Hella’s vehicle-damage detection technology moves toward production

A technology that uses acoustic signals to detect vehicle exterior damage can use the connected car network to inform the driver’s smartphone that the vehicle has sustained a dent, scratch, or other harmful hit.

“Intelligent Damage Detection (IDD) is a great example of how you can connect the vehicle with the user beyond just the normal driving applications,” noted Dr. Marc Rosenmayr, CEO of Electronics North and South America for Hella Electronics Corp. “This technology works not only when you are driving, but it works if you are away from the car,”

After more than 18 months of advanced engineering work that included a pre-development project with a European automaker, Hella’s IDD technology is now in the series production development stage, Dr. Rosenmayr told Automotive Engineering.

The springboard for IDD is Hella’s Structural Health And Knock Emission (SHAKE), which provides the basic hardware and software foundation for different functions and applications, according to lead engineer Klaas Hauke Baumgärtel.

“One of these applications is the function of IDD, which allows for the identification of scratches and dents on the outer shell of the vehicle in real-time,” he explained. In a connected vehicle application, an immediate damage notice could be messaged to the driver’s smartphone, an automotive dealership, police, or another source.

Hella’s engineering team has performed numerous destructive tests in the lab and on the road as a means of distinguishing vehicle damage vibrational patterns from those of non-damaging car sound patterns.

IDD’s intelligence relates to the precise interpretation and classification of sensor-identified acoustic signals, and how those inputs correlate to a scratch, a dent, or a slammed door.

“It took us several years to develop such a competence,” Baumgärtel noted. “It was an ambitious task to find a combination of signal features to separate all of the non-damaging and damaging signals. But finally, we have made it.”

Depending on the vehicle application, between four and 11 sensors are used to obtain acoustic signals from the car’s outer panels.

“Each sensor unit contains a small control unit for the analysis, interpretation, and classification of the signals. Based on this decentralized approach, each sensor is able to judge the signal and only delivers an incident message to the body control module or comfort control module if the signal has been classified as critical,” explained Baumgärtel.

Virtual vehicle observation technology is gaining industry traction. For instance, BMW reported on its ‘Bumper Detect’ sensor system R&D work during the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show.

Hella’s damage detection technology relies on acoustic sensors. “For this application field, we found out [through in-house testing] that other sensor technologies are not precise enough and have a different focus of detection,” Baumgärtel said. While ultrasonic and radar are good at detecting objects, the sensors “are not so good for monitoring surfaces,” he added.

Dr. Kristian Döscher, Head of Hella’s Global Marketing for Original Equipment, pointed out that an IDD application can be connected to the existing wiring harness in a vehicle.

“IDD will be an appealing technology to OEMs. But it will also appeal to vehicle sharing and car rental companies because they have frequent driver changes,” said Döscher. “Whenever a vehicle is damaged, it’s important to know when it occurred.”

GKN spins a new compact AWD disconnect system for small SUVs

GKN Driveline is claiming a “world first” for its new compact disconnect system for all-wheel drives (AWD) that can be incorporated into the powertrains of A, B and C-segment vehicles.

The campaign to reduce vehicle fuel consumption involves all aspects of vehicle design but it can be complicated by market trends. The increasing international popularity of small AWD SUVs brings particular challenges but GKN engineers claim their new system can alleviate the problems, with fuel consumption during cruise reduced by up to 4%, and CO2 emissions also lowered.

The entire system including software was developed in-house, said Rob Rickell, Senior Vice President of Engineering. It replaces the usual standard power transfer unit (PTU) with a monobloc housing that also fully integrates the propshaft’s CV joint. A dedicated driveline control unit continuously monitors vehicle dynamics and environmental conditions.

The PTU is linked to the vehicle’s final drive differential and contains a fast-disconnect capability and a braking system to stop the AWD system upstream of the unit’s hypoid gears. An electro-mechanically-actuated clutch located on the rear axle biases drive torque and disengages the AWD system downstream of the hypoid gears in low-load cruise conditions. The clutch system is a development of that used in the Range Rover Evoque.

