New Technology to Increase Fuel Economy

An exciting new technology is being developed by scientists at Sandia National Laboratories that shows great promise in improving fuel economy in passenger vehicles. Its called Low-temperature gasoline combustion (LTGC) and the technology deals with altering the fuel combustion in gasoline powered engines to operate at lower temperatures. Spark ignition engines, commonly found in passenger vehicles across the globe, create a significant amount of heat during the ignition cycle of the engine that produces power. The heat generated by the ignition cycle of the engine can be described as wasted thermal energy – energy that could otherwise be used to produce power to move a vehicle. The team from Sandia National Laboratories is developing a new technology that works by lowering the temperatures at which combustion ingredients enter the cylinder combustion chamber, providing lower temperature exhaust gases to be expelled after combustion. Lowering the combustion temperature positively affects the fuel economy of the engine, increasing the efficiency of the combustion cycle. Engines using the new technology are being developed to meet an automotive industry goal of cleaner emissions and an average of 54.5 mpg fuel economy by 2025. One of the greatest challenges faced by the scientists at Sandia is producing consistent engine combustion power at low engine speed, or RPM’s. The new technology doesn’t require the use of spark plugs to ignite fuel in the combustion chamber. It is difficult to ignite fuel in the combustion chamber cleanly or uniformly at low engine speeds. The ignition of fuel mixed with combustion air also needs to be completed in time for the compression of the engine piston to take place, requiring uniform fuel / air mixture and proper fuel atomization. Other types of fuel have been tested that provide better combustion stability at low engine speeds. These fuels include: ethanol, cyclohexane, toluene, among others. -from: Machine Design

New Technology Will Increase Fuel Economy of Big Rigs

A new technology developed for large semi trucks and other commercial vehicles shows great promise in increasing fuel economy. Semi tractor trailer vehicles, otherwise known as “Big Rigs” are the focus of a new cutting edge product that is being developed to help these large trucks reduce fuel consumption. The product uses plasma-emitting strips along the trailing edges of the big rig’s trailer to help eliminate aerodynamic drag present at the rear of the vehicle. Preliminary studies show that the plasma strips can reduce fuel consumption at highway speeds up to 10%, a significant savings considering there are over 133 million large trucks on the road that could benefit from this technology, and commercial vehicles consume over 60 billion gallons of fuel per year currently. The plasma strips consist of two electric plates separated by an insulating material that are energized at a high voltage to produce an electric plasma, or fourth state of matter. The plasma works to reduce air turbulence by negatively charging particles in the air, thus reducing the amount of turbulence caused at sharp corners, such as the sharp corners on the edges of a big rig’s leading edges, or the back of a trailer. The company that is developing this technology, Plasma Stream Technologies, has dubbed the system eTail. Plasma Stream Technologies claims that the system is completely safe and has shown great promise in laboratory tests. Real-world testing of the eTail is scheduled to begin in the coming months. Plasma Stream Technologies anticipates that a sellable product will be available to the commercial market by 2018. A retrofit device is expected to cost around $2000 and provide an average savings of over $8000 for big rigs that travel the roadways consistently. The eTail will be mountable on the rear edge of trailers without any additional modification. A huge benefit of the eTail over conventional aerodynamic aids such as boat-tails is that the eTail does not impede access to the rear doors of the trailers. The eTail will take up only a few inches of space around the rear of the trailer. Read More: Society of Automotive Engineering Article

Tesla Motors is Developing Driverless Cars

Tesla Motors’ autonomous vehicle system technology is progressing at a rapid rate towards being offered as an option on their vehicles. The autonomous system is being perfected to work in everyday driving situations to allow the vehicle’s driver to completely disengage from controlling the vehicle and allow the car to do all of the driving functions. Tesla has been developing their autonomous system for some time, and the system has undergone much iteration to get to the point at which it is capable of controlling a vehicle. Unfortunately, the current system, while very robust and dependable, is still prone to errors caused by circumstances that are unexpected under normal driving situations. Exact situations have not been shared, however speculations as to very quick moving obstacles in the path of travel, or even very small obstacles in the path of travel are thought to cause the autonomous system to fail. Driverless cars in general, including Tesla Motors, are under extreme scrutiny because of the significant dangers involved if a driverless car control system fails. Serious injury, property damage, or even death are all possible outcomes if a driverless car fails to operate properly. Tesla’s driverless autonomous vehicle system consists of a multitude of cameras and sensors that are supposedly capable of detecting objects around the vehicle as well as signage along the path of travel. Signs, such as stop signs or other warning indicators such as stop lights are identified by the driverless car and the car’s operation is changed appropriately to these signals. While the software behind controlling the vehicle’s sensors and cameras is currently still in development, the vehicles themselves are now being produced with the necessary hardware that will allow the cars to drive themselves in the near future. The software will be released as part of an update to the vehicle’s computer system and can be updated without significant maintenance to the vehicle.   Taken from Motor1

