Category Archives: Electric / Electronic

90,000 vehicle-to-grid vehicles on the road by 2017

V2G – vehicle-to-grid technology – could be a hugely important step in the upcoming shift from a transportation industry dominated by petroleum to one dominated by things that are not petroleum. V2G is the technology behind the idea of a “cashback car,” for example, but it’s still a long way from being available. Sure, there are test programs in effect, but does your home have a smart meter today. Neither does ours.

This is where Pike Research comes in, to try and look into the future. Pike’s new study predicts that over 90,000 vehicles will be V2G-capable by 2017. That number includes 90,000 light-duty vehicles (i.e., advanced versions of the Chevy Volt or plug-in Prius, to name just two possible examples) and 1,500 medium- and heavy-duty trucks. As is so often the case with new vehicle technologies, the early adopters will be fleet operators, Pike believes.

After the Japanese earthquake, both Mitsubishi and Nissan announced plans to speed up deployment of bi-directional energy flow, which is one piece the V2G puzzle. Other V2G tests include work done by the USPS and the city of Boulder, CO.

Read more in the press release, published by the city of Boulder, CO.

Post published by Sebastian Blanco, Nov 24th 2011 4:22PM at


How feasible are Electric Vehicles for the future?

Once again we find ourselves debating how electric vehicles (EV) can be a main source of transportation in the world. The events putting us on that course have been rather tortuous.  In 1973 the world, in particular the U.S., was jolted into the realization that its major supply of petroleum could be cut off, leaving dozens of millions of vehicles idle on its roads. As the Arab oil embargo through the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) dragged on, the lines at gas pumps grew longer until 17 March 1974 it ended [1]. At that time, there was much discussion about alternative renewable energy, not only as a source of vehicle fuel but for power production all across the infrastructure. There were major efforts to bring forth solar and wind, in particular, but other forms of energy production using geothermal, hydroelectric, and even very novel ideas like fuel cells. Not only was there a heightened awareness of the fragility of petroleum supply but there were rising concerns about the environment, in particular, pollution, land spoilage, and global warming. The global warming issue has been around ever since the term was coined 8 August 1975 in a science paper by Wally Broecker in Science entitled “Are we on the brink of a pronounced global warming? [2]”. As the embargo crisis receded, so did all the ideas of the need to conserve petroleum in the collective social memory. Thirty years down the road, we face not so much the threat of an embargo, but peak oil, where it has been found that we may have passed a point where oil consumption surpasses the discovery of new sources [3]. Too, there are greater environmental issues, made prominent after the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989 and more recently with the disastrous British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon ”oil gusher” incident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Middle Eastern wars over oil, highlighted the cost of extracting this fuel. As motor vehicles consume the greater part of petroleum in the world, it stood to reason that there would be a search for alternative sources of power, in light of the newly perceived need to address the petroleum issue. Numerous ideas have arisen over the past decade about how to fuel vehicles, some of those innovations involving fuel cells (refined development occurring as a result of space programs), natural gas, and electric. Here, we focus on electric powered vehicles, their problems and prospects [4].

Using electricity to drive cars is not a new idea, it originating as far back as 1828, when Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian inventor of a motor created a model of a vehicle powered by it.  A primitive electric carriage was made in the latter 1830s by Scottish inventor Robert Anderson, but it took the development of rechargeable batteries to bring forth EVs in Europe, staring in the mid 1800s. The U.S. had to wait for its electric cars until William Morrison built a six passenger car in 1890. From that point onward electric cars became popular, with Anthony Electric,  Baker, Columbia, Anderson, Edison, and Studebaker, among others being favorite brands.

Electric vehicle model by Ányos Jedlik [5]

In 1900, more cars on the road were electric than steam or gasoline. However, they were for localized use only, as there were no recharge stations out in rural areas. In addition, because the batteries were lead-acid, the range was severely limited, and the lifespan, because of the numerous recharges required, was not that long. Improvements in the internal combustion engine (ICE) and mass production by Henry Ford’s automobile plants to drive down costs pretty much demolished the electric car market.

German electric car, 1904, with a chauffeur on top [6]

Today, people are back on track in attempting to further the technology of EVs. Mostly everyone is aware of the ubiquitous golf carts that pass by silently, and these have served well, but the scale them upward to road use has not been easy.

References (Subject is indicated by URL – accessed 14 October 2011)


Future Challenges of Electric Vehicles

 From failure to the future

What will your children drive 20 years or more from now? According to one analyst, many of them are likely to take the wheel of an electric car. The primary argument for electric vehicles is overall efficiency, said Philip Gott, director of automotive consulting for industry analyst Global Insight, at the firm’s annual Detroit conference. Why? Because electric cars simply consume less “wells to wheels” energy than alternatives do.

