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Self-Charging Cars

Back in 2010, Toyota developed a solar power system for the roofs of their Prius hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs). The goal behind the initiative for Toyota was to see if a vehicle’s rooftop would provide enough solar power to charge the vehicle’s battery, providing drivers a few extra miles before the next charging session. According to Toyota, it was the company’s first steps towards producing a self-charging car. But the solar cells implemented into Toyota’s photovoltaic system provided just enough power to run auxiliary devices such as the power steering pump, ventilation fan, and air-conditioning compressor. This was due to the fact that the solar cells generated a capacity of only 50 watts.

Compare this with the design of the Lightyear One created by a startup company based in the Netherlands. Total peak output is 1.25kW which is enough power to provide anywhere between 20 – 45 miles of average range per day, according to Lightyear. Lowie Vermeersch created the design of the Lightyear One and an engineering firm based in Germany – Aachen – helped develop its integral 60-kWh battery system. The strategy, according to Lightyear’s chief technology officer, Arjo van der Ham, was their clean-sheet, systems-engineered approach.  This meant a propulsion motor at each wheel, lightweight materials, advanced aerodynamics, and enough sky-facing surface area to host about 1,000 photovoltaic cells. As Eric Wesoff of PV Magazine points out, the challenge to accomplishing the goals of aerodynamic efficiency and solar power efficiency lies in the design. He explains that you want a car that can both charge itself, which would require a broad area for the PV cells, yet remain aerodynamically efficient, which would require a narrow body design.

This is where Lightyear stayed true to its systems approach and the company believes it addressed this challenge in competing design goals. Lightyear believes it has met the challenge by integrating the motors with the suspension via a propulsion motor in each wheel and by making adjustments to the battery size. Lightyear also believes that they have now provided a solid architecture that other companies will use in the future as they push towards self-charging cars.

Taken from: www.sae.org

Speedy Tractors

JCB – a British company that produces construction and agricultural equipment – has a line of tractors known as the Fastrac series. In stock form, a Fastrac tractor can reach speeds of up to 43 mph, but last summer, JCB said it wanted to push the idea of speedy tractors further. Enter the Fastrac One – the tractor that set a new record for tractor speed at 103 mph at Elvington Airfield in Britain.  JCB chairman, Lord Bamford, who was present when the Fastrac One hit 103 mph, said he wanted to “go even faster.” Thus, Fastrac Two was born.

In order to achieve “even faster” status, Bamford laid out objectives that included the creation of a tractor that was 10% lighter than Fastrac One and had greater aerodynamic efficiency. JCB’s development team – in conjunction with counterparts at Ricardo, GKN Wheels & Structures, and Williams Advanced Engineering – went to work figuring out how they could reduce the weight, increase power, and reduce drag resistance while staying faithful to the front-end styling of the Fastrac series. They explained that in undertaking these challenges, they relied on predictive analysis in order to define what design elements needed changing and how they would best be implemented.

As for power, the engineers and development team at JCB discovered that using one small turbo and one larger turbo created packaging problems that ultimately hindered the aerodynamic efficiency. JCB team said that using one large turbo circumvented the packaging problem so they turned to the Cummins Holset turbocharger and the Federal-Mogul COBRA electric supercharger.

As for aerodynamics, the team lowered the ride height, lowering and narrowing the cab. CFD simulations of the external skin of the tractor helped the team locate areas with high drag and – according to Williams Advanced Engineering – the overall result was a 25% reduction in drag compared to a stock tractor. Other areas that underwent changes included the chassis, front overhang, the underfloor, and the exterior mirrors.

The end result for the Fastrac Two is a 7.2L 6-cylinder turbo diesel capable of 1006 hp and 1748 lb-ft. The Fastrac Two reached 153.77 mph.

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Artificial Intelligence in your Sun Visor

Sun visors in motor vehicles have been around since the 1920s. Recently, Bosch decided that it was time to upgrade the design and technology of sun visors that have remained virtually unchanged since their inception. What they have come up with is known as the “Virtual Visor.” Bosch states that the idea behind the Virtual Visor is to reduce sun glare, which can impair the driver’s ability to see clearly while driving.

The technology is a transparent liquid crystal display (LCD) panel comprised of hexagonal pixels in a honeycomb grid. The transparent screen is used with an RGB camera inside the vehicle that tracks where the sun is coming from and where it shines on the driver’s face. Together, the LCD screen and RGB camera can track the driver’s face, track moving shadows, and track sunlight. Artificial intelligence takes these data and uses an algorithm to identify exactly where the driver’s eyes are. According to Bosch engineers, this algorithm was the most challenging piece of the technology. They wanted the algorithm to be able to do all of the tasks listed above – identify the driver’s face, track moving shadows, and locate which direction the sun was coming from – and then use that to constantly and accurately update the location and degree of shade of the Visual Visor. AI should ideally be able to provide relief from sun glare by casting shade directly over the driver’s eyes, Bosch says.

