AUTOMOTIVE FUTURE

January 25, 2018


Portions of this post are taken from Design News Daily Magazine, January publication.

The Detroit Auto Show has a weirdly duplicitous vibe these days. The biggest companies that attend make sure to talk about things that make them sound future-focused, almost benevolent. They talk openly about autonomy, electrification, and even embracing other forms of transportation. But they do this while doling out product announcements that are very much about meeting the current demands of consumers who, enjoying low gas prices, want trucks and crossover SUVs. With that said, it really is interesting to take a look at several “concept” cars.  Cars we just may be driving the future is not the near future.  Let’s take a look right now.

Guangzhou Automobile Co. (better known as GAC Motor) stole the show in Detroit, at least if we take their amazing claims at face value. The Chinese automaker rolled out the Enverge electric concept car, which is said to have a 373-mile all-electric range based on a 71-kWh battery. Incredibly, it is also reported to have a wireless recharge time of just 10 minutes for a 240-mile range. Enverge’s power numbers are equally impressive: 235 HP and 302 lb-ft of torque, with a 0-62 mph time of just 4.4 seconds. GAC, the sixth biggest automaker in China, told the Detroit audience that it would start selling cars in the US by Q4 2019. The question is whether its extraordinary performance numbers will hold up to EPA scrutiny.  If GAC can live up to and meet their specifications they may have the real deal here.  Very impressive.

As autonomous vehicle technology advances, automakers are already starting to examine the softer side of that market – that is, how will humans interact the machines? And what are some of the new applications for the technology? That’s where Ford’s pizza delivery car came in. The giant automaker started delivering Domino’s pizzas in Ann Arbor, MI, late last year with an autonomous car. In truth, the car had a driver at the wheel, sitting behind a window screen. But the actual delivery was automated: Customers were alerted by a text; a rear window rolled down; an automated voice told them what to do, and they grabbed the pie. Ford engineers were surprised to find that that the humans weren’t intimated by the technology. “In the testing we did, people interacted nicely with the car,” Ford autonomous car research engineer Wayne Williams told Design News. “They talked to it as if it were a robot. They waved when it drove away. Kids loved it. They’d come running up to it.” The message to Ford was clear – autonomous cars are about more than just personal transportation. Delivery services are a real possibility, too.

Most of today’s autonomous cars use unsightly, spinning Lidar buckets atop their roofs. At the auto show, Toyota talked about an alternative Lidar technology that’s sleek and elegant. You have to admit that for now, the autonomous cars look UGLY—really ugly.  Maybe Toyota has the answer.

In a grand rollout, Lexus introduced a concept car called the LF-1 Limitless. The LF-1 is what we’ve all come to expect from modern concept cars – a test bed for numerous power trains and autonomous vehicle technologies. It can be propelled by a fuel cell, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, all-electric or gasoline power train. And its automated driving system includes a “miniaturized supercomputer with links to navigation data, radar sensors, and cameras for a 360-degree view of your surroundings with predictive capabilities.” The sensing technologies are all part of a system known as “Chauffeur mode.” Lexus explained that the LF-1 is setting the stage for bigger things: By 2025, every new Lexus around the world will be available as a dedicated electrified model or will have an electrified option.

The Xmotion, which is said to combine Japanese aesthetics with SUV styling, includes seven digital screens. Three main displays join left- and right-side screens across the instrument panel. There’s also a “digital room mirror” in the ceiling and center console display. Moreover, the displays can be controlled by gestures and even eye motions, enabling drivers to focus on the task of driving. A Human Machine Interface also allows drivers to easily switch from Nissan’s ProPilot automated driving system to a manual mode.

Cadillac showed off its Super Cruise technology, which is said to be the only semi-autonomous driving system that actually monitors the driver’s attention level. If the driver is attentive, Super Cruise can do amazing things – tooling along for hours on a divided highway with no intersections, for example, while handling all the steering, acceleration and braking. GM describes it as an SAE Level 2 autonomous system. It’s important because it shows autonomous vehicle technology has left the lab and is making its debut on production vehicles. Super Cruise launched late in 2017 on the Cadillac CT6 (shown here).

In a continuing effort to understand the relationship between self-driving cars and humans, Ford Motor Co. and Virginia Tech displayed an autonomous test vehicle that communicates its intent to other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Such communication is important, Ford engineers say, because “designing a way to replace the head nod or hand wave is fundamental to ensuring safe and efficient operation of self-driving vehicles.”