Introduction of battery management and intermediate storage

Another improvement is to decouple the electric motor from the battery through electronic control, employing ultra-capacitors to buffer large but short power demands and regenerative braking energy. The development of new cell types combined with intelligent cell management improved both weak points mentioned above. The cell management involves not only monitoring the health of the cells but also a redundant cell configuration (one more cell than needed). With sophisticated switched wiring it is possible to condition one cell while the rest are on duty.

Faster battery recharging

By soaking the matter found in conventional lithium ion batteries in a special solution, lithium ion batteries were supposedly said to be recharged 100 times faster. This test was however done with a specially-designed battery with little capacity. Batteries with higher capacity can be recharged 40 times faster. The research was conducted by Byoungwoo Kang (1).

Why isn’t plug-ins in production?

Automakers cite the high cost of lithium-ion batteries. Ford and Toyota have announced active interest in plug-ins, but for now they are sticking by their hybrids. DaimlerChrysler is currently testing a plug-in hybrid version of its Sprinter delivery van. Progress, maybe, but no one’s making production commitments. GM has taken the biggest leap, awarding contracts to battery makers to produce lithium-ion packs for its Saturn Vue Green Line. The more radically designed Chevy Volt – which has a gas engine that recharges the batteries, and never powers the wheels – will have to wait. It needs a 400-pound battery, which GM estimates won’t be feasible until 2013 at the earliest.


There are two significant problems. Battery prices need to be shaved at least in half and range needs to be improved by at least 100%. Then the problem of battery depreciation rolls in – batteries are unlikely to last much more than eight years, which will destroy the trade in value of the first electric vehicles. It’s a “wait a minute” time for prognosticators.

 All that is not to say that pure EV has a place in close up, urban, and short distance use. But very few people can justify the investment in another vehicle for only short range. Hybrids could work, but the emphasis has to go to the series hybrid with less battery and far more combustion efficiency to the wheels.

Want to learn more about electric vehicles? Read more by clicking here.


 (1): Source,_Hybrid_and_Fuel_Cell_Electric_Vehicle_Symposium_%26_Exhibition. 106. ^ “100 times faster recharging of battery”. 2009-03-11. Retrieved 2010-12-26.

Project CityCar

CityCar is a project currently being developed by MIT Media Lab which could change the way people move around cities.

Project Brief described by MIT Media Lab (Source:

The CityCar is a foldable, electric, sharable, two-passenger vehicle for crowded cities. Wheel Robots—fully modular in-wheel electric motors—integrate drive motors, suspension, braking, and steering inside the hub-space of the wheel. This drive-by-wire system requires only data, power, and mechanical connection to the chassis.

With over 80 degrees of steering freedom, Wheel Robots enable a zero-turn radius; they also enable the CityCar to fold by eliminating the gasoline-powered engine and drive-train.

We are working with Denokinn on an integrated, modular system for assembly and distribution of the CityCar. This project, based in the Basque region of Spain, will be called the “Hiriko” Project, which stands for Urban Car. The Hiriko project aims to create a new, distributed manufacturing system for the CityCar which will enable automotive suppliers to provide “core” components made of integrated modules such as in-wheel motor units, battery systems, interiors, vehicle control systems, vehicle chassis/exoskeleton, and glazing.

The CityCar project is continuing the vision of William J. Mitchell (1944 – 2010), director of the Smart Cities Media Lab research group. More information on the CityCar project can be found on the Smart Cities web site.

How to Hook up Your iPod to a Car Stereo

Hooking an iPod (or other portable MP3-player) into a car stereo is simple. You have three basic options – use an RCA cable, go wireless with an FM transmitter, or connect via cassette tape. If you go with an FM transmitter, follow the instructions that come with it. This sometimes involves installing software on your PC, downloading the radio stations to your iPod, finding a station with no feedback at all, and matching the station on your stereo to the station on the iPod.

There are 10 steps to follow:

1. Buy a cassette adapter at your local Radio Shack or Best Buy store.

2. Check the manual first.

3. Buy a wireless transmitter – these devices usually attach to your iPod, and require you to tune your radio to a designated FM frequency.

4. Also, there is always some interference or static when transmitting and there are times you can’t find an open frequency, especially if there’s a powerful radio transmitter nearby.

5. Try using RCA cables for better sound quality.

6. Remove the stereo from your dash.

7. Be sure that your stereo has some type of input in the back

8. Decide where you will be putting your iPod and where you want the wire going.

9. Precautions – If its RCA then the RCA to 1/8th inch jack should be fine, get an extension for the 1/8th inch if you need it but don’t go splicing wires!