Bosch claims that one of the advantages to the Virtual Visor includes reduced sun glare and better visibility as drivers will be able to see through the visor even as it provides shade. In other words, Bosch believes that with the Virtual Visor, drivers would no longer block a portion of their view in order to get relief from the sun while driving.

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Autonomous Driving and Fuel Efficiency

TuSimple – a San Diego-based company that designs autonomous driving technology for the trucking industry – claims that their autonomous driving technology reduces fuel consumption by 10%. In terms of fuel saved, TuSimple asserts that a 10% reduction across the board would be equivalent to 4 billion gallons of fuel. TuSimple arrived at these figures by conducting a study with the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California San Diego. The study examined how autonomy impacts fuel consumption.

The test was conducted by equipping autonomous trucks with what is known as black box technology. This technology tracks and records data pertaining to the vehicle’s driving performance, including statistics such as speed, GPS location, and distance to name a few. In order to gauge fuel consumption from the black box data, TuSimple’s researchers relied on the Virginia Tech Comprehensive Power-based Fuel Consumption model which combines the function of speed, location, acceleration and braking to derive estimates. Researchers also equipped manually driven trucks with black box technology so that they could compare fuel efficiency between manual and autonomous trucks.

Once the manual and autonomous trucks had black box technology installed, researchers looked at fuel consumption at different ranges of speeds. According to researchers, the goal was to determine whether fuel efficiency changed at all based on speed. Based on the study, TuSimple concludes that the greatest fuel savings between manual and autonomous trucks happen while driving at slower speeds that involve a higher frequency of acceleration and braking. Conversely, TuSimple reports that highway speeds showed very little difference in fuel efficiency between autonomous and manual trucks. In conclusion, TuSimple believes that autonomous trucking can significantly reduce fuel consumption and asserts that if all medium- and heavy-duty trucks adopted their self-driving technology, that CO2 emissions would be cut by 42 million metric tons per year.

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Engine Developers Face New Challenges

Engine developers face new trends in the industry that significantly influence how they produce engines for heavy-duty vehicles. Their main areas of concern include machine ownership patterns, political forces such as government regulations, and getting new products to the market quicker and more efficiently. Caterpillar Industrial Power Systems designed the new C3.6 engine with these factors in mind, stating specifically that customer feedback and lower owning and operating costs were at the top of their priorities list. According to Caterpillar, the result is the compact C3.6 engine that is electronically turbocharged, giving it the capability to produce 134-hp, more power density, and better torque than its predecessor.

As for machine ownership patterns, the product marketing manager for Caterpillar – Alex Eden – explains that customers are shifting towards a rental economy rather than the traditional ownership model. Instead of buying heavy-duty vehicles and machines, customers and fleets are looking to rent them. This raises questions about future sales processes and product cycles that are yet to be answered.

In addition to market influences, government regulations put pressure on engine developers with measures such as CO2 and emissions regulations, air quality improvement standards, and zero-emission zones for urban areas. In particular, demand grows for quieter engines that fall in line with urban noise restrictions. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is a major concern in engine design. Pierpaolo Biffali – VP of product engineering at FPT Industrial – states that though the industry is heading for zero-emissions, clean diesel engines reduce CO2 levels in the meantime.

The last major factor that influences engine design is the competitiveness of the industry. When producing the C3.6, Caterpillar utilized a 3D printer to reduce production time. Developers printed an entire C3.6 engine in its various parts and examined how all the pieces would fit together before actual assembly. When the parts arrived, they assembled the engine faster and more efficiently than they had without the 3D printer which is crucial to remaining competitive in the market. Caterpillar believes that technology like this will help them remain competitive in the future by getting products to the market faster without sacrificing quality.

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AI in your EV

Tim Sherstyuk embarked on an ambitious journey towards understanding and improving the efficiency of EV batteries. The idea initially came to him when he was a college student studying chemistry at Carleton University. He wanted to investigate why cell phone batteries die quicker than batteries operating other devices. He and his father, who is an electrical engineer, put their heads together to research why batteries die out and if there is a way to prolong the lifetime of batteries.

One hypothesis is that “pulse” charging can accomplish exactly this. The traditional method of charging – the constant-current method – inflicts a lot of damage and wear on batteries. The hope is that pulse charging will alleviate some of that wear on batteries while they charge.