Connection and disengagement of the disconnect system responds on demand to driver inputs and road conditions, with NVH levels improved as a consequence. AWD reconnection can be established in 300 ms, according to company engineers. When AWD is engaged, an active torque-biasing system looks after distribution to front or rear of the vehicle, and torque vectoring is used between the vehicle’s rear wheels.

Rickell emphasized that the same hardware can support models built off a common platform but with different performance requirements. The software can be fine-tuned to create specific brand characteristics, he said.

GKN’s compact disconnect solution promises to make an important efficiency contribution, though the general technology is not novel. For example Jeep’s 2014 Cherokee, based on a Fiat-Chrysler FWD architecture instead of a traditional rear-drive configuration, offers rear-axle disengagement when 4×4 capability is unnecessary.

The Cherokee uses American Axle & Manufacturing’s EcoTrac rear axle disconnect system, itself claimed as a “first” for a midsize SUV. [See Automotive Engineering cover story June 3, 2014: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/sae/14AUTP06/index.php]. Featured on each of the Jeep’s three Active Drive systems available for the Cherokee, a wet clutch in the rear drive module automatically senses input torque and engages AWD when required.

According to Rickell, GKN Driveline is the only supplier able to develop and supply such a tightly integrated AWD system, which he claimed is the lightest, most compact and capable of any available.

Chrysler optimizes process for steel selection, placement

Chrysler’s traditional approach to vehicle development has taken a detour as engineers recently started using new computer tools and an advanced engineering process as a means of designing safer, lighter automobiles.

“The old version was you’d design the major subassemblies first and then integrate those subassemblies into a total vehicle structure. In many cases, we’re able to get the same end results, but we can now refine a design to a level that we previously weren’t able to do,” said Thomas Seel, Chrysler’s Manager of Component Integration, Knowledge Based Engineering.

Using what is referred to as “bio-mimetic topology optimization” combined with a refined engineering process, engineers can determine which body-in-white zones have the highest strain. The process highlights the prime location for the various critical-load paths on the vehicle.

“Taking a holistic approach to body-in-white is similar to concurrent engineering because unlike an iterative solution, the engineering process is looking at all the load cases—durability, stiffness, and safety—simultaneously,” said Seel.

Advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) are part of the optimized body structure design process. “Drivers for AHSS include safety, mass control, fuel economy, and affordability,” said David Jeanes, Senior Vice President of Market Development for the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), whose member companies represent more than 75% of North America’s steel capacity.

By using this proprietary process, Chrysler engineers select steels according to what is needed. “It allows you to peel away weight where you don’t need it,” said Bill Grabowski, Director of Body Core Engineering at Chrysler. Chrysler officials predict that as much as 120 lb (54 kg) could be shed from the body-in-white—essentially equating to a 1% fuel-economy improvement—by optimizing the vehicle’s skeleton.

“If you know the load requirements of the vehicle, such as torsional rigidity, side impacts, and roof strength, then these new computer tools can work with the available load paths to identify what’s strong and what’s weak so that engineers can design a better structure,” said Ron Krupitzer, Vice President of AISI’s Automotive Applications Committee.

Load optimization also occurs at the component level. For instance, an advanced design of a future production vehicle—by virtue of AHSS topology optimization—resulted in a weight savings of 1.12 lb (0.51 kg) on a front shock tower. “We predict an up to 13% weight reduction of the entire body structure, resulting in improved fuel economy because of the bio-mimetic topology tools and the engineering process,” said Grabowski, who was making a comparison to vehicles using conventional high-strength steels and design methods.

Current Chrysler vehicles use approximately 20 to 30% high-strength steel in the bodies, “but in the next three to five years, Chrysler vehicles will apply upward of 60% high-strength steels,” Grabowski said, noting that as early as 2010 Chrysler vehicle bodies could be made of 29% high-strength low-alloy steel, 30% AHSS, and 41% mild steel.