10. Check that everything works, which usually requires switching to an “input” mode or “auxiliary” mode on your stereo.

For more details, visit the website


Interested in learning more about the automotive cockpit and human machine interface? Visit the following website for free presentations, articles & podcasts.

Autonomous vehicle navigation – current status, issues, and prospects

Scope of autonomous vehicle navigation

There are three ways a car may be navigated: totally in autonomous mode – without any driver intervention, semi-autonomously with some driver intervention, and completely driver controlled.  A vehicle may be guided autonomously by the Global Positioning System (GPS), cameras, laser detectors, radar, wires in or lines on the road, or by transponders strategically located along a route.  While road sensors or wires provide a more accurate navigation there are practical limits to installing them, given the number of roads involved.  Navigational software includes pre-programmed routes, driving rules (such as stopping for red lights and lane changes), and user interfaces.  Mechanical control is done by servo motors, relays, sensors, automated steering and braking, throttle management, and so forth. 

With the improvement of automotive systems aided by computers and artificial intelligence, it should not be surprising to see the emergence of vehicles that drive themselves.  Various names have been given to autonomously driven vehicles: uninhabited autonomous vehicle (UAV), autopilot vehicle, driverless car, auto-drive car, or automated/autonomously guided vehicle (AGV).  An autonomously-driven vehicle is a true automobile, i.e., mobile on its own – self-propelled and navigated.    A semi-autonomous vehicle can use any navigational method, but the driver intervenes to determine the routing and otherwise control the car.  A person in a completely driver-controlled vehicle most often uses a map interfacing with GPS or a hand held device, such as a personal digital assistant (PDA) that displays locations via GPS.  Routes ultimately are determined by the driver and may be charted by means such as on-board maps, web interface, or PDAs. Assisted navigation already is a reality.  Smart cars have the capability of detecting empty parking spaces, thus obviating having to drive a long time searching. Already, in many cities there are timed traffic lights, where by maintaining an optimal speed, a driver can “make” every light without stopping. With forward-looking traffic control (automatic positioning), a driver is warned via a human-machine interface (HMI) of accidents, congestion, and construction, and is given the choice of different routes.  A final step is intelligent and automated street or highway systems, where cars are integrated into an overall system and coordinated to result in a smooth and optimal traffic flow. High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes are precursors to this.

Feasibility of autonomously-driven vehicles

Pilotless vehicles are not new.  Hydrogen balloons were guided by spark transmitters towards the end of the 19th century, and the British flew a monoplane called the Larynx [1] in the 1920s.  During World War Two, radio controlled planes came more into vogue.  Today we see remotely operated tractors tilling and seeding fields using the GPS, or even a cell phone.

Tractor driven by student in India using a cell phone [2]

We have remotely monitored and controlled systems such as OnStar for Chevrolet cars and Qualcomm for semi-trucks.  Mostly everyone has heard of the Predator drones used by the U.S. military as “state-of-the-art”, although there are numerous problems of errors in targeting [3].  Especially since 1977, when Tsukuba Mechanical engineering lab built the first self-driving vehicle, development and sophistication has continued for autonomous ground vehicles.  Another example of autonomous vehicle development was Carsense a project sponsored from 2000-20002 by the European Commission consisting of twelve European car manufacturing companies to illustrate the efficacy of autonomous vehicles. Long and short radar, cameras, and various sensors were used to pilot the vehicle. 

The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), sponsored three DARPA challenges to build autonomously driven vehicles in March 2004, October 2005, and November 2007.  The 2004 and 2005 ones involved vehicles running overland in off-road desert environments up to 240 km and up to 80 km per hour.  In the first, only five vehicles traveled more than a couple of kilometers.  Three vehicles completed more than 212 km in the second.  The third challenge was in an urban environment and six vehicles traveled 60 miles.

Stanford Autonomous Vehicle Project [8]

From 26 July to 28 October 2010 four vehicles drove themselves 15,000 km from Parma Italy to Shanghai, China [4]. In the same year Google had seven driven for a total of 140,000 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco with humans intervening only occasionally [5]. Routes were reprogrammed, along with essential data like speed limits.  Google has gone so far as to ask Nevada to allow autonomous vehicles and texting in them [6].  As late as the middle of June 2011 Nevada approved the use of autonomous vehicles on its roads [7].  Volkswagen is testing vehicles in Europe, as the following video displays so graphically:

Stanford University, one of the winners of the U.S. Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) urban challenge in 2007, is carrying forth research on LIght Detection And Ranging, or Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging (LIDER) to create maps of a car’s environment and use that to navigate. Maps with locations of people and objects are continuously generated from this with centimeter accuracy and the data are used to determine an actual path.