20 Years of Automobile Safety Engineering Makes a Difference

Despite the claim that older vehicles would survive a crash better than newer vehicles, safety systems designed into newer cars make the probability of sustaining injury in a collision much lower. The fact is, new cars have safety systems that are incorporated into the vehicle that are very cutting edge and capable of reducing injury significantly. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety recently posted a video on their website showing a collision between a late model Nissan Versa and a 20-year old version of the Versa to compare the collision and occupant compartment intrusion between the two vehicles. Interestingly enough, the Versa from 20 plus years ago is still being sold in some countries, such as Mexico, as a new vehicle but with old and severely outdated safety and technology. The 20-year-old Versa, sold under the model name “Tsuru” in Mexico, does not have airbags, anti-lock brakes, or a reinforced chassis designed to absorb crush energy during a collision. The IIHS video distinctly shows the difference in crush damage and internal collisions between the driver test dummy and the internal components of the occupant compartment and exposes the shortcomings that the Tsuru has in protecting the driver test dummy from colliding with the inside of the vehicle and steering wheel. The new Versa is able to divert the energy from the impact away from the occupants of the vehicle, rendering the collision much less severe than for the Tsuru. While a 40 mph head-on impact will be severe for any type of vehicle, modern safety systems sold in late model vehicles help in reducing injury and can even reduce the likelihood of occupant fatalities from serious impacts. View the collision video and more information here

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Battery Failure Theories

Last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued an advisory warning that every Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone should be shut down and not used at all based on the number of battery failures that have occurred. The batteries in the Note 7 phones have been catching fire, causing property damage and physical injuries to the phone users. Over 100 cases of Note 7’s catching fire have been reported, prompting Samsung to recall every Note 7 phone until the battery overheating problem has been resolved. Samsung is offering phone owners a full refund for their phone and has been working with carriers to get phones returned as quickly as possible. The cause of the Note 7 phone’s battery fires is unknown at this point, however battery fires are not uncommon in any area of electronics. Fires in batteries can be the result of manufacturing errors, however more often than not, fires can occur when the internal circuitry of the battery shorts together, releasing the stored energy in the battery very quickly which results in a dramatic increase in battery temperature and fire. Batteries are constructed of a series of thin layers separated by an insulating layer. If the insulating layer is damaged, the thin layers can come into contact with each other, short circuiting the battery and causing a fire. Another common cause for battery failure is a chemical reaction that produces small, sharp “dendrites” on the surface of the conducting layers of the battery. The ionized dendrites can actually pierce through the insulating layer of the battery much like little sharp blades and short circuit the cells. Yet another theory points the finger back at Samsung, for an improper charge detection circuit on the phone itself. Researchers into the battery failure have posed the suggestion that the Note 7’s phone circuitry does not properly detect when the battery is fully charged and overcharges the battery cells. If the battery is consistently overcharged, the battery structure can break down and again, short circuit the battery. The CPSC is officially looking into the cause of the failures. An estimated date as to when the investigation will yield an answer is unknown, however previous investigations into battery fires has taken over six months to complete. Samsung is investigating manufacturing of the Note 7 batteries also. -from CNet

NHTSA: People Can’t Figure Out How to Shift Fiat Chryslers Into Park

NHTSA says a badly-designed automatic shifter is confusing drivers, causing them to exit a vehicle that’s still in gear. 121 crashes and 30 injuries have been reported. This past summer the National Highway Traffic Safety administration opened a preliminary investigation into just over 400,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees after some owners alleged their vehicles would roll away after being shifted into Park. Now, the NHTSA has more than doubled the number of Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler vehicles being investigated and the agency now blames the problems on a confusing shifter design that doesn’t adequately indicate to drivers that they haven’t engaged Park. The Detroit News reports that the NHTSA is conducting an engineering analysis on more than 856,000 Fiat Chrysler vehicles. The agency has received reports of 314 roll-away incidents, involving 121 crashes and 30 injuries, caused when drivers exited a vehicle after they thought they’d shifted into Park. And while the initial investigation treated the issue as a mechanical defect, it’s looking more and more like the problem has at least something to do with driver error due to a poorly-designed shifter. The investigation involves 3.6-liter V6-powered 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers and 2012-2014 Chrysler 300s—all of which use a push-button console shift lever that looks like a traditional PRNDL shifter. But in operation, the electronic shifter works more like a joystick, returning to its center position once you’ve selected your gear. There is no gate around the shifter; the lever itself moves through somewhat subtle detents, and the whole range of motion is incredibly short compared to a traditional mechanical shifter, perhaps two or three inches from end to end. The console shifter on a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 models included in the investigation use an identical shifter. It’s worth pointing out that the aforementioned Fiat Chrysler vehicles are not the only ones that use this shifter, which is called the Monostable and is produced by transmission supplier ZF.  As an example, Audi A8 uses an identical shift knob, with the thumb button on the left and a PRNDS gear pattern with no separate button for Park. In testing, NHTSA found that the electronic gear shifter’s operation is “not intuitive” and offers “poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.” In Fiat Chrysler vehicles equipped with this shifter design, opening the driver’s door when the car is not in Park triggers a chime and an instrument cluster alert, and the engine cannot be turned off with the car in gear; however, NHTSA says “this function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or drivers who do not recognize that the engine continues to run after an attempted shut-off.” So while it may seem silly that drivers could be confused by the operation of an automatic transmission, the reality is that this shifter design operates differently enough to require more concentration than a traditional shifter. Folks who’ve been driving for years, who are used to the way a mechanical PRNDL shifter operates, probably don’t think consciously about the act of shifting—it’s the kind of act we’ve committed to muscle memory years ago. NHTSA has upgraded its treatment of this problem in FCA vehicles from an investigation to an “engineering analysis,” though no plans for a recall have been announced at this time. FCA went to a different shifter design in model-year 2015 for the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300, and changed the Jeep Grand Cherokee shifter for 2016. via Detroit News