AISI, Chrysler, Mercedes Group Research, and MB Tech (Mercedes-Benz Technologies) all contributed to developing the new topology tools and the engineering process, which helps “accelerate the use of new AHSS to optimize body structures,” said Jeanes.

Although Chrysler currently is using the topology-modeling tools and engineering process for body structures, the body-in-white is only the first application. “The tools and process are not limited to just the body structure,” Seel said, declining to elaborate.

Tech Mahindra to collaborate with Wichita State University in the areas of aerospace engineering, automotive testing

Country’s fifth largest software services firm Tech Mahindra has inked a pact with US-based Wichita State University (WSU) to collaborate in the areas of aerospace engineering, certification, information technology and automotive testing.

Tech Mahindra will collaborate with WSU and its National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), the largest academic aviation R&D institution in the US, on multiple areas of engineering including composites, advanced materials and structural testing, it said in a statement.

“I strongly believe that this synergy can help reach the next level of solution offerings to our marquee customers addressing their custom needs and industry specific requirements in the areas of certification and testing,” Tech Mahindra Head of Americas (Aerospace and Defence) Krishna Balasubramaniam said.

The Indian IT firm plans to invest in equipping the engineering talent available in the region to enhance their employment opportunities in the Wichita aerospace community.

“This investment will enable Tech Mahindra to provide end-to-end solutions from design, to testing and certification for global aerospace and automotive customers and prospects in the region,” it said.

Apart from creating a local pool of trained aerospace, IT and automotive engineers, the partnership will also facilitate cooperative initiatives in the area of innovation and R&D projects, including possible involvement with WSU’s Innovation Campus.

The partnership will also enable WSU to further expand its footprint into the automotive industry and provide its students an opportunity to develop industry skills through involvement in Tech Mahindra’s research and testing projects.

“WSU will get firmly connected to the automotive and industrial sector, allowing students to gain real-world engineering skills in a unique sector,” WSU VP (Research and Technology Transfer) John Tomblin said.

Latest Michelin Pilot tire has racing pedigree

A new Michelin tire is an all-season street grabber with technical attributes derived from endurance racing.

“This latest addition to the Michelin Pilot family transfers the best of high-performance racing technology and innovation into a street tire made for the diverse weather of North America,” Scott Clark, Chief Operating Officer for passenger cars and light trucks at Michelin North America, said during the tire’s world debut at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The new Michelin Pilot Sport All-Season (A/S) 3+ uses substantial amounts of silica in the tread compound, a chemical portrait derived from wet endurance race tire technology used in Le Mans competition.

“It’s because we see the track, truly, as a laboratory,” said Clark. “Conditions are exacting and sometimes excruciating, and the feedback is immediate. We test, race, learn, and then repeat the process. Because the research and development cycle is shorter, innovation occurs faster.”

Corvette Racing driver Tommy Milner appreciates Michelin’s track-to-street technology transfer mantra.

“Michelin embeds an engineer with our team for every test, every race, every practice, and all of that information is then fed directly back to the Michelin technical centers,” said Milner, who with Corvette C6.R teammates Antonio Garcia and Olivier Beretta won France’s prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011.

“Our senior Michelin [race tire] engineer, Lee Willard, is the same guy who designs the tires for production Corvettes. You can’t have a shorter feedback loop than that,” Milner said.

The new Pilot Sport A/S3+ launches as a replacement tire, starting in March 2016. It eventually will be available in 90 sizes, ranging from 175/65/R15 to 285/35/ZR20 in fitments for the Chevrolet Corvette, BMW M3, Audi A5, Ford Mustang, and other vehicles.

Michelin will offer a limited 45,000-mile warranty. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $149.

Trimming wiring harnesses becomes design focus

Wires and cables help design teams add electronic features and functions, but networks and wiring harnesses add a fair amount of weight while their connections can be the cause of failures. That’s prompting developers to examine ways to reduce the size and weight of wires and cables.

TechNavio market researchers expect global automotive wiring harness market revenue to see an average of about 7% compound annual growth through the almost completed 2011-2015 time frame. Design teams struggling to meet fuel efficiency and cost requirements want to rein in expansion in wiring, which continues to grow as more electronic modules are added.