Want to learn more about future automotive navigation systems? Check out the following website for free presentations & articles.

References (Subject is indicated by URL – accessed 31 July 2011)









Active front steering

Basic system

Active front steering (AFS) is technology designed to make the front wheels turn a certain number of degrees in accordance with the speed of the vehicle.  It was originally developed by Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) in 2003 and the ZF Lenksysteme method used is pretty much the same used in the AFS of other cars.  The slower the speed, the greater number of degrees the wheels are turned per degree of movement of the steering wheel; more front wheel turning is required than at higher speeds.  This prevents over and under-steering, as in parking situations or high speed highway driving, when the former involves more turning of the wheels and the latter does not.  One stark example is locking the steering wheel after parking.  It should take less than half a turn.  In normal vehicles, it can take more than two turns of the steering wheel to lock, as opposed to AFS, where fewer than two turns is needed. Sensors located in the steering column and detecting steering angle recognize where the driver wants to go and activate the AFS.  If the electronics shuts down, the planetary gear in the differential controlled by the AFS is locked, and fixed ratio steering takes over.  In the event of a planetary gear problem conventional steering then takes over, as there is a second shaft running from the steering rack running from the  to the planetary gear assembly.

A typical AFS looks like the following:








with a detailed configuration being:









1.  Main gear

2. Servotronic valve

3.  AFS actuator  including  the  synchronous  motor

4. Upper position gear system

5.  AFS electronic control system with the AFS Electronic Control Unit (ECU)

6.  Motor angle sensor

7. Electromagnetic locking unit

8. Pinion angle sensor

9. Steering pump

10. Oil reservoir with filter

11. Hoses

Other: Respective electrical connections of the ECU and the required software modules

The typical motor and electromagnetic locking units is:






and the AFS actuator:


 Active front steering and driveline dynamics functions

Two methods exist for steering adjustment, the ZF Lenksysteme approach and the Ackerman method. With the ZF Lenksysteme the variable steering ratio (VSR) is the ratio between the steering wheel angle and the average road wheel angle and this is changed in accordance with the driving environment, as a function of such factors as velocity.  The VSR also depends upon the pinion gear angles, or the rack displacement, it being less at higher speeds than lower ones.  This means more precision for smaller steering angles and reduced steering effort at larger steering angles [4].  This system has steering lead function (SLF) that adapts the steering response to signals about the vehicle situation, such as wheel angular velocity that determines the desired SLF.  The whole system has a feedback system, where the driver’s actions help control AFS actuator motion and the system response is fed back to the driver.

 The Ackerman method adjusts the steering angle by computing the difference between a reference yaw rate (movement around the vehicle’s vertical axis) and actual yaw rate.  Steering ability depends upon vehicle mass, road conditions, and velocity, among other factors, so better control is achieved by controlling the yaw rate [5]. 

 Most systems use the ZF Lenksysteme.

Interested in learning more about steering technology?
Get free whitepapers, podcasts and, articles here.

References (Subject is indicated by URL – accessed 9 July 2011)

[1] Willy Klier, Gerd Reimann and Wolfgang Reinelt, Concept and Functionality of the Active Front Steering System, ZF Lenksysteme GmbH, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, No. 2004-21-0073, 2003 SAE International (2003), pp. 1-3

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 3


Volvo’s City Safety System Receives High Marks From Insurance Institute

According to a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, a research arm of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (financed by the insurance industry), Volvo vehicles equipped with the brand’s City Safety forward-collision avoidance system are far less likely to be involved in low-speed, rear-end collisions than vehicles lacking the system.

Earlier this year, the system already won a test operated by the German ADAC.

What is the Volvo Safety System?
The safety system which is also called “City Safety”  is intended to help a driver avoid an accident by slowing down in time. It is active up to 30 km/h and keeps a watchful eye on traffic up to six metres in front of the car with the help of an optical radar (laser sensor) system integrated into the upper part of the windscreen.  The vehicle automatically pre-charges the brakes if the driver does not respond in time when the leading car slows down or stops, or if the driver is driving too quickly toward a stationary object. The system functions equally well day and night, but has the same limitations as any other radar systems: it can be limited by fog, mist, snow or heavy rain. If the sensor on the windscreen is obscured the driver is alerted via the car’s information display.