Infiniti rolled out the Q Inspiration luxury sedan concept, which combines its variable compression ratio engine with Nissan’s ProPilot semi-autonomous vehicle technology. Infiniti claims the engine combines “turbo charged gasoline power with the torque and efficiency of a hybrid or diesel.” Known as the VC-Turbo, the four-cylinder engine continually transforms itself, adjusting its compression ratio to optimize power and fuel efficiency. At the same time, the sedan features ProPilot Assist, which provides assisted steering, braking and acceleration during driving. You can see from the digital below, the photographers were there covering the Infinity.

The eye-catching Concept-i vehicle provided a more extreme view of the distant future, when vehicles will be equipped with artificial intelligence (AI). Meant to anticipate people’s needs and improve their quality of life, Concept-i is all about communicating with the driver and occupants. An AI agent named Yui uses light, sound, and even touch, instead of traditional screens, to communicate information. Colored lights in the footwells, for example, indicate whether the vehicle is an autonomous or manual drive; projectors in the rear deck project outside views onto the seat pillar to warn drivers about potential blind spots, and a next-generation heads-up display keeps the driver’s eyes and attention on the road. Moreover, the vehicle creates a feeling of warmth inside by emanating sweeping lines of light around it. Toyota engineers created the Concept-i features based on their belief that “mobility technology should be warm, welcoming, and above all, fun.”

CONCLUSIONS:  To be quite honest, I was not really blown away with this year’s offerings.  I LOVE the Infinity and the Toyota concept car shown above.  The American models did not capture my attention. Just a thought.

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One source for this post is Forbes Magazine article, ” U.S. Dependence on Foreign Oil Hits 30-Year Low”, by Mr. Mike Patton.  Other sources were obviously used.

The United States is at this point in time “energy independent”—for the most part.   Do you remember the ‘70s and how, at times, it was extremely difficult to buy gasoline?  If you were driving during the 1970s, you certainly must remember waiting in line for an hour or more just to put gas in the ol’ car? Thanks to the OPEC oil embargo, petroleum was in short supply. At that time, America’s need for crude oil was soaring while U.S. production was falling. As a result, the U.S. was becoming increasingly dependent on foreign suppliers. Things have changed a great deal since then. Beginning in the mid-2000s, America’s dependence on foreign oil began to decline.  One of the reasons for this decline is the abundance of natural gas or methane existent in the US.

“At the rate of U.S. dry natural gas consumption in 2015 of about 27.3 Tcf (trillion cubic feet) per year, the United States has enough natural gas to last about 86 years. The actual number of years will depend on the amount of natural gas consumed each year, natural gas imports and exports, and additions to natural gas reserves. Jul 25, 2017”

For most of the one hundred and fifty (150) years of U.S. oil and gas production, natural gas has played second fiddle to oil. That appeared to change in the mid-2000s, when natural gas became the star of the shale revolution, and eight of every 10 rigs were chasing gas targets.

But natural gas turned out to be a shooting star. Thanks to the industry’s incredible success in leveraging game-changing technology to commercialize ultralow-permeability reservoirs, the market was looking at a supply glut by 2010, with prices below producer break-even values in many dry gas shale plays.

Everyone knows what happened next. The shale revolution quickly transitioned to crude oil production, and eight of every ten (10) rigs suddenly were drilling liquids. What many in the industry did not realize initially, however, is that tight oil and natural gas liquids plays would yield substantial associated gas volumes. With ongoing, dramatic per-well productivity increases in shale plays, and associated dry gas flowing from liquids resource plays, the beat just keeps going with respect to growth in oil, NGL and natural gas supplies in the United States.

Today’s market conditions certainly are not what had once been envisioned for clean, affordable and reliable natural gas. But producers can rest assured that vision of a vibrant, growing and stable market will become a reality; it just will take more time to materialize. There is no doubt that significant demand growth is coming, driven by increased consumption in industrial plants and natural gas-fired power generation, as well as exports, including growing pipeline exports to Mexico and overseas shipments of liquefied natural gas.

Just over the horizon, the natural gas star is poised to again shine brightly. But in the interim, what happens to the supply/demand equation? This is a critically important question for natural gas producers, midstream companies and end-users alike.

Natural gas production in the lower-48 states has increased from less than fifty (50) billion cubic feet a day (Bcf/d) in 2005 to about 70 Bcf/d today. This is an increase of forty (40%) percent over nine years, or a compound annual growth rate of about four (4%) percent. There is no indication that this rate of increase is slowing. In fact, with continuing improvements in drilling efficiency and effectiveness, natural gas production is forecast to reach almost ninety (90) Bcf/d by 2020, representing another twenty-nine (29%) percent increase over 2014 output.

