Off-Highway Driverless Vehicle Challenges

In the realm of driverless vehicles, the automotive sector is generating the most buzz among the general public. Even with the recent advancements made in driverless car technology, there are still many bugs in the system that must be worked out before cars drive on public roadways, free from human intervention. While road travel may need to be worked out, vehicles operated privately or off the roadways face their own challenges. Vehicles that are operated off of public roadways, sometimes referred to as off-highway vehicles, are used in many industries. Some of the biggest industries that utilize off-highway driverless technology are the mining industry and the agricultural industry. Vehicles in these industries benefit greatly from being driverless, and these industries have taken advantage of driverless technology for years. Off-highway vehicles that are outfitted with driverless technology face a different set of challenges than those faced by vehicles operated on public roadways. Some of the challenges are easy to overcome, and some are not. For example, mining equipment must remain in a relatively well-defined area while operating. The area, or mine, is an area that can be properly defined by the driverless vehicle, providing easy navigation and reduction of unknown obstacles. Second, dynamic obstacles, such as humans or other car drivers, are minimized resulting in a decrease to unknown variables. Other challenges pose unique risks to the driverless off-highway vehicle. For example, many off-highway vehicles operate in a very specialized manner, such as agricultural tilling machines. While tilling machines may operate in a defined path, knowing the conditions necessary to properly till a field are much different than the conditions required for roadway travel. Thus, the controls and operations of such off-highway vehicles are more customized and taylor-made for the particular sector of industry. As many experts in these industries will relate, there is not a “one-size fits all” solution to off-highway driverless vehicles. -taken from www.sae.org

Limousine Crash Raises Questions About Safety

The recent limousine crash in Schoharie, New York raises some safety concerns for large modified vehicles. The accident, which took the lives of 20 individuals, involved a large modified version of a Ford Excursion that had been essentially cut in half with the middle extended, then re-assembled to form a larger vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, otherwise known as NHTSA, stated that this was the most deadly transportation disaster in almost 10 years. The issues that surround the case include whether or not the limousine driver was properly licensed, and the shoddy inspection history held by the subject limousine company and failed inspection results. The history of the vehicle involved in the accident is not completely known to the public, but it is evident from the details that have been released that the vehicle began its life as a 2001 Excursion. While many limousines start out as a normal passenger vehicle, it is common for the limousines to be completely custom made by a third party, lengthening the vehicle to accommodate more people inside. In fact, the term “stretch” limousine appropriately defines what these vehicles are: stretched versions of a vehicle that have extra-long wheelbases, multiple windows in a row between front and rear, and have the capability of holding 10 or more passengers. Sometimes these custom modified vehicles are termed “Frankenstein” vehicles However, simply stretching a vehicle to turn it into a limousine has some very serious side effects. Most importantly, when a vehicle is modified with new custom parts and components, some of the original safety systems may be left out. Things like airbags and seatbelts, which were originally part of the vehicle, are removed from modified limousines. Unfortunately regulations on seatbelt requirements for rear seat passengers, just like those paying customers who hire a limousine service, are not regulated the same in every state. In fact, in New York, where this accident occurred, rear seated passengers are not required to wear seatbelts. Ultimately this accident indicated that there is a significant gap in regulation around the limousine industry that will likely be addressed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration soon. -taken from www.npr.org

Autonomous Aircraft To Help Fight Fires

Wildland fires are currently destroying many natural forested areas of the United States. These huge fires spread over natural terrain very rapidly and are difficult to control because they occur in remote areas, often burning everything in sight. Many people have lost their mountain homes due to wildland fires, and firefighters are having a difficult time controlling the fires from spreading further during the hot summer months. One weapon used against wildland firefighters is the heavy air tanker aircraft. Air tankers are designed to carry heavy payloads and when air tankers are used in wildland firefighting, they are equipped to carry enormous payloads of water or fire retardant to the location of the wildland fire and then drop their payload on the area of the fire as they fly overhead. Air tankers are invaluable in the fight against wildfires and are in high demand during fire season. Two companies, Thrush and Drone America, have teamed together to develop an autonomous air tanker that can be used to drop water and fire retardant on wildland fires while being piloted robotically. The autonomous air tanker is an enhancement of other drone-like aircraft currently in use by law enforcement and fire fighters. Current autonomous aircraft are used to monitor wildland fires from an aerial viewpoint, search for hot spots that may reignite, and photograph the spread of fires over time. Dropping a payload autonomously has significant benefits for emergency workers, however. Primarily, keeping pilots out of dangerous situations and flying over dangerous terrain is beneficial from a personnel standpoint. Also, autonomous aircraft have the benefit of being able to fly during the night time and navigate terrain successfully using onboard sensors. Since temperatures are usually lower at night, fires tend not to spread as quickly when the sun goes down, allowing autonomous air tankers to drop water and fire retardant on fires when they are less prone to spread. Plans for development are still under consideration, and teams from both companies are exploring other uses for autonomous aircraft as well. -taken from www.dronelife.com