Study outcomes
There were 27 percent fewer property damage liability claims for the Volvo XC60, which comes standard with City Safety, than for other midsize luxury sport utility vehicles; the study noted 2.2 insurance claims for property damage liability per 100 Volvo XC60s on the road, compared with three claims per 100 for the average midsize luxury S.U.V. Property damage liability insurance pays to repair damage to another vehicle when the driver who hits it is at fault. The 27 percent reduction is “a big effect,” said Adrian Lund, president of the insurance institute, in a telephone interview. The pattern of results strongly indicates that City Safety is preventing low-speed crashes and reducing insurance costs,” he said. But will the system’s success result in lower insurance premiums for Volvo drivers? “I think it will,” Mr. Lund said. (Source:

For more information about the study results and the methodology used, click here.

For those who are interested, the safety system can be tested in an interactive game on the Volvo website.


HMI, green driving and electro-mobility – New design and operation concepts for driver safety and comfort

The ultimate challenge for HMI experts is to create an automotive interface that is engaging, functional and easy to use. From 28 – 30 September 2011 in Darmstadt, Germany, experts in the automotive and electronics fields will come together to discuss the latest developments in HMI as well as design and operation concepts in the cockpit.

One highlight of conference day one will be a presentation by Dr. Andreas Keinath, Head of Concept Quality at BMW AG, who will present lessons learnt from the MINI E field studies inGermany, US and UK. Another highlight will be a keynote presentation by Dr. Xavier Chalandon from Renault S.A.S. on ergonomics and hedonomics in HMI and cockpit design.

Further topics of discussion at the event will include:

  • Trends and consumer expectations in different automotive market segments
  • Potentials and limits of user centred design HMI
  • Adaption of future HMI concepts to electro mobility and automated driving
  • Seamless integration of mobile devices and services
  • Acceleration of time to market through optimising the HMI development process

Delegates can also take part in interactive workshops:

  • Millions of users – One solution? Designthinking?
  • Future HMIs – An outlook on strategic and technology issues
  • HMI for autonomous vehicles
  • Meet the driver – Designing for “invisible” and the elderly

For further information, including articles, interviews and the full conference program visit the website.

Braking Technology: What’s next?

No one really expects a huge paradigm shift in braking technology any time soon, but there are some ideas on the horizon that certainly tweak the interest:

The Electric Wedgie

The German company Siemens VDO is working on bringing an electric wedge brake to the market, in which the brake pad is pushed against the rotor by a wedge-shaped plate. The faster the disc turns, the more slope of the wedge is applied, so the more firmly the pads are pushed. This lightweight and small-sized system does away with hydraulics and all the ABS paraphernalia, relying purely on electrics and a computer, freeing up all sorts of space under the body for designers to get their clammy little hands on. No word as yet on what happens if there’s a short, but I’m sure Siemens is considering redundant systems in such an eventuality.

Full Contact Discs

One whisper that’s floating around automotive forums is the development of full-contact disc brakes by NewTech, a Canadian company. Their website has gone down since announcing this radical step forward, but the gist of their model is instead of having only part of the disc’s area acted on by the pad, why not engage the whole disc?

The circular six-pad assembly itself is what spins with the wheel, while the static disc is pushed onto it by a diaphragm mechanism containing another six pads; the twelve total pads cover about 75% of the disc contact surface area. A range of frictional materials are used in the pads to account for various conditions and a complex design of cooling fins redistribute the heat. The benefits of this design are fairly obvious to any that have struggled this far through the overview: fantastic braking ability in all sorts of conditions, much better cooling, stronger, with reduced vibration and noise.

Though units were sold and implemented in heavy goods vehicles and buses, there was never a model produced for production automobiles. Saleen were the first company to look at the design but ended up opting for a more conventional configuration on their new S7 supercar. Renault and Nissan have also expressed interest. A similar design was considered as an optional extra for the Bugatti EB110 in 1991, but the unique design meant the brakes would have doubled the EB110’s hefty $350,000 price tag.

(Word on the street (or I should say information superhighway) is that the braking on cars so fitted is so unbelievably efficient it’s actually beyond the capabilities of the average driver. Which suddenly makes braking sound more salivating than dreary. I have visions of seatbelt mounts ripping from the chassis and entire families catapulting through windscreens at every red light.)

So we could be on the brink of big things in the brake world. After years of piecemeal improvements it’s about time we saw some radical notion sweep convention aside and perhaps introduce a slightly different kind of revolution to rotational dynamics.

6th International Congress Intelligent Braking 2011
Don’t miss the “6th International Congress Intelligent Braking 2011”,
28-30 September 2011 at the Excelsior Hotel Ernst in Cologne, Germany.
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