From autonomous driving to new battery technologies, from egg shaped child seats to ground penetrating radar, we round up the latest in transportation tech.
We tend to think of technological advances like it does in the history books, one great genius after another toiling in obscurity only to have a “lightbulb” moment that leads to a revolution, hence the phrase. But the English longbow and cotton gin notwithstanding, most technology is built incrementally atop existing knowledge. And so it is in the transportation sector, with R&D divisions across the sector working tirelessly to push existing technologies forward. As you’ll read below, the results are no less inspiring or ingenious.
The automatic transmission has historically relied on driver throttle input and road load to determine optimal gearing. Engineers at Hyundai and Kia think they’ve found a better way. Their new venture, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Connected Shift System, aims to produce a new automatic transmission that shifts in anticipation of changes in road conditions to maintain the best gearing.
The Connected Shift System will employ 3D navigation that combines detailed road mapping, radar, and cameras to monitor road conditions and make adjustments on the fly. Basically, this would operate as a very sophisticated form of adaptive cruise control for your transmission, even taking care of downshifts when cornering and flipping into sport mode for merging/passing situations.
The ultimate goal of the Connected Shift System would be to reduce fuel consumption and maintaining responsiveness. Something CVTs have only ever gotten half right.
Tire swings, all-terrain flower beds, DIY fitness equipment. There’s a lot you can do with old, worn out tires. But what if your tires didn’t wear out after 50-60,000 miles? What if instead, they re-grew their tread? It might sound crazy, but Goodyear had been working hard on tires that do just that.
The design of the reCharge tire would function like a stick of deodorant or lip balm. This would involve a pressurized reservoir of tire material within the wheel itself that gets extruded as the surface gets worn away, with the tire material being pressed through a built-in mold to form it into a tire’s grippy tread.
Long gone are the days of the sofa-like seating of classic American luxury cars. Seat have gotten all sorts of new tech in the intervening decades. They heat and cool, they even massage. But Porsche has recently upped their seat game with a new level of customization. Porsche’s new tech will make their seats fit your posterior like a glove.
Porsche is including a limited run of custom seats incorporating 3D printed materials specially built to fit the car’s owner. The “3D-printed bodyform full-bucket seat” includes a lattice work structure that will both improve comfort and reduce weight. These 3D printed seats will be available on a limited initial run to 40 lucky European customers buying either a 911 or 718.
But improvements in seating tech aren’t limited to drivers. Renown car designer Frank Stephenson (of BWM and McLaren fame) has reimagined the child car seat, incorporating inspirations from the egg and the Fibonacci sequence. The BabyArk is built on a carbon fiber frame under a polycarbonate skin. Utilizing the natural structural strength of an egg, the BabyArk is designed to not only look better than the traditional child seat, but also be substantially safer.
The BabyArk will come with electronic sensors that can tell you whether you’ve installed it properly, monitor the condition of the seat, and alert you if your child falls asleep. For such a techy, the future-is-now design, it shouldn’t surprise the BabyArk will, in all likelihood, be the most expensive child car seat on the market.
Perhaps you’ve heard of GM’s autonomous driving division Cruise. But have you heard of “Ultra Cruise”? GM’s answer to Tesla’s inaccurately titled Autopilot, Ultra Cruise is a step beyond GM’s current “Super Cruise” system, available in the Cadillac CT6. Super Cruise allows for hand-free highway driving. Ultra Cruise looks to take that level of autonomy into the city center. Or as Doug Parks, GM’s vice president of global product development, said “Ultra Cruise’s domain would be essentially all driving, all the time.”
One of the more difficult challenges to getting to full autonomy is the technical hurdles posed by adverse weather conditions. The lidar and cameras most autonomous systems currently use don’t perform well when things turn rainy, snowy, foggy, icy, or really anything other than the dry, sunny conditions you find in say, Silicon Valley.
But researchers at MIT have been hard at work figuring out how to design autonomous systems that adjust to even the worst Mother Nature has to offer. Rather than relying on lidar and cameras, their new approach has been to utilize ground-penetrating radar to see through snow and other opaque obstructions to the road below. In conjunctions with above ground lidar and cameras, this system should augment existing autonomous navigation technology. Computing braking and throttle inputs to adjust to snowy or icy surfaces remains another challenge to be surmounted.
One of the biggest challenges for electric vehicle adoption is the lack of charging infrastructure. Range anxiety only exists because of the distance between charging stations remains significant in many areas of the country. And the further you get into the hinterlands of America, the harder it is to have reliable access to the electrical grid. Volkswagens Electrify America and Envision Solar think they have a solution. Solar powered charging stations. Featuring a 4.28kW photovoltaic array, these stations would be able to charge up to two vehicles at a 6kW charge speed. That’s not level 3 DC fast charging, but it is a step in the right direction.
Speaking of reducing the environmental impact of mobility, Mercedes-Benz’s most recent concept car, the Vision AVTR, inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar, doesn’t just look the part of car of the future. And though it’s a little late to really dovetail with the movie, the car appears no less revolutionary than the film. While the wheels, the lack of a steering wheel, the screen surfaces, the transparent doors all wow and feel appropriately futuristic. But the biggest bit of tech in the car is invisible to the naked eye.
The big news with the AVTR is the organic electric battery pack. In keeping with the full vegan materials in the interior, the power source for the AVTR is intended to be green and, in fact, fully compostable. Utilizing a graphene-based organic cell and water-based electrolyte, the AVTR battery would eschew all those rare earth metals, like cobalt and lithium, and their attendant environmental impacts.
While they continue work on their graphene batteries (what Daimler says is a 10-15 year project), they will also look to improve upon existing technology. Head of Mercedes-Benz battery tech Andreas Hintennach estimates Daimler can squeeze another 25% efficiency out of lithium-ion technology.