Most of this production growth is concentrated in a few extremely prolific producing regions. Four of these are in a fairway that runs from the Texas Gulf Coast to North Dakota through the middle section of the country, and encompasses the Eagle Ford, the Permian Basin, the Granite Wash, the SouthCentral Oklahoma Oil Play and other basins in Oklahoma, and the Williston Basin. The other major producing region is the Marcellus and Utica shales in the Northeast. Almost all the natural gas supply growth is coming from these regions.

We are at the point where this abundance can allow US companies to export LNG or liquified natural gas.   To move this cleaner-burning fuel across oceans, natural gas must be converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG), a process called liquefaction. LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to –260° F (–162° C), changing it from a gas into a liquid that is 1/600th of its original volume.  This would be the same requirement for Dayton.  The methane gas captured would need to be liquified and stored.  This is accomplished by transporting in a vessel similar to the one shown below:

As you might expect, a vessel such as this requires very specific designs relative to the containment area.  A cut-a-way is given below to indicate just how exacting that design must be to accomplish, without mishap, the transportation of LNG to other areas of the world.

Loading LNG from storage to the vessel is no easy manner either and requires another significant expenditure of capital.

For this reason, LNG facilities over the world are somewhat limited in number.  The map below will indicate their location.

A typical LNG station, both process and loading may be seen below.  This one is in Darwin.

CONCLUSIONS:

With natural gas being in great supply, there will follow increasing demand over the world for this precious commodity.  We already see automobiles using LNG instead of gasoline as primary fuel.  Also, the cost of LNG is significantly less than gasoline even with average prices over the US being around $2.00 +++ dollars per gallon.  According to AAA, the national average for regular, unleaded gasoline has fallen for thirty-five (35) out of thirty-six (36) days to $2.21 per gallon and sits at the lowest mark for this time of year since 2004. Gas prices continue to drop in most parts of the country due to abundant fuel supplies and declining crude oil costs. Average prices are about fifty-five (55) cents less than a year ago, which is motivating millions of Americans to take advantage of cheap gas by taking long road trips this summer.

I think the bottom line is: natural gas is here to stay.


In preparation for this post, I asked my fifteen-year old grandson to define product logistics and product supply chain.  He looked at me as though I had just fallen off a turnip truck.  I said you know, how does a manufacturer or producer of products get those products to the customer—the eventual user of the device or commodity.  How does that happen? I really need to go do my homework.  Can I think about this and give you an answer tomorrow?

SUPPLY CHAIN LOGISTICS:

Let’s take a look at Logistics and Supply Chain Management:

“Logistics typically refers to activities that occur within the boundaries of a single organization and Supply Chain refers to networks of companies that work together and coordinate their actions to deliver a product to market. Also, traditional logistics focuses its attention on activities such as procurement, distribution, maintenance, and inventory management. Supply Chain Management (SCM) acknowledges all of traditional logistics and also includes activities such as marketing, new product development, finance, and customer service” – from Essential of Supply Chain Management by Michael Hugos.

“Logistics is about getting the right product, to the right customer, in the right quantity, in the right condition, at the right place, at the right time, and at the right cost (the seven Rs of Logistics)” – from Supply Chain Management: A Logistics Perspective By John J. Coyle et al

Now, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?  A good way to look at is as follows:

MOBILITY AND THE SUPPLY CHAIN:

There have been remarkable advancements in supply chain logistics over the past decade.  Most of those advancements have resulted from companies bringing digital technologies into the front office, the warehouse, and transportation to the eventual customer.   Mobile technologies are certainly changing how products are tracked outside the four walls of the warehouse and the distribution center.  Realtime logistics management is within the grasp of many very savvy shippers.  To be clear:

Mobile networking refers to technology that can support voice and/or data network connectivity using wireless, via a radio transmission solution. The most familiar application of mobile networking is the mobile phone or tablet or i-pad.  From real-time goods tracking to routing assistance to the Internet of Things (IoT) “cutting wires” in the area that lies between the warehouse and the customer’s front door is gaining ground as shippers grapple with fast order fulfillment, smaller order sizes, and ever-evolving customer expectations.

In return for their tech investments, shippers and logistics managers are gaining benefits such as short-ended lead times, improved supply chain visibility, error reductions, optimized transportation networks and better inventory management.  If we combine these advantages we see that “wireless” communications are helping companies work smarter and more efficiently in today’s very fast-paced business world.

MOBILITY TRENDS:

Let’s look now at six (6) mobility trends.

