Tag Archive | "automotive technology"

And You Thought It Was Just A Piece Of Glass

The late 19th Century and all of the 20th Century saw the motor car develop from a clever contraption to an object of desire. For much of that period the car had some form of windscreen. In the 21st Century it is technology that has been at the forefront of car design and it has crept quietly into most aspects of the cars we drive today.

We’ve got hybrids and EVs, connectivity and something called ‘infotainment’. Gizmos abound. Now the high-tech future has made it into the that plain old sheet of glass that protects us from the wind and rain as we drive.

Right now, Low E glass technology is being developed for windscreens. This is apparently an insulating technology designed to control temperature variations within the car, allowing the interior to remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

Already we have heads-up displays, increasingly being found on in modern cars. Information such as speed, routes, pedestrian alerts and warning signals can all be projected onto the windscreen, directly in line with the driver’s field of vision. OK, this is just projection but it gets better.

All kinds of sensors are now being implemented into windscreens to make it easier for drivers to concentrate on the road. Rain sensors allow for automatic detection of rain and snow and the like, activating and adjusting the speed of the wipers accordingly. Other new sensors being implemented include light sensors that can automatically turn on headlights once external lighting conditions start to become dim, and humidity sensors which detect humidity levels and adjust temperatures to prevent misting of the windscreen.

Some windscreens are now featuring an advanced lane departure warning system. A camera, mounted at the top centre of the windscreen can automatically detect when the vehicle is straying from its lane and an alert will sound to notify the driver. Certainly, this technology is incorporated into wind shields but, as above, it continues to get better still.

Companies have now developed ways to incorporate antennas into glass, replacing the old telescoping or shark-fin design. Noise can also be reduced through a special glass laminating process. This is designed to reduce engine and road noise as well as wind noise and vibration. Driver and passenger comfort levels should improve with better acoustic performance of the windscreen.

New technologies in the windscreen wipers will also eliminate frozen and uneven wipers. A special wiper heater should see the wiper blades remain pliable and fully functional, even in sub-zero conditions, with some models even activating while the car is switched off. This stuff would have been considered science-fiction not so many years ago.

The windscreen is something we take for granted but it is now becoming more than just a piece of glass. These improvements to windscreen design will only make it easier and safer to be on our roads, but with car technology advancing in such leaps and bounds, one has to wonder, how long before the glass does our ‘seeing’ for us? The mind boggles.

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Too Much Techno

For some while now, I have been suggesting that electrical technology in cars is getting a bit OTT. No so long ago I was moaning to anyone who would listen about the electronic handbrake on the otherwise excellent VW Golf. If an old-fashioned cable handbrake fails I can fix it myself in under an hour. If some trick electronic handbrake goes wrong I am at a loss.

The only solution when these things fail is to take the car back to the dealers. This is fine – although inconvenient – whilst the car is under warranty; but then what? Virtually none of the modern functions on the latest cars are user serviceable. It seems like every day some new technology appears on cars that will leave the layman scratching his head when it goes wrong.

Cars today are extremely reliable, of that there’s no question. As someone who has stood beside a stricken car with water pouring out of the engine on more than one occasion I give thanks for modern mechanicals. However as someone who has easily changed lamp assemblies, fuses, starter solenoids and the like, I am now all at sea when it comes to all the trick kit to be found on so many cars today.

It seems now that I have been proved right. These increasingly complex computer-controlled electronics are going wrong. The number of electrical faults on modern cars have increased by two thirds in five years and the costs to repair them have increased by a third over the same period. What’s worse is that the more expensive the car – and thus the more complex the electronics – the more likely they are to suffer problems. Electrical faults of one type or another are now the most common form of automotive Understandably, car owners are beginning to get fed up with it.

While relays and alternators are the most likely components to break, newer electronic innovations like parking sensors are typically amongst the many faults reported. Whilst many of these advancements do a lot for the performance and safety of cars, they also have a knock-on effect on how often they fail and how much it costs to repair them.

Workshops now need advanced diagnostic tools to safely and effectively fix cars and, in some cases, it appears only franchised dealers can access some of the systems on newer cars, meaning that the customer is hit with a higher labour rate bill. No change there then. Repairs bills will always now run into a starting figure exceeding two hundred pounds and will mostly be considerably more. The latest technology packed cars will one day be used cars. They will age and become, like everything else, prone to problems. At what point now will they cease to be viable?

Motorists are penalised enough by taxes and running costs and even more taxes. It seems a shame that we seem to be living in a culture where just because something can be made, it is automatically assumed that we want it in our lives or on our cars. Safety is one thing, technology for technology’s sake is quite another. And to think it all started with a handbrake.