EV Battery Technology Shows Promise

A French company is currently developing a new energy storage device that may potentially see itself in electric vehicles. The company, called NAWA (short for NAno technology to fight against global Warming), is currently developing “ultra-capacitors” for use as storage devices that can be rapidly charged and discharged to match demands from electric vehicles. The ultra-capacitors are aiming to help some of the current limitations put on electric car batteries such as poor energy density and limitations on charging and discharging. The ultra-capacitors will be designed to be extremely efficient and may eventually have energy densities that rival current lithium celled batteries. Currently, the ultra-capacitors have superior energy density to current capacitor based energy storage and much better efficiency. NAWA is developing the ultra-capacitors using a state of the art technique that aligns series of carbon nanotubes in rows to allow the electrons to pass through the capacitor with limited resistance. A good analogy to the alignment of the nanotubes is to consider the uniform positioning of bristles on a toothbrush, providing a direct route for the electrons to travel through the ultra-capacitor. Two current issues with electric vehicles that are concerning for would-be consumers deal with the allowable range that electric vehicles are limited to, and how to charge the vehicle when the battery is drained. The new ultra-capacitors aim to help these two issues by allowing for current electric vehicle batteries to be lighter in weight, more efficient, and able to take a recharge more quickly. To deal with vehicle range limitations and rapid recharging, the carbon ultra-capacitors will supplement current lithium batteries with superior energy density and the ability to regenerate charge through vehicle decelerations, otherwise known as regenerative braking. Current regenerative braking is not very efficient, mostly because the battery cells cannot recouperate from such rapid recharging. New carbon ultra-capacitors will be able to accommodate the rapid recharging that occurs by regenerative braking, thus recollecting otherwise lost energy. Rapid charging will also be possible when using batteries enhanced with the new carbon ultra-capacitors, therefore reducing the amount of time spent waiting for an electric vehicle’s battery to be recharged. NAWA’s ultra-capacitors are still under development, but plans for testing in automotive applications is scheduled within the next five years. -taken from www.sae.org

NASA Developing Supersonic Flight

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to develop a new supersonic aircraft for use as a passenger plane. The project is put in place to test new supersonic technologies in an attempt to reduce the noise levels of sonic booms from these large aircraft. Supersonic aircraft development is nothing new. In fact, early X prototype aircraft were developed in the 1940’s and 1950’s and these aircraft were capable of traveling above the speed of sound. However, using supersonic flight for passenger planes has had a much more troubled history. Concord airplanes, used in the 1970’s for over thirty years in all areas across the world, were capable of reducing trans-continental flight times significantly. The problem with Concord planes was not the speed at which they traveled, but the significant sonic boom that the aircraft created when traveling at or above the speed of sound. In fact, the sonic boom from aircraft has been known to break windows and cause minor structural damage to buildings. Despite the drawbacks to supersonic flight, the appeal of short flights from continent to continent is very appealing. This is why NASA has awarded a new contract to Lockheed Martin in an attempt to reduce the effect of sonic boom caused by aircraft flying at the speed of sound. The new concept aircraft, dubbed the “Low Boom Flight Demonstration”, will be used to test new technologies that are aimed at reducing the effects of sonic booms. New aircraft hull designs are theoretically supposed to reduce the sound of a sonic boom to acceptable levels. In fact the aircraft being designed by Lockheed Martin will theoretically only produce a sonic boom that is as loud as a car door slamming, or repeated doors slamming over a period of time. Supersonic flight technologies are gaining rapid attention in many sectors across the world and NASA is not the only group to be focused on improving this mode of flight. In fact, DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is also looking into supersonic flight technologies to counter the recent efforts that have been made by China in supersonic flight. -Taken From www.sae.org