  1. Increasingly Sophisticated Vehicle Communications—There was a time when the only contact a driver had with home base was after an action, such as load drop-off, took place or when there was an in-route problem. Today, as you might expect, truck drivers, pilots and others responsible for getting product to the customer can communicate real-time.  Cell phones have revolutionized and made possible real-time communication.
  2. Trucking Apps—By 2015, Frost & Sullivan indicated the size of the mobile trucking app market hit $35.4 billion dollars. Mobile apps are being launched, targeting logistics almost constantly. With the launch of UBER Freight, the competition in the trucking app space has heated up considerably, pressing incumbents to innovate and move much faster than ever before.
  3. Its’ Not Just for the Big Guys Anymore: At one time, fleet mobility solutions were reserved for larger companies that could afford them.  As technology has advanced and become more mainstream and affordable, so have fleet mobility solution.
  4. Mobility Helps Pinpoint Performance and Productivity Gaps: Knowing where everything is at any one given time is “golden”. It is the Holy Grail for every logistics manager.  Mobility is putting that goal within their reach.
  5. More Data Means More Mobile Technology to Generate and Support Logistics: One great problem that is now being solved, is how to handle perishable goods and refrigerated consumer items.  Shippers who handle these commodities are now using sensors to detect trailer temperatures, dead batteries, and other problems that would impact their cargos.  Using sensors, and the data they generate, shippers can hopefully make much better business decisions and head off problems before they occur.  Sensors, if monitored properly, can indicate trends and predict eventual problems.
  6. Customers Want More Information and Data—They Want It Now: Customer’s expectations for real-time shipment data is now available at their fingertips without having to pick up a telephone or send an e-mail.  Right now, that information is available quickly online or with a smartphone.

CONCLUSIONS: 

The world is changing at light speed, and mobility communications is one technology making this possible.  I have no idea as to where we will be in ten years, but it just might be exciting.


One of the best things the automotive industry accomplishes is showing us what might be in our future.  They all have the finances, creative talent and vision to provide a glimpse into their “wish list” for upcoming vehicles.  Mercedes Benz has done just that with their futuristic F 015 Luxury in Motion.

In order to provide a foundation for the new autonomous F 015 Luxury in Motion research vehicle, an interdisciplinary team of experts from Mercedes-Benz has devised a scenario that incorporates different aspects of day-to-day mobility. Above and beyond its mobility function, this scenario perceives the motor car as a private retreat that additionally offers an important added value for society at large. (I like the word retreat.) If you take a look at how much time the “average” individual spends in his or her automobile or truck, we see the following:

  • On average, Americans drive 29.2 miles per day, making two trips with an average total duration of forty-six (46) minutes. This and other revealing data are the result of a ground-breaking study currently underway by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the Urban Institute.
  • Motorists age sixteen (16) years and older drive, on average, 29.2 miles per day or 10,658 miles per year.
  • Women take more driving trips, but men spend twenty-five (25) percent more time behind the wheel and drive thirty-five (35) percent more miles than women.
  • Both teenagers and seniors over the age of seventy-five (75) drive less than any other age group; motorists 30-49 years old drive an average 13,140 miles annually, more than any other age group.
  • The average distance and time spent driving increase in relation to higher levels of education. A driver with a grade school or some high school education drove an average of 19.9 miles and 32 minutes daily, while a college graduate drove an average of 37.2 miles and 58 minutes.
  • Drivers who reported living “in the country” or “a small town” drive greater distances (12,264 miles annually) and spend a greater amount of time driving than people who described living in a “medium sized town” or city (9,709 miles annually).
  • Motorists in the South drive the most (11,826 miles annually), while those in the Northeast drive the least (8,468 miles annually).

With this being the case, why not enjoy it?

The F 015 made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas more than two years ago. It’s packed with advanced (or what was considered advanced in 2015) autonomous technology, and can, in theory, run for almost 900 kilometers on a mixture of pure electric power and a hydrogen fuel cell.

But while countless other vehicles are still trying to prove that cars can, literally, drive themselves, the Mercedes-Benz offering takes this for granted. Instead, this vehicle wants us to consider what we’ll actually do while the car is driving us around.

The steering wheel slides into the dashboard to create more of a “lounge” space. The seating configuration allows four people to face each other if they want to talk. And when the onboard conversation dries up, a bewildering collection of screens — one on the rear wall, and one on each of the doors — offers plenty of opportunity to interact with various media.

The F 015 could have done all of this as a flash-in-the-pan show car — seen at a couple of major events before vanishing without trace. But in fact, it has been touring almost constantly since that Vegas debut.

“Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,” emphasizes Dr Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

The visionary research vehicle was born, a vehicle which raises comfort and luxury to a new level by offering a maximum of space and a lounge character on the inside. Every facet of the F 015 Luxury in Motion is the utmost reflection of the Mercedes way of interpreting the terms “modern luxury”, emotion and intelligence.

