The SAE’s WCX World Congress Experience was billed as where the engineering community convenes on mobility’s biggest hurdles from mass deployment of electric vehicles to developmental timelines for autonomous vehicles to understanding of global supply chain constraints impacting the automotive industry. We had a chance to peruse the WCX exhibits and kick the tires on some interesting technology. Here’s a gallery of some of the more interesting sites we found there.
The grandparent of today’s EVs
GM’s EV-1 is considered by many to be the first modern electric car. Released in 1996, the 2,992-lb car featured an ac motor, electronic braking, and was advertised as having a range of about 50 miles from its 32 lead-acid batteries, though that figure was probably generous. Old-time automotive journalists still talk about when a prominent auto-enthusiast magazine did a performance test on an EV-1. The plan was not to baby the car and just treat it like any other car under evaluation. Journalists said the EV-1 lasted about a mile and a half. The story goes that GM came out in a huff and retrieved its car, accompanied by a lot of cat calls on the part of the journalists involved. That might be one reason GM recalled all its EV-1s a few years later and destroyed them. It’s not clear how this one survived.
A differential gear developed for EVs
It isn’t just motors and battery electronics that are getting an overhaul for use in EVs. This model of a differential unit devised by Eaton Corp. features six pinions on its input drive shaft in the interest of high power density. An Eaton spokesperson said this is a prototype that’s still under development. No automakers have signed up for it as yet.
All the better to see you through the ice, my dear
A lot of ordinary features on ICE-powered cars are only marginally practical on EVs because they consume too much juice. That’s certainly the case for heating systems. WCX exhibitor BetterFrost thinks it has a way of drastically cutting power consumption in windshield defrosters. The technique works with windshields containing either a silver oxide or fluorine tin oxide (FTO) layer that ordinarily serves as a sun block to help keep the car interior cool. BetterFrost’s electronics send 200-to-400-V pulses on the order of a microsecond wide to this layer at about a 150-Hz rate. This generates enough heat to melt the thin layer of frost in direct contact with the windshield. Then windshield wipers can break up and remove the remaining frost. The whole process is said to be quicker than just blasting the windshield with hot air and consumes about 20x less energy. BetterFrost says the energy saved can add about 20 km of range to a typical EV.
A novel ICE that will burn any kind of fuel
Every WCX exhibit usually includes as least one booth featuring a “better” internal combustion engine design. This year’s event didn’t disappoint on that score. The Sowda engine is said to implement a true Atkinson cycle featuring a 50% longer power stroke vs. the compression stroke. It can adjust its compression ratio on the fly so it can burn gas, diesel, nat gas, biofuels, and so forth. There’s no multi-journal crankshaft, no flywheel needed to maintain rotational momentum, no variable valve timing required. The inventors, pictured here with a four-cylinder prototype, say existing engine architectures can be converted to Sowda design relatively easily.
Getting familiar with EV powertrain components
By now, anybody who cares is probably familiar with the major electronic systems involved in charging, discharging, and sending juice to EV motors. Tthe Eaton Corp. exhibit illustrated the major blocks, here helpfully outlined in red. At the far left is the inverter driving the traction motor(s). The middle component is a battery disconnect module which routes current to the battery during deceleration and regeneration and from the battery to the motor inverter during acceleration and normal driving. Next to it sits a combo power-distribution/fuse box. At far right is the ac/dc converter used for recharging the battery. An Eaton spokesperson says the components on display all use silicon technology. Units on the drawing boards employ wide-bandgap SiC and GaN semiconductors and will either be smaller than what’s on display here or will handle higher power levels with units that are the same size.
When your car senses your hand sanitizer
At least drunk drivers in the future won’t have to blow into a mouthpiece to find out they can’t drive their car. The Sensair system uses an optical sensor built into the steering wheel assembly to detect alcohol in the driver’s breath. The system draws the driver’s exhaled breath into the sensor via an intake on the top of the steering column. The sensor which measures the concentrations of alcohol and carbon dioxide present. The known quantity of carbon dioxide in human breath serves as an indicator of the degree of dilution of the alcohol concentration in exhaled air. Molecules of alcohol and tracer gas, e.g. carbon dioxide, absorb infrared light at specific wavelengths. The Senseair device make use of non-dispersive infrared technology infrared light beams on the to analyze the breath sample and analyses the wavelengths returned in order to quickly and accurately calculate the alcohol concentration. But demonstrators at WCX didn’t have to imbibe to demonstrate the system; as seen in this Video, they merely simulated alcohol in the driver’s breath by coating their hands with hand sanitizer and blowing over them in the direction of the sensor.
The rub about friction
When electrical contacts must function in an a vehicular environment characterized by vibrations and shocks, friction and kinematics become a particularly big deal. That’s why Optimol Instruments in Germany was at WCX with an example of its SRV 5 simulation system. The test chamber can generate oscillations in the x-axis, sliding and reversing rotation, motion perpendicular to the direction of measurement, and can subject parts to a second frequency for simulating disturbances. Visible here is a small part of the system. The whole test chamber can also be rotated while the vibration test takes place.
An interior of the future
The Akxy Pod was at the Asahi Kasei booth and was billed as the amalgamation of of Asahi Kasei materials incorporated into a possible interior compartment for future autonomous vehicles. Among the features were a premium microfiber suede made from recycled materials, a plant-based floor mat with antifouling properties, a three-dimensional knitted fabric, polyamide foams designed to absorb sound, conductive copper inks on curved surfaces, defogging via a copper grid pattern on PET film, and olfactory sensors for air quality management.
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Filed Under: Automotive