“OEMs are trying to drive down cost and weight by reducing the size of the wiring harness and the number of electrical connections,” said Anil Sondur, Vice President of Tata Elxsi. “As the value and volume of electronics goes up, there’s a huge drive to consolidate devices and bus systems.”

However, it’s challenging to reduce wiring. For example, engine and transmission controllers must communicate with each other as powertrain designers strive to keep engines running in their sweet spot. That sometimes requires specialized wiring.

“When separate, data sharing between the engine and transmission is essential; a dedicated serial data bus is becoming a requirement when handling the critical communications that must occur,” said Donna Haiderer, Global Chief Engineer for Engine Controls at General Motors.

Next-generation powertrains and advanced safety systems will probably use a range of buses and networks to handle the many pieces of data collected from sensors and related systems. That means that centralized controllers will have to handle a range of communication protocols.

“It is expected that there will be a growth in gateway modules that can translate data into a variety of formats and mediums while protecting the integrity and priority of the data,” said Brian Daugherty, Visteon’s Associate Director of Advanced Development and Intellectual Property.

While network selection is a major factor in wiring, it’s far from the only consideration. Design teams are turning to secondary 48-V battery systems as vehicles employ electric motors for steering and braking while also using more high-power electronic features and functions such as stop-start. Cabling could be a factor in this trend since connections to these higher-powered architectures can be made with lighter wiring harnesses.

“Cable sizes are dramatically smaller with 48-V systems,” said Pat Hunter, Automotive Systems Marketing at Texas Instruments.

Wireless communications are also getting some attention for applications that aren’t mission critical. It’s being considered for simple systems, marking a change from years past when wireless was generally viewed with disdain.

“Wireless sensors are being looked at in areas that aren’t safety related like door locks and mirror adjustments,” Hunter said. “They also fit well in high vibration areas because cables can disconnect. Wireless lets you get rid of connectors and reduce the size and weight of the wiring harness.”

Many of the biggest cabling changes will occur in networks, where product developers are trying to stem the growth in the number of CAN (controller area network) buses used in vehicles. Some vendors are moving to Ethernet and FlexRay. Others are focused on CAN FD, a new version that provides an enhanced data link layer protocol that allows data frames up to 64 bytes compared instead of the current maximum of 8 bytes.

“CAN-FD is the next step evolution of conventional CAN where NXP expects to quadruple the data exchange rate up to 2 Mbit/s,” said Klaus Reinmuth, Senior Director Segment Marketing Automotive & Transportation at NXP Semiconductors. “In addition, there is a significant improvement in message length with a 64-byte frame, which will benefit especially the streaming of data like software updates and downloads. Extended sensor data (vectors with a time relation) coming from gasoline direct injection and hybrid-electric vehicle requirements will find a perfect landing place in these longer frames.”

While CAN will maintain a role in many areas, many suppliers envision a central backbone that sends data to and from the many systems and sensors that share data. That technique is expected to see more use as vehicles offer more autonomy, which requires many systems to work together to avoid accidents.

“People are talking about using Ethernet or FlexRay as a backbone that is used with a domain controller,” Sondur said. “Domain controllers centralize things into one main controller and a number of smaller controllers.”

Some suppliers feel a singular architecture may serve better than a multiplicity of networks. Ethernet Audio Video Bridging (AVB) will work well for cameras, radar, and other sensors. It may also be used to connect controllers.

“FlexRay may play a role, but most sensors seem to be converting to Ethernet AVB,” said Andy Gryc, Senior Automotive Product Marketing Manager for QNX Software Systems. “CAN has served admirably, but I kind of hope it will fade away.”

In powertrains and many system functions, determinism is at least as important as raw performance. Determinism can help ensure that data arrives on time and that engineers can meet functional safety requirements set by standards like ISO 26262.