This innovative four-seater is a forerunner of a mobility revolution, and this is immediately apparent from its futuristic appearance. Sensuousness and clarity, the core elements of the Mercedes-Benz design philosophy, combine to create a unique, progressive aesthetic appeal.

OK, with this being the case, let us now take a pictorial look at what the “Benz” has to offer.

One look and you can see the car is definitely aerodynamic in styling.  I am very sure that much time has been spent with this “ride” in wind tunnels with slip streams being monitored carefully.  That is where drag coefficients are determined initially.

The two JPEGs above indicate the front and rear swept glass windshields that definitely reduce induced drag.

The interiors are the most striking feature of this automobile.

Please note, this version is a four-seater but with plenty of leg-room.

Each occupant has a touch screen, presumably for accessing wireless or the Internet.  One thing, as yet there is no published list price for the car.  I’m sure that is being considered at this time but no USD numbers to date.  Also, as mentioned the car is self-driving so that brings on added complexities.  By design, this vehicle is a moving computer.  It has to be.  I am always very interested in maintenance and training necessary to diagnose and repair a vehicle such as this.  Infrastructure MUST be in place to facilitate quick turnaround when trouble arises–both mechanical and electrical.

As always, I welcome your comments.

VOLVO ANNOUNCEMENT

July 7, 2017


Certain portions of this post were taken from Mr. Chris Wiltz writing for Design News Daily.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the VOLVO line of automobiles but for years the brand has been known for safety and durability.  My wife drives a 2005 VOLVO S-40 with great satisfaction relative to reliability and cost of maintenance.  The S-40 has about 150,000 miles on the odometer and continues to run like a Singer Sewing Machine.   The “boxy, smoking diesel” VOLVO of years-gone-by has been replaced by a very sleek aerodynamic configuration representing significant improvements in design and styling.  You can take a look at the next two digitals to see where they are inside and out.

As you can see from the JPEG above, the styling is definitely twenty-first century with agreeable slip-stream considerations in mind.

The interior is state-of-the art with all the whistles and bells necessary to attract the most discerning buyer.

Volvo announced this past Tuesday that starting in 2019 it will only make fully electric or hybrid cars.  “This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” Håkan Samuelsson, Volvo’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.  The move is a significant bet by the carmaker indicating they feel the age of the internal-combustion engine is quickly coming to an end.  Right now, the Gothenburg, Sweden-based automaker is lone among the world’s major automakers to move so aggressively into electric or hybrid cars. Volvo sold around half a million cars last year, significantly less than the world’s largest car companies such as Toyota, Volkswagen, and GM, but far greater than the 76,000 sold by Tesla, the all-electric carmaker.

Every car it produces from 2019 forward will have an electric motor.   Håkan Samuelsson indicated there has been a clear increase in consumer demand as well as a “commitment towards reducing the carbon footprint thereby contributing to better air quality in our cities.”  The Swedish automaker will cease production of pure internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and will not plan any new developments into diesel engines.

The company will begin producing three levels of electric vehicles (mild, Twin Engine, and fully electric) and has committed to commercializing one million Twin Engine or all-electric cars until 2025.   Between 2019 and 2021 Volvo plans to launch five fully electric cars, three of which will be Volvo models and two that will be high performance electric vehicles from Polestar, Volvo’s performance car division. Samuelsson said all of these electric vehicles will be new models and not necessarily new stylings of existing Volvo models.

Technical details on the vehicles were sparse during a press conference held by Volvo, but the company did offer information about its three electric vehicle tiers. The mild electric vehicles, which Volvo views as a stepping stone away from ICEs, will feature a forty-eight (48) volt system featuring a battery in conjunction with a complex system functioning as a starter, generator, and electric motor.   Twin Engine will be a plug-in hybrid system. During the press conference Henrik Green, Senior VP of R&D at Volvo, said the company will be striving to provide a “very competitive range” with these new vehicles, which will be available in medium range and long range – at least up to 500 kilometers (about 311 miles) on a single charge. Green said Volvo has not yet settled on a battery supplier, but said the company is looking at all available suppliers for the best option.  “When it comes to batteries of course it’s a highly competitive and important component in all the future pure battery electric vehicles,” he said. Samuelsson added that this should also be taken as an invitation for more companies to invest in battery research and development. “We need new players and competition in battery manufacturing,” Samuelsson said.

This new announcement represents a dramatic shift in point of view for Volvo. Back in 2014 Samuelsson said the company didn’t believe in all-electric vehicles and said that hybrids were the way forward. Why the change of heart? Samuelsson told the press conference audience that Volvo was initially skeptical about the cost level of batteries and the lack of infrastructure to for recharging electric cars. “Things have moved faster, costumer demand has increased, battery costs have come down and there is movement now in charging infrastructure,” he said.