The Use of AI

The Sherstyuk team incorporates the use of artificial intelligence in their studies of pulse recharging on batteries. They rely on AI because it offers much-needed insight that accelerates the feedback loop during experiments. In fact, other companies have taken advantage of AI, one of which is the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). They implemented AI into their tests and research on batteries and now assert that AI accelerates the progress of research and discovery. They currently use it to run 400 different battery tests and experiments at the same time which would be impossible through traditional channels. In their words, “AI accelerates R&D cycles.”

For the Sherstyuks, the goal is to improve the method of battery charging so that the battery itself lasts longer. Reducing impedance and the damage incurred from charging quickly are examples of what Sherstyuk aims to eliminate during the charging process. Fast charging raises the temperature of the battery which can lead to heightened cell degradation and potentially cause the battery to swell. The Sherstyuks conducted testing by using an adapter-like device that could potentially be built into the charging connector. AI provides real-time measurements during the charging process that helps Sherstyuk determine how much energy needs to go into the battery pack. After seven years of testing, the Sherstyuks see positive results. Though pulse charging is not new, the use of AI provides real-time feedback and data that was previously lacking. Sherstyuk’s hope is to fine tune pulse charging so that the lifetime of EV batteries is prolonged. This would have many benefits, according to Sherstyuk, including environmental benefits as longer battery life would lead to less battery waste.

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Mirror-less Vehicles

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating the pros and cons of replacing conventional rear- and side-view mirrors with camera monitoring systems on passenger vehicles. NHTSA asked for experts, opinions, and research on the implications of making this change to passenger vehicles. On the one side, automotive designers and engineers say that getting rid of exterior mirrors would improve not only the aesthetics of automobiles but reduce their aerodynamic resistance as well.  Scott Miller, Director of Global CO2 Strategy, Energy, Mass and Aerodynamics for General Motors, says that exterior mirrors create aerodynamic drag while the vehicle is moving and removing them could produce a 1.5 to 2 miles per gallon gain. This is because according to Miller, 1 mpg in fuel efficiency is gained per 12-count reduction in drag and he expects a 20-count drag reduction per vehicle from the removal of two exterior mirrors. Further, a book published by SAE International notes that exterior side-view mirrors constitute anywhere from 2-7% of a vehicle’s total drag.

Two supporters of this initiative – the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) and Tesla – asked NHTSA to permit the installment and use of camera monitoring systems in vehicles instead of traditional mirrors. The foundational premises behind this petition are improved fuel efficiency and side vision; however, NHTSA did not grant them permission. NHTSA withheld approval in part due to a test it ran on a prototype camera monitoring system. While they found that the system proved “generally usable,” the test highlighted certain problem areas, including distorted images and problems in the rain. In other words, the test brought to light certain safety risks that could result from the implementation of cameras instead of mirrors. Therefore, before giving approval for camera monitoring systems on passenger vehicles, NHTSA seeks to further investigate the results of making such a change.

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Simplifying the Driverless Truck

Engineers and innovators continue the push towards implementation of driverless vehicles into various sectors of the market. Launching driverless vehicles means, in part, overcoming the obstacles that hinder progress, such as driving in crowded, urban areas or bad weather. One of the sectors hoping to overcome such obstacles quickly is the trucking sector. Developers in this area seek to simplify the role and usage of driverless trucks to avoid as many unforeseen problems as possible while simultaneously implementing the technology into the market more quickly.

For example, TuSimple – a company that develops automated trucking systems –  may first deploy driverless trucks that stay on open roads and highways and avoid crowded cities since driving in crowded areas involves different and more complex technology. Another example is deploying driverless trucks solely in good weather for the same reason: navigating harsh weather requires different and more complex technology. By skimming down the functions and responsibilities of driverless trucks, TuSimple can get them on the road sooner.

Another way to introduce driverless trucks to the market sooner is by using a strategy known as “autonomous convoying.” This is where an actual driver operates one truck while a driverless truck follows. The logic behind this approach is that the driverless truck – while depending on its automated systems – can follow the experienced driver ahead, thereby reducing potential problems and issues for the driverless truck. For example, a human driver can read the construction signs ahead of time and know to slow down in advance. The benefits work the other way around as well: when the driver needs to sleep, he or she can have the driverless truck takeover while they sleep without having to pull over and stop.

The bottom line: driverless truck developers hope to see the technology implemented into the trucking sector sooner rather than later. Simplifying the functions and roles of driverless trucks can help overcome obstacles and jump-start implementation.

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