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Highway To High-Tech

Unbeknownst to most of us, our poor benighted road system is soon to become home to Britain’s first high-tech highway. In just a few short weeks we will see our automotive future. What you may think about it is a different matter.

Essentially the deal is this: A fifty mile stretch of the A14 between Birmingham and Suffolk will be fitted with electronic gadgetry which will communicate with modern cars. The system has the potential to monitor traffic, warn of obstructions and perform many other tasks but, and this is more concerning, it could also have the ability to artificially limit a car’s speed. Clearly this won’t happen now as it would result in drivers believing there was something wrong with the motor – but it is possible.

The cars will communicate with the gizmos which will allow them to build up a picture, by way of a central computer, of congestion and the like. Much in the same way that satellite navigation works, the technology could establish the build-up of a traffic jam and calculate alternative routes.

There’s a theme building here. Manufacturers, as we all know very well, are building autonomous cars that can drive themselves. They will leave the driver free to do – what – whilst the car takes care of itself. The thinking is that accidents could become a thing of the past thanks to the science of automotive engineering. We are already seeing crash avoidance technology on cars today. Clearly the intention is for this auto technology to merge with roadside systems with the intention of controlling traffic entirely.

Rather disingenuously, the various bodies involved in this are talking up the benefits of, say, having the machine find a parking space for you whilst remaining rather more tight-lipped about control.

This is the usual route of persuasion. The carrot on the end of a stick. They will say – ‘Look how we can help you’. In fact, for anyone who likes cars and driving it is a clear and present signal that the days of carefree motoring will be over in a matter of decades. Nobody has any objection to making cars safer but it the loss of individuality and the freedom of the road that will suffer. Cars will just be transport; shuttles to get people from A to B. What a dull world that will be.

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Autonomous Cars On The Road By 2020

There exists a document that most people have not heard of. It is called the Vienna Convention of Road Traffic. This is the Euro-bible that basically governs what goes into Highways Codes around the Community. You would have to be really desperate for literature to read it. Somewhere around the time that you read this, new legislation will be tabled to make amendments to this earnest document.

It will allow self-driving systems to take control of a vehicle. Obviously a human has to be present to take charge if necessary but the amendment will effectively give the green light to self-driving cars.

A future world of autonomous cars has been on the cards for some years now. Various companies have been working with vehicles laden with the latest technical wizardry to bring them to us – whether we want them or not. The same manufacturers who bring us high powered sports cars are also getting in on the act but it is hard to see that a mix of self-driving and human driven cars will be compatible.

To some extent this technology is with us now. Our cars have cruise control and lane management and the like, all designed to relieve the driver of at least some of the onerous tasks of driving. These advances have certainly made cars safer and that is the view behind driverless cars. If machines can keep vehicles apart then accidents should be a thing of the past. That would be great in an ideal world.

Sadly though, we don’t live in such a Utopia. In the same way that people make mistakes then so can technology. What happens when an electrical component fails in a driverless car? It is all very well to say that the human will instantly take over but can we rely on that when push comes to shove? Eventually, people will get used to not touching the controls with the inevitable lack of concentration.

This is what presents the problem. If self-driving cars do collide or knock someone down to whom is fault assigned? If one vehicle is deemed to be responsible how can the owner be found guilty if he, like everyone else, is reliant on the car’s technology? This should cause some insurance headaches.

Nevertheless the quest for the driverless car continues apace. A couple of car makers have said that they will be bringing autonomous cars to market by 2020. Google have said that they are developing their driverless cars to become robo-taxis. All very ’Blade Runner’. The pleasures of motoring are being eroded. Soon they will be no more.

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A Layman’s Guide To Handling

Whenever there is talk about cars the conversation will eventually come around to handling. Television pundits talk about this as if of the holy grail but if the average owner tried what he saw on the box then pretty soon he would be disappearing backwards into the local undergrowth. Because of this passion for driving and the need for safety, manufacturers tend to invest quite a lot of time and money into the science of how a car handles.

Handling refers to how a car responds to driver input in corners. In other words, the better the handling the faster a corner can be dealt with although, of course, you don’t always have to exploit this to the max! How well a car handles is largely a function of the car’s suspension – comfort issues aside — which comprise the parts that attach the wheels to the car and allow them to move up and down. The steering and tyres as well as the vehicle’s weight also play major roles.

It is easy to assume that handling is only really relevant to high performance cars but that isn’t so. Handling comes into play in emergencies and we all experience those from time to time. If you have to swerve to avoid an accident, your car’s handling is very relevant. A car that handles well will respond more crisply and predictably to your  steering and braking inputs, for example. Understanding how this works makes for a better driver.