Top of Form

VOLVO did not unveil any details on vehicle costs. However, earlier reports from the Geneva Motor Show in March quoted Lex Kerssemakers , CEO of Volvo Car USA, as saying that the company’s first all-electric vehicle would have a range of at least 250 miles and price point of between 35,000 and $40,000 when it is released in 2019.

I think this is a fascinating step on the part of VOLVO.  They are placing all of their money on environmental efforts to reduce emissions.  I think that is very commendable.  Hopefully their vision for the future improves their brand and does not harm their sales efforts.

RETURN OF X-PLANES

April 22, 2017


In the April 2017 issue of “Machine Design” a fascinating article entitled “NASA’S Green Thumb for Green Aviation” was presented. This article was written by Carlos M. Gonzales and encouraged me to explore, at least through NASA’s web site, the status of their “X-Plane” program.  Aviation is definitely a growth industry. Millions upon millions of individuals travel each year for business, recreation, and tourism.  There is no doubt that aviation is the “Greyhound Bus” for the twenty-first century.

The aviation system is the high-speed transportation backbone of the United States and global economies. Global aviation is forecast to grow from today’s three point five (3.5) billion passenger trips per year to seven (7) billion passenger trips by the mid- 2030s, and to eleven (11) billion passenger trips by mid-century. Such growth brings with it the direct economic potential of trillions of dollars in the fields of manufacturing, operations and maintenance, and the high-quality jobs they support.

At the same time, international competition for leadership of this critical industry is growing, as more nations invest in developing their own aviation technology and industrial capabilities. Such massive growth also creates substantial operational and environmental challenges. For example, by mid-century the aviation industry will need to build and fly enough new aircraft to accommodate more than three times as many passenger trips while at the same time reducing total emissions by half from that new hardware. Moreover, large reductions in emissions and aircraft noise levels will be needed, if not mandated. To meet those demands, revolutionary levels of aircraft performance improvements – well beyond today’s technology – must be achieved. In terms of air traffic control and the National Airspace System, maintaining safe and efficient operations is a continuing and growing challenge as the system expands, and especially as new business and operational models – such as unmanned aerial systems – are introduced. Enabling aircraft (with pilots aboard or not) to fly optimized trajectories through high density airspace with real-time, systemwide safety assurance are among the most critical operational improvements that must be achieved.

In looking at global growth, we see the following:

These numbers would be very frightening without the aviation industry deciding to be pro-active relative to the sheer numbers of passenger miles anticipated over the next two decades.  That’s where NASA comes in.

NEW AVIATION HORIZONS:

In FY 2017, NASA plans to begin a major ten-year research effort to accelerate aviation energy efficiency, transform propulsion systems, and enable major improvements in air traffic mobility. The centerpiece of NASA’s ten-year acceleration for advanced technologies testing is called New Aviation Horizons, or NAH. It is an ambitious plan to build a series of five mostly large-scale experimental aircraft – X-planes – that will flight test new technologies, systems and novel aircraft and engine configurations. X-planes are a key piece of the “three-legged stool” that characterizes aviation research.

  • One leg represents computational capabilities – the high-speed super computers that can model the physics of air flowing over an object – be it a wing, a rudder or a full airplane.
  • A second leg represents experimental methods. This is where scientists put what is most often a scale model of an object or part of an object – be it a wing, a rudder or an airplane – in a wind tunnel to take measurements of air flowing over the object. These measurements help improve the computer model, and the computer model helps inform improvements to the airplane design, which can then be tested again in the wind tunnel.
  • The third leg of the stool is to actually fly the design. Whether it’s flying an X-plane or a full-scale prototype of a new aircraft, the data recorded in actual flight can be used to validate and improve the computational and experimental methods used to develop the design in the first place. This third leg makes it possible to lower the risk enough to completely trust what the numbers are saying.

With NAH, NASA will:

  • Demonstrate revolutionary advancements in aircraft and engine configurations that break the mold of traditional tube and wing designs.
  • Support accelerated delivery to the U.S. aviation community of advanced verified design and analysis tools that support new flight-validated concepts, systems and technologies.
  • Provide to appropriate organizations and agencies research results that inform their work to update domestic and international aviation standards and regulations.
  • Enable U.S. industry to put into service flight-proven transformative technology that will solve tomorrow’s global aviation challenges.
  • Inspire a new generation of aeronautical innovators and equip them to engineer future aviation systems. Of the five X-planes, NASA has determined that three subsonic aircraft will be enough to span the range of possible configurations necessary to demonstrate in flight the major enabling fuel, emissions and noise reducing technologies.