Traffic fatalities fall in 2014, but early estimates show 2015 trending higher

The nation saw a slight decline in traffic deaths during 2014. However, an increase in estimated fatalities during the first six months of this year reveals a need to reinvigorate the fight against deadly behavior on America’s roads, the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced today.

NHTSA’s Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) figures for 2014 show 32,675 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2014, a 0.1-percent decrease from the previous year. The fatality rate fell to a record-low of 1.07 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Estimates for the first six months of 2015 show a troubling increase in the number of fatalities. The 2015 fatality estimate is up 8.1 percent from the same period last year, and the fatality rate rose by 4.4 percent. NHTSA experts cautioned that while partial-year estimates are more volatile and subject to revision, the estimated increase represents a troubling departure from a general downward trend.

NHTSA has launched a series of safety initiatives in recent months, including efforts to speed technology innovations that can improve safety and the agency’s first comprehensive effort to fight drowsy driving. The agency will hold a series of cross-cutting regional meetings across the country early next year, capped by a nationwide gathering in Washington, to gather ideas, engage new partners, and generate additional approaches to combat human behavioral issues that contribute to road deaths. These meetings will address drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving; speeding; failure to use safety features such as seat belts and child seats; and new initiatives to protect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Data for 2014 from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) show that while overall road deaths declined only slightly, it was the safest year on record for passenger vehicle occupants: 21,022 Americans died in vehicles in 2014, the lowest number since FARS began collecting data in 1975. While cyclist deaths also declined, the number of pedestrians killed rose by 3.1 percent from 2013.

Other trends remained stubbornly constant. Deaths in drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities; approximately half of all vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts; deaths of motorcyclists without helmets remained far higher in states without strong helmet laws; and speeding was a factor in more than one in four deaths. NHTSA research shows that in an estimated 94 percent of crashes, the critical cause is a human factor. In contrast, vehicle-related factors are the critical reason in about 2 percent of crashes.

While final 2015 numbers and a breakdown of factors in the year’s fatalities will not be available until next year, NHTSA experts noted that job growth and low fuel prices could be a factor, not only in increased driving overall, but in increased leisure driving and driving by young people, which can contribute to higher fatality rates.

Additional 2014 crash data show:
  • Drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities, resulting in 9,967 deaths in 2014.
  • Nearly half (49%) of passenger vehicle occupants killed were not wearing seat belts.
  • The number of motorcyclists killed was far higher in states without strong helmet laws, resulting in 1,565 lives lost in 2014.
  • Cyclist deaths declined by 2.3 percent, but pedestrian deaths rose by 3.1 percent from the previous year. In 2014, there were 726 cyclists and 4,884 pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Distracted driving accounted for 10 percent of all crash fatalities, killing 3,179 people in 2014.
  • Drowsy driving accounted for 2.6 percent of all crash fatalities; at least 846 people died in these crashes in 2014.

How to tell the age of your tires

It is fairly well accepted that tires should be replaced after they are 6 or 7 years old.  The rubber compound in tires which are older than 6 or 7 years can begin to deteriorate, causing the tire to become stiff or brittle.  However, it is important to note that the “shelf-life” clock for tires begins ticking as soon as the tire is manufactured, not when the tire is purchased.  In order tell the age of a tire, date codes are stamped into all new tires.  The date code typically consists of four digits: the first 2 digits indicate the week in which the tire was made and the last 2 digits represent the year.  As an example: if the date code reads 3710 then the tire was manufactured in the 37th week of 2010.  If your tire has only 3 digits in the date code that indicates that it was made prior to 2000, probably time to replace it.