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With the constant presence of cars around us everyday, it’s incredibly easy to take them for granted. We no longer appreciate our clean, shiny mufflers, our sturdy, reliable metal parts, and our efficient exhaust systems. Rarely do we find ourselves thinking about the people behind its creation and the arduous centuries long testing the technology had to go through to get to where it is today.
Yes, centuries. Automobiles have been present for a very long time now, its humble beginnings going as far back as the late 1700’s when European engineers first played with the idea of motor powered vehicles. During the 1800’s, various types of motors such as electric, steam and combustion were tested, and the early 1900’s saw the electric variation as the common favorite. After a decade, though, it quickly fell out of favor due to being unable to travel long distances and so the public switched to steam power. That, too, did not last, as steam motors were expensive to make and maintain. Not only that, but they were also prone to boiler explosions which further kept it from being popular.
There was then a shift to combustion engines. The Ford Motor Company had a huge hand in cementing combustion as the standard when they produced affordable cars for the masses, disproving the idea that cars were merely toys for the rich (as they were marketed early in the century). The advent of this new kind of accessible mobility granted people to be able to connect in ways they have never had before; geography and distance became less of a problem and the transportation of goods and services between urban and country areas improved drastically.
This trend of interconnectivity continues on today. Cars have come a long way since those early, awkward days, and even today despite the incredible function our cars now possess automotive engineering continues to keep on giving.
Quite recently in 2014, Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering company, was able to merge an electric car’s motor and its inverter and stuff it into one housing. This is good as the new compact part saved on costs, saved on space, and most importantly, saved on mass. A lighter car means more mileage – this is especially important because mileage is the main criteria to consider when using an electric car.
This component union was not without its problems, though. A challenge the engineers faced included finding a way to keep the motor’s heat from affecting the IGBT (insulated-gate bipolar transistor) modules – the high-performance semiconductors whose job it was to convert the battery’s direct current into an alternating current. It’s important to note that at high temperatures the modules’ function became limited; this is why traditionally it had its own separate cooling system. This heat problem was solved through the use of two technologies: firstly, SKiN technology. SKiN allowed a connection to the surface of the semiconductor chip without requiring a bonding wire which was weak to thermal fluctuation. And secondly, by implementing a special cooling system that prioritized calming heat sensitive parts (such as the aforementioned IGBT modules and intermediate circuit capacitors) that also created a curtain between the motor and the inverter, effectively thermally isolating them from one another.
Known as the Sivetec MSA 3300, this tested concept was received well by the industry and was even nominated for an eCarTec Award 2014, which is the Bavarian State Award for Electric and Hybrid Mobility.
V2V, also known as VANET (Vehicular Ad-Hoc Network) is a wireless, almost wifi-like network that uses dedicated short range communications (DSRC) that will allow vehicles to transmit data to one another and “talk to each other” in order to avoid collisions or any sort of accident. Currently being developed by General Motors (and other car companies who’re creating their own version of V2V), this technology is still relatively unused by the public. However, in April 2014 the standards for V2V were already being planned for; U.S. officials want this kind of software out by 2017 as an integral part of everyday traffic.
With technology like communicating vehicles on the horizon, then surely there must also be vehicles that can communicate with its owner and the environment. The Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi Electric proves this statement true with their recent unveiling last October 14 of their intelligent, self-driving car dubbed the Emirai 3 xAuto. It utilizes a guidance system that uses map data from “quasi-zenith” satellites which are more accurate than GPS satellites, the former being able to pinpoint locations of even up to less than 10 centimeters in size. What this means is that the satellite data, coupled with 3D maps that indicate the state of the road, will be able to tell the car where to go or stop or turn without the assistance of physical road markers. In addition, the car is also rigged with a millimeter-wave radar and an infrared camera that can detect other cars or pedestrians that are near the unit.
Such is its configuration that it is able to weave its way through the narrowest of spaces without any difficulty. It is even able to parallel park itself on command – a feat most human drivers find challenging themselves.
Not only is the Emirai ready to deal with the environment, but it’s also equipped to take care of its driver as well. Integrated into it is a complex algorithm based system capable of acknowledging when the driver is distracted, drowsy, or generally inattentive to driving. It does this by constantly checking driver data such as speed and steering while correlating it with driver behavior such as vitals and head orientation, then gauging it to what the program knows to be the “driving norm” – this based from data pulled from previous journeys – and making predictions on future actions based on the discrepancies from the norm it finds. Should the technology find that there is a probability the driver might make a mistake, it will notify the driver of their possible error.
Overall, as vehicles are getting smarter and more technologically advanced, it’s important to remember that this is only the beginning. All of the technologies listed here are still in their infancy; future developments are certain to bring more interesting results. Perhaps flying cars and automated traffic aren’t such far – fetched dreams after all.