The graphic below indicates possible designs for aircraft of the future.  All of these craft are now on the drawing board with computational prototyping underway.

INDUSTRY:

U.S. industry plays an integral role in the NAH initiative, leading the design, development and building of all X-planes under contract to NASA. Industry will be a research partner in the ground test and analysis, as well as the flight tests of the X-planes. Industry also partners in the advancement of the physics-based design and analysis capabilities. Through the lead and partnering roles, U.S. industry will be fully capable of confidently taking the next steps in commercializing the transformational configurations and technologies. The Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company has already been awarded a preliminary design contract for the Quiet Supersonic Technology demonstrator. As indicated in a white paper published by the Aerospace Industries Association and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, “The U.S. government must support robust, long-term Federal civil aeronautics research and technology initiatives funded at a level that will ensure U.S. leadership in aeronautics. Congress should support NASA’s ten-year Strategic Implementation Plan at least at the levels recommended in the fiscal year 2017 NASA Budget request to sustain a strong economy, maintain a skilled workforce, support national security, and drive a world-class educational system.”

UNIVERSITIES:

NASA has already launched the University Leadership Initiative, which provides U.S.-based universities the opportunity to take full independent leadership in defining and solving key technical challenges aligned with the NASA Aeronautics strategy. Solicitations and proposals are managed through the NASA Research Announcement process; the first round of awards will be made in Fall 2016. These awards could lead to new experiments that would fly onboard one or more X-planes. In addition, NASA is formulating new mechanisms for direct university and student participation in the X-plane design, development and flight test process. The objective is to ensure U.S. universities remain the leading global institutions for aviation research and education, and to ensure the next generation workforce has the vision and skills needed to lead aviation system transformation.

POSSIBLE CONFIGURATIONS:

As mentioned above, NASA, industry and universities have already begun looking at possible configurations.  The most promising on-going programs are given below.

As you can see, the designs are absolutely striking and “doable” relative to existing technology.  The key goals are to:

  • Produce environmentally sound or “GREEN” designs lessening air pollution.
  • Create better fuel usage and conservation.
  • Extend flight range
  • Structure designs so minimal airport alternations will be necessary
  • Improve passenger experience

Tall orders but keep in mind NASA got us to the moon and back.  Why do we feel they will not be able to meet the goals indicated?  As always, I welcome your comments.

FARADAY FUTURE FFZERO1

January 5, 2017


I certainly had no idea engineers and automobile manufacturers have been working on autonomous or driverless automobiles for years. Experiments have been conducted on automating automobiles since the 1920.  Very promising trials took place in the 1950s and work has proceeded since then. The first self-sufficient and truly autonomous cars appeared in the 1980s, with Carnegie Mellon University‘s Navlab and ALV  projects in 1984 and Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich‘s Eureka Prometheus Projects in 1987. Since then, numerous major companies and research organizations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles including Mercedes-BenzGeneral MotorsContinental Automotive Systems,  Autoliv Inc., Bosch, Nissan, Toyota, Audi, Volvo, Vislab from the University of Parma, Oxford University, and Google.  In July 2013, Vislab demonstrated the BRAiVE, a vehicle that moved autonomously on a mixed traffic route open to public traffic.  

As of 2013, four U.S. states have passed laws permitting autonomous cars: NevadaFloridaCalifornia, and Michigan.  With the intensity involved, I’m quite sure there will be others to follow.   In Europe, cities in Belgium, France, Italy and the UK are planning to operate transport systems for driverless cars, and Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain have allowed testing robotic cars in traffic.

There is absolutely no way progress could be accomplished without technologies such as GPS, proximity sensors, visual cameras and of course the software necessary to drive each system and integrate each system so success may result.  These technologies will continue to improve over the next few years.  I heard a comment yesterday that indicated if your son or daughter is under ten years old, he or she may never have the need for a driver’s license.  Time will tell.

CLASSIFICATIONS OF DRIVERLESS VEHICLES:

The American Society of Automotive Engineers has developed five stages or classifications of autonomous automobiles.  These stages are as follows:

sae-classifications

FARADAY FUTURE FFZERO1:  THE CAR

I would like to introduce to you now the FARADAY FUTURE FFZERO1.   Future’s 1,000-horsepower concept car should make Tesla very, very nervous.  The media announcement was made just this week and is as follows:

LAS VEGAS — With a thumping bass soundtrack in a lengthy airplane hangar-like building in Vegas, Faraday Future unveiled their new FF 91 electric “super car” on 4 January 2017.

The automaker was criticized at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for showing off their FFZERO1 concept car, which turned out to be more style than substance. This year’s unveiling of the FF 91 was different, in that they attempted to show off a real vehicle that consumers will be able to order soon.

