks of electric vehicles. Actually, Brannon said that even with these reductions in range when driving at extreme temperatures, electric car batteries can still deliver a range that is enough for a round-trip commute, which is usually less than 40 miles.

3 comments; last comment on 03/31/2014
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