“FlexRay and Ethernet have significant increased bandwidth over current networks and bandwidth is expected to increase over time,” said Jeff Owens, Delphi’s Chief Technology Officer. “The elements for deterministic data or time stamping can be included. As an example, see the development of Ethernet AVB standards. As functional safety, ISO 26262, continues to be deployed, combinations of traditional networks and these newer high speeds will be implemented to provide the necessary safety and redundancy.”

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Super Taikyu and Japanese Formula Renault races, SEMA Show, and more

The last few races have been very tough – as they started really well and ended very bad. The Super Taikyu race at Okayama, a circuit I had never seen before, went off to an awesome start when we qualified on pole in our class with a couple of tenths to spare. The qualifying position is determined by the sum of the top lap time of both drivers, each in a 15 minute session, thus requiring that both drivers land a near perfect lap to be on top.
This was our first pole position of the year and the race was ours to lose based on the consistently good setup of the car and fast laps in a variety of conditions that we saw in Friday practices.
Maejima-san started the race off, keeping his position on the start, but in the brake zone going into turn 3, the #113 Z, driven by Ooi, attempted an overzealous pass on the inside, crashing into the right rear of our car at a rather severe speed and further taking out a total of 5 Nissan Zs from the race. We got hit another time in the front by a different Z after the initial collision with #113.

A few weeks ago we had a race at Sugo Circuit. Ichinari-san, our new crew chief is really passionate and unforgiving and is really great – he rebuilt the car from the crash in Okayama better than it was ever before. The weekend started off fine – on Thursday, Maejima-san posted fastest class lap times out of the box, and further refined the car with minor setup adjustments.
Maejima-san even had enough confidence in me not to put me in the car that day. On Friday, he gave me just a few laps on a dry track and I was about 1.5 seconds off of his lighting-fast time – a gap small enough having had only a handful of laps that I relatively easily dissolved by analyzing the data. The last session on Friday was in full wet conditions in a very dense fog at times. I was one of the fastest in the class. The car was hydroplaning on the straights and it was exactly the kind of condition in which I widen the gap with the others, both in production cars and in formula cars. Our scheduled qualifying on Saturday was delayed multiple times due to heavy rain until it was rescheduled for Sunday morning. But due to time constraints, all four classes were combined into a 15-minute qualifying session, whereas usually the groups are split into Class-1/2 and Class 3/4. Maejima-san posted an excellent time in his session and barely missed the top by getting the checkered flag right when he started his final flying lap after a tire pressure adjustment on the wet tires – the track was still wet but drying fast as the sun was beaming hot with some wind helping out. After a 15 minute break, my 15 minute qualifying session began – we put on the dry tires from the get go – the track was still extremely wet in some places, but overall it was dry enough. I conducted two reconnaissance laps and picked up pace on my 3rd lap. With a time in 1:35:xx, I was in 5th place overall, even though we are in Class-3 with Lancer Evolutions and Subaru WRX STIs in Class-2 and Porsche 911s and a BMW Z4 GTR in Class-1 up above. But then we got red-flagged with a crash on the track. After we got back on with 7 minutes to go, I struggled with traffic – since a combined four-class qualifying meant over 30 cars on the track, and then another crash brought us back into the pits. The track continued to dry and we got out with 4 minutes to go – which meant the out lap and two hot laps if the out lap is fast enough. I had to weave through traffic on the out lap to ensure I had an extra final lap. I went into turn-1 too hot the first lap, killing the time completely, made it to the start/finish line in time for the last lap, but then messed up the first SP corner – a high-speed left hand. I ended up with a middle-pack time for our class. The car was behaving really well though, and we knew we still had an excellent chance for the race. Our combined qualifying position was 5th.