Filled with more hyperbole and superlatives than a car show and tech conference combined, Faraday Future promises the fastest acceleration for a production automobile at 0-60mph in 2.39s with a whopping 1050hp. They also laid claim to the most advanced battery technology in the industry, and boldly claimed they would disrupt all aspects of the car industry.

Faraday Future even dared to put themselves on a roadmap of “historical steps in technology,” equating their electric vehicle to the creation of the electric motor by Michael Faraday, alternating current by Nikola Tesla and even the internet by Tim Berners-Lee.  Digital pictures that follow will indicate the overall design of the vehicle. The first JPEG shows the initial rollout and introduction at the CES 2017 this week.

unveiling-and-media-announcement

faraday-concept

faraday-2

faraday-1

DESCRIPTION:

First off, although it’s a concept high-performance one-seater, it rides on FF’s new Variable Platform Architecture (VPA) on which it will base all its future cars. Essentially, it’s a skateboard-style chassis with that allows FF to easily scale up or down the platform for different vehicle types.  Moreover, with this layout, FF can have one, two or three motor setups, making for front-, rear- or all-wheel drive. And, from a safety standpoint, the structure also makes for larger crumple zones. While the variable chassis is all well and good, you won’t spend any time interacting with it, really. You will, however, spend lots of time in the FF cabin. Thankfully, that’s been as well thought out as the platform.

Inside the FFZERO1, just like future FF production cars, the steering column has been fitted with a smartphone. This allows it to become the focal point for the interface between the driver and the car — from sitting behind the wheel or from inside the owner’s home. When commanded by that smartphone, the autonomous FFZERO1 (oh, yeah, it can drive itself, too) can come retrieve the driver.     More of that as we move along.

The driver sits at a perfect 45-degree angle that is most beneficial to circulation in a seat derived from NASA designs. There, the driver can easily view the propeller-shaped, asymmetric instrument panel. Moreover, in this electric race car, the driver wears an unique Halo Safety System with integrated head and neck support, oxygen and water supply — combined into a prototype helmet.

Rethinking where passengers are placed in a vehicle, since all the power components are beneath the driver rather than in front, Faraday Future designers pushed the driver near the front and shaped around the single seat a “perfectly aerodynamic teardrop profile.” This is accented by FF’s soon-to-be signature ‘UFO line’ that runs around the center of the vehicle. This mystical line and is, as FF put it, “intended to give the sense that this vehicle is not completely of this world.”

Combining form and function, FF has created aero tunnels that run through the interior length of the vehicle. These allow air to flow through the car rather than around it. More than accentuating the alien look of the thing, the tunnels also dramatically reduce drag and improve battery cooling. This does away for any need of bulky, space-stealing radiator.  This is truly an innovative design and one that surely will be copied by other manufactures.

Amazingly, all of this was pulled together in just 18 months when the team of multidisciplinary experts from the technology, automotive, aerospace and digital content came together to create a new line of electric cars. Apparently working nights and weekends, FF was able to take the all-digital FFZERO1 and turn it into the concept model you see today.

The FFZERO1 unveiling comes after news of FF’s plans to invest $1 billion, reportedly backed by the Chinese, in the creation of a 3 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in North Las Vegas. FF plans to break ground on this phase one investment in the next few weeks, ultimately employing 4,500 people.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re already wondering how such a team and design happened to come together so quickly and create something that seems not only promising but also industry-changing. Is Faraday Future the cover for the long-rumored Apple Car set to debut in 2019? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

SELF-DRIVING:

A very impressive demonstration was the self-parking capability of the vehicle itself.

self-parking

The company demonstrated a self-parking capability in the lot outside, showing the car searching the aisles for an empty space and then backing in to it.

COSTS AND AVAILABILITY:

Faraday plans to release the FF91 in 2018. To pre-order, hopefuls will need to provide a refundable $5,000 (£4,080) deposit.  Prospective buyers were told they would be able to connect to the forthcoming car via a virtual “FFID” account.

“For the car to have a 130-kWh battery pack, it would be very heavy, and very expensive – extremely expensive to have a battery that size.”  On stage, Faraday executive Peter Savagian explained that the FF19 would be chargeable from various electrical standards. He added its range would extend to 482 miles (775km) when driven at 55mph. Many analysts expect interest in electric vehicles to continue to rise in coming years. “We estimate around one in 10 vehicles will be electric or hybrid by 2020, at around 8 million vehicles,” said Simon Bryant at analysts Futuresource.  I personally feel this is very optimistic but time will certainly tell.  I do not plan on owning a driverless vehicle in my lifetime but who knows.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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