BMW Developing Carbon Fiber Components

The use of carbon fiber in vehicle applications is not a new concept, however the cost of manufacturing components made from carbon fiber is typically the limiting factor in its usage. Carbon fiber is a very strong, stiff, carbon based material that can be molded into complex shapes. Once carbon fiber is formed into its end shape, it is very lightweight and can surpass the strength to weight ratio of many competing metals, such as many grades of aluminum and steel. BMW has used carbon fiber in their vehicles and motorcycles throughout the years because it provides obvious engineering advantages for strength and weight, and it is also considered a premium material with a history of usage in motorsports racing. BMW recently ceased production of carbon fiber components for undisclosed reasons. This decision was met by the automotive industry as indicating that BMW’s carbon fiber production was not profitable. However, BMW insisted that carbon-based component production would continue through other avenues. One such avenue that was recently unveiled was the development of a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) motorcycle swing arm. The swing arm was developed with seven joint partners as a demonstration of a new manufacturing process termed “resin transfer molding”. The swing arm is incredibly light and strong, and has won 2018 JEC Innovation Award for its production method and end result. BMW stated that they chose to model a swing arm using resin transfer molding to demonstrate the effectiveness of the technology on a part that sees continuous stress during normal usage. The motorcycle swing arm utilizes short carbon fibers in locations on the swing arm that require localized strength. For location of the swing arm that requires elongated stiffness, long fibers were incorporated into the mold.  According to BMW, the cost saving techniques that they learned from development of the swing arm will be directly attributable to other motorcycle components. In the future, BMW will also begin incorporating the same carbon fiber reinforcement for automotive applications.

European Union Developing Drone Airspace

The European Union is working to develop a new type of airspace that is focused on operation of drones. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV for short) are becoming more and more popular throughout the world and the European Union is proactively developing a system to accommodate these new aircrafts. Drone traffic management poses a unique number of challenges. Mostly, because of the sheer number of drones that are flown in the sky, monitoring and managing positioning of drones and keeping drones away from manned aircraft is a significant challenge. Also, because drones are very small, many drones are not effectively tracked by current technology. The European Union is developing a system to accomplish effective drone flight management by next year. The Geneva based drone body that handles air navigation, Skyguide, recently joined forces with AirMap, a traffic management system, to collectively develop an infrastructure to manage drone flight across all of Europe in an airspace for low-level flight dubbed U-Space. U-Space will be defined as a flight altitude from ground level up to about 150 meters in height for which drone flight will be managed. New surveillance technologies developed for U-Space will be able to effectively track drone flights in U-Space. In the past five years, Skyguide flight requests have increased over ten times, indicating that drone operation is increasing dramatically. While collectively managing drones that fly in U-space and follow protocols set forth by Skyguide pose little threat to manned aircraft, those UAV drones that are flying unauthorized in U-Space may pose significant threat by flying too high, flying without proper tracking devices, or other illegal operations. Because of this Skyguide and AirMap are working to develop a Universal Traffic Management system that will not only track drones that have proper on-board tracking devices, but also track those drones that do not have the tracking devices installed, or the tracking devices were disabled. U-space regulations are currently being developed to cover a variety of flight conditions. -taken from www.sae.org

New Aircraft Will Utilize Composite Materials

Aerospace companies Boeing and Airbus are working on developing new components to aid in developing new aircraft structures. Forecasts of aircraft sales show that the worldwide demand of large passenger airplanes will increase and an overall production number of up to 40,000 new aircraft may be realized in the next 20 years. To meet this new demand, Boeing and Airbus are working on developing new honeycomb panels that are designed to be structurally stiff, strong, and importantly, easy to assemble and produce. For the increase in aircraft demand, new aircraft structures must be easy to assemble and sub-components must be manufactured rapidly. The new structure composites or sandwiches are being developed for Boeing and Airbus by Belgium Company EconCore, along with Diehl Aircabin. The sandwich structures consist of a lightweight inner honeycomb lattice that is sandwiched between two thin layers of either aluminum or other lightweight material, to create a structure that is lightweight, strong, and has excellent thermal insulating qualities. Insulating against the cold external atmosphere while aircraft are in flight is crucial for passenger comfort and safety. In addition to the insulating properties, the inner honeycomb lattice can be made out of lightweight polycarbonate to create an excellent fire barrier within the sandwich structure. Polycarbonate is strong and resists flammability, making it a good choice for many aircraft structures. The process developed by EconCore can be formed into many different shapes; however joining the layers of the sandwich material together may pose another problem. To remedy this issue, new formulae of bonding adhesives are being developed to properly secure the components together. The benefit of using bonding adhesives instead of traditional rivets, screws, or other hardware, is the weight savings, however ensuring that the bonds between composite components remains solid for the life of the aircraft is being tested before it is put into production. -taken from www.sae.org