The race was 135 laps. Maejima-san moved up to 2nd place in just a few laps, with only an RX7 ahead of us, which we knew would fade out – the RX7s can turn up the boost for qualifying but then they have to lower it back down or risk breaking in the race. Our car could safely go 58 laps on a full tank. We got a full course yellow with a safety car on lap 18 through 20, so we opted to go ahead and pit, effectively taking care of one of the two necessary pits during a yellow. The only other car that pitted was #113 Z, which had a bad start and was well behind positions. But the #113 car pitted when the pits were not yet open, suffering a drive through penalty after the course went green. We were the only car in our class to successfully pit with perfect timing, also due to our good traction position. We didn’t lose a lap, and better yet, came back out to be 4th in class – dropping only two positions, since the tank was still 2/3 full and just needed a quick top-off. This meant that we were running in 4th position on the lead lap and had only one more pit to go in the race, while the rest of the class had two pits to complete. This was a dream position to be in. The tires began to drop away with heat but Maejima-san managed them excellently, getting back into first place after the cars up front made their first pit stops around lap 60. We stayed out until lap 75, at which point I got into the car, refueled to full tank and got new tires to finish off the race. Since Class-3 cars a little slower than Class-1, we end up losing about 3-4 laps over the course of a 500km race, so it was safe to pit at 75 and know that the remaining 58 lap range on the gas tank was going to be enough to finish the race. The strategy was perfect – putting us effectively one lap ahead of everyone in the class. The #74 Z however managed to pick off about 2 seconds a lap during the 2nd half of Maejima-san’s stint, and it did pass him before the pit stop, driven by Yasuda – a go-kart world champion and current NISMO GT up-and-coming driver – but we knew that we had a chance to re-pass during their remaining pit stop, and in worst case we would finish 2nd on the podium. I was running a good comfortable pace and saw the lap count at the start/finish line continue to decrease 57, 56, 55… 45… I was passing the slower cars, and yielding to the higher-class cars. But, when the Class-1 BMW Z4 GTR come up from behind at the 2nd SP and came out to the left at the entrance of the final corner, I made a slight error. The final corner at Sugo is a 10% incline right-hand-turn, which is open enough to run in 4th gear. The car was to the right and behind me right at the entrance of the corner, and I had slight hesitation on whether I should begin the turn and hold my line or let it get the line and tuck in behind the BMW for the uphill. I let the BMW go on the inside, but it did not get ahead of me as fast as I had anticipated, despite my holding off on the gas pedal. During this extra split second of unanticipated waiting, I caught a little bit of the tire marbles on the outside of the regular line, and so the car lost all left-front grip, and continued to go straight, through the area of the track with more marbles, and off of the course, and ended up tagging the wall with the front left of the car. Thus our race ended, while being on top – two in a row. It is completely unbearable to think that my mistake has caused this to our team – we had such a great car and it seemed as though we were finally going to get it done.

The following day, I flew to Las Vegas for the SEMA show – it’s always great to see all the faces again. There are a lot of people that I only get to see at the SEMA show over the year, especially now that I am in Japan most of the time. Tamura-san from Nissan also attended the show, as did our last year’s R34 GT-R, which was displayed at the Toyo Tire booth. Yamachan from Sessions, right nearby me here in Japan, also flew out.

Sakai-san, my manager, was out at SEMA and we had dinner on the first day and reminisced on the last Super Taikyu race – how great it was going and how badly it ended. The car was damaged enough so that repairing it was not possible before the season finale at Motegi, as there was only a 10 day gap.

But with that fact, a new opportunity arose – the Super Street Time Attack at Buttonwillow. It seemed like a perfect chance to get back in the R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R.
Last time I was in the car was at this same event exactly a year ago. However, as Victor, our manager on the U.S. side, began to arrange for an entry into the event, it seemed that some politics began to get in the way. Victor was in touch with Elliot Moran from Super Street and he was told that we could run the car, but they will not provide it any coverage in the magazine because my company AutomotiveForums.com, the sponsor of the World Challenge GT-R is their “competition.” When Victor told me I began to laugh since Primedia has no significant automotive message board and AF is the #1 in the world by membership – over 540,000 worldwide. If anything, it seemed that covering our participation on our own website would be great free press for them and their event. Regardless, I still thought it would be great to attend since my friends from here in Japan, like Tarzan Yamada and Daijiro Yoshiahara were going to attend, along with Steve Mitchell and I am sure many other familiar faces. But of course, the biggest reason was to take the ol’ GT-R out on the track and feel the rush of 650 hp.