A poorly handling car will lose grip more quickly and loss of control is swiftly followed by a spin or slide as the inevitable outcome. Better handling requires stiffer suspension, which makes for a harder and often less comfortable ride so the car makers have to come up with a decent compromise. Some manufacturers do a better job than others in this regard but by and large this compromise is, ahem, handled well. Obviously the cheaper the car the less likely it is that it will handle well but then that is to be expected.

It is of course perfectly possible to change how a car behaves. Changing tyres, for example, will have an effect. A car fitted with tyres built to improve economy and wear will not be as effective at the limit than tyres built for performance. That’s the trade-off. It is also possible to change suspension components to give a better handling ride but this will always be at the expense of comfort.

This sort of do-it-yourself approach is all very well but the car has to be up to the job. A vehicle that is meant as a family run-around will not really be up to sports car handling whatever you do. Best to buy the right vehicle from the outset. If you want handling to be a priority then buy a car that’s built for performance straight off the shelf.

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If Your Partner Doesn’t Understand You, Your Adam Will.

Ever since John Cleese berated his car in the street whilst thrashing it with a branch and possibly even before that, drivers have tried to make their feelings plain to their cars – sometimes in no uncertain terms. It’s a harmless pastime and one that helps to vent the impotent rage building up inside the owners of badly behaved cars. Now, in some eerie portent of things to come, we have finally reached the stage when the cars can answer back.

OK, this may be overstating things a bit, but it is true that it is now possible to communicate verbally with your car as Vauxhall are demonstrating in their new small car. As if it were not enough that the Adam is offered in more combinations than there are stars in the sky, it can now be enhanced with Siri Eyes Free iPhone Integration as part of the IntelliLink infotainment system.

Siri Eyes Free is an intelligent assistant courtesy of Apple that helps a driver get things done whilst on the move by using voice commands which will get a verbal response from the car. Using a button on the steering wheel linking with a compatible iPhone using iOS6, the driver can chat with Siri and ask it to perform certain tasks without having to take eyes off the road or hands from the wheel. Just like talking to your best pal. Sheldon Cooper would love this.

Best of all, Siri is available free from the day of writing this on any Adam fitted with the IntelliLink system. If owners already have their Adam then Intellilink can be added via a free update starting in July. The whole shooting match can be continually updated throughout the life of the period of ownership.

It works by simply connecting a compatible device via Bluetooth to pair it with the system and activate via the steering wheel button. Other apps can still be running in the background whilst music and navigation is muted for the duration of the chat. Despite the rather alarming SF potential of this system there is no doubt that it brings a whole new level of safety to hands-free.

Additionally, users can make voice activated calls to iPhone contacts, select music from their iTunes library without menu scrolling and even compose and send an iMessage or review appointments. Siri will also advise on the weather, the scores or when the next Bank Holiday falls. Siri seems like one of the better automotive ideas making good use of technology and, unlike the person next to you, won”t criticise your choice of music. Not yet anyway.

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Mazda Harvest Auto Energy

All cars produce energy which is wasted when the car is under braking or running on a trailing throttle. Once a bit of a Holy Grail, auto engineers are gradually cracking the problem and the results will benefit all of us. For example, it is now routine for Formula 1 racing cars to collect kinetic energy from the waste heat of braking (KERS) which is stored and converted into power when extra performance is needed. Similar technology is beginning to filter down to the sort of cars we buy. This is a good thing and most manufacturers are working towards it – including Mazda.

The successful Japanese company have come up with their own unique take on a solution to harvesting energy that would otherwise be wasted. Brake energy (as above) is the most common solution for capturing this extra power. It is commonly used to recharge the batteries on hybrids and EV’s or to power electrical systems like air-conditioning without the adverse effect on fuel consumption.

Mazda, in keeping with their ‘SKYACTIV’ technology, have taken route by using a capacitor to store the electricity. It will feature on the new Mazda 6 (pictured) when it appears and it is called I-ELOOP (Intelligent Energy Loop). It is unique in the way it harvests the precious juice and allows the company to gradually introduce auxiliary electrical systems to power future in-car technology.

Even just a few seconds of braking makes a difference. To explain the process we quote the Mazda blurb verbatim – “…an electric double-layer capacitor (EDLC), which recharges fully in only a few seconds. An efficient 12V-25V variable voltage alternator generates the electricity and charges the EDLC; a DC/DC converter then steps down the voltage to power electrical components such as the climate control air-conditioning and audio systems, with any surplus going to the starter battery.”

The I-ELOOP system will enhance Mazda’s I-STOP technology, their take on ‘stop-start’ which is featuring on many cars today. The beauty of systems such as this means that cars are becoming cleaner and ever more efficient and that will save us money in the long run. With the cost of fuel as it is both we and the environment should all be very grateful.

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