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.

Taken from: www.sae.org

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.

Taken from: www.sae.org

New Powertrain Technology Aims to Improve Engine Efficiency

Engineers and innovators continue to seek out new ways to improve engine efficiency, performance, and to reduce the amount of fuel consumed while driving. Changes to traditional systems in the internal combustion engine have already taken place and continue to advance the cause towards greater efficiency, but now engineers are looking to make changes to other parts of vehicles as well.

One area is the transmission. For example, the Detroit Integrated Powertrain Transmission has various sensors and controllers installed that improve engine performance by having the transmission communicate with the engine. The designers and engineers behind the technology believe these changes to the vehicle’s powertrain can help its engine produce power more efficiently. A variety of different functions exist, including one called eCoast which can sense what sort of terrain the vehicle is traveling on and then change engine rpm based on that data. When more power is needed, the engine rpms go back up to produce that power. Another function known as Skip Shift changes how the vehicle shifts through its gears while accelerating. Brian Daniels, manager of Detroit Powertrain and Components, explains that instead of a vehicle starting in first gear, then climbing from first gear to second, then from second to third, etc., Skip Shift technology can determine which gear the vehicle has the ability to start in. Daniels asserts that this technology can reduce the time and power needed to get up to speed which can ultimately save fuel.

Another change to traditional vehicle design is in the axles; specifically in their ratio design. Engineers and designers are looking to improve axle ratios in the hopes of improving fuel economy and efficiency. They assert that faster axle ratios enable vehicle engines to down-speed.  This means that the vehicle can maintain highway speeds at lower engine rpms and therefore consume less fuel without sacrificing functionality.

Taken from: https://www.sae.org/

Air Force Plans Drone Swarm Challenge

A competition to help influence new drone technologies is being put together by Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the United Kingdom’s Defense Science and Research Laboratory. The competition will find the best drone design to help with fighting wildfires, and will use new drone technologies such as drone swarms. The competition is being called the “Swarm and Search AI Challenge: Fire Hack” and is designed to promote drone swarm technologies used in a real world scenario. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, are becoming more and more popular for many different applications. Their small size and simple design bodes well for situations unsuitable for humans, and new technologies are turning drones into massively capable little machines.

The idea of drone swarms is a relatively new concept. A drone swarm would consist of a large number of independently flying drones that are computer controlled. The drones would all be “aware” of each other to avoid in-air collisions, be fully autonomous, and would be able to fly together in close proximity, with the same goal of each delivering a small payload, perform widespread searches of an area, of other related functionality. It’s easy to envision how drones could be effectively used to fight wildfires: the drones could deliver a fire suppression payload quickly and effectively, and a drone swarm could cover a large area of wildfire.

Aside from the above mentioned usage, the Swarm and Search AI Challenge: Fire Hack competition aims to show how drone swarms could be used to effectively map out a wildfire area from a safe location. Benefits of using multiple drones for mapping include the ability to cover a large area quickly, and the ability to create almost real-time updated maps of wildfire spread in an area that would otherwise be too dangerous for firefighters to enter. Capabilities discovered during the challenge may be further developed for military applications. The competition will culminate in March, 2019.

-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

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

Boeing Developing Cargo Drone

Boeing recently unveiled a new prototype unmanned cargo drone that is currently under development. The drone, more appropriately called an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, is being developed for use as a logistics operations support vehicle for the military and for commercial purposes. The drone will be electric powered and will be able to carry a 500 pound payload for cargo operations. Boeing is developing the drone as a flying test bed to be used during development of other concurrent projects including the passenger-carrying Aurora Flight Sciences aircraft that was recently transitioned into an unmanned aerial vehicle. Steve Nordlund, president of Boeing’s Horizon X, stated that, with this project, the integration of unmanned aerial systems must be developed with safety in mind, and stated that Boeing will be at the forefront of shaping the future of autonomous flight. Boeing’s Horizon X led the development of the cargo drone with its newly acquired Near Earth Autonomy from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Near Earth Autonomy is developing a software platform complete with sensory inputs that enable aircraft ranging from small sub-meter drones to full scale aircraft to inspect and survey terrain, buildings, and structures autonomously. The Near Earth software and sensors will be implemented on Boeing’s cargo drone to assist in navigation and sensory input. Boeing’s Near Earth Autonomy has already been implemented on full-size autonomous helicopters in partnership with the US Army. Integration of the autonomous systems into full scale aircraft for cargo purposes was also completed for the US Marines recently. In addition to developing a cargo drone, Boeing will be continuing development of other autonomous flight systems with Aurora Flight Sciences, including a joint venture that is being developed with Uber to create a passenger specific autonomous flying vehicle that will be able to transport passengers from point to point. -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