Then a few days later, Victor calls me while I am in New York city for Ad:Tech, an internet marketing convention, and tells me that now Elliot told him that we cannot attend the event at all because the GT-R is a “race car.” So, I got in touch with Elliot Moran and had him tell me the same thing. His explanation is that race cars entering their time attack have an unfair advantage. Considering the fact that he mentioned that he had just gotten back from the track with his own race car, it seemed absolutely crazy that he would not understand – cars specifically built for the time attack would obviously have an advantage over race cars from series with sanctioning bodies. Our GT-R has been built from the ground up to meet an entire book of regulations to ensure close competition between a variety of cars and to minimize the costs. On the other hand, cars built for the time attack are no less of a race car, but have no rules restricting them – they can have any engine modifications, and chassis structure, any aerodynamic devices, and… you get the point. I let him know that this rule is completely irrational and that their entity is going to loose a lot of credibility for pulling a stunt like this. The winning car of the time attack, which would have been in the same class as our GT-R, unlimited all-wheel-drive, was a purpose-built race car with an appearance of a Lancer Evolution, which ran a 1:44 time at Buttonwillow – about 5 seconds faster than a fully prepared Porsche 911 GT3 Cup racecar with an ace driver behind the wheel. This winning car weighs around 1100kg (2400lbs) and has a better power to weight ratio than the Japanese Super GT500, the fastest GT cars in the world par none. This car is as much a Lancer Evolution as I am a monkey.

I arrived back in Japan on November 9th, and attended the Super Taikyu race at Motegi to apologize to our sponsors for the way our season ended. Everyone I’ve talked to continues to have great confidence in me and my development over the year and are asking whether I am going to be in the GT300 next year. As of right now, I don’t have anything confirmed for next year since it’s still a bit too early, so we will see.

I have the season finale race in the Formula Renault at Suzuka this coming weekend.
The last two races which I had not had a chance to report about here on the website were a mix of things. The Sugo race did not go too well, with a spin in each one despite really good starts. In the first race of the weekend, I picked up about 5 cars during the first lap and was running a good pace. But then the last FCJ race at Motegi went pretty well – I was rather consistent and finished about 7 places higher from my starting position with some clean passes. The weekend at Fuji was not bad, especially when I posted a 3rd fastest time during the rain in a practice session, with just a couple of tenths off of the top time.

When I entered the advisor room filled with top Nissan, Honda, and Toyota factory drivers in Japan, Sekiya-san, the director of Toyota’s development program, told me that my improvement this year was significantly more dramatic than any other of the 26 drivers we have in the series and then other advisors in the room all agreed. It was a great pat on the back, especially from someone from Toyota, while I am more associated with Nissan than anyone else.

I have been riding on some bad luck recently, so hopefully the tide has now turned and I will be able to finish the FCJ season strong at Suzuka this weekend to get the momentum building for next year.

Smart collaboration results in new Fortwo

The third-generation Smart Fortwo has a new look, but with some familiar styling cues of its predecessor, and more importantly it incorporates significant changes under the skin. Overall length remains the same at 106.1 in (2694 mm), and the 73.7-in (1872-mm) wheelbase sees a modest 0.2-in (5-mm) increase. The car has been on sale in Europe for five months and just made its U.S. debut at the 2015 New York International Auto Show.

Image: aei-smartfortwo.jpg

The new model was co-developed by Mercedes-Benz and Renault, and many of the parts, including the basics of the platform and the powertrain, reportedly are shared with the somewhat larger Renault Twingo.

Turbocharged three-cylinder

The rear-mounted, rear-drive powertrain represents what will be the greatest difference in the driving experience. The car goes on sale with a 0.9-L three-cylinder, turbocharged with an electronically controlled wastegate, and rated at 90 hp (67 kW) and 100 lb·ft (136 N·m). This engine will represent a major power increase over the 70-hp (52-kW) naturally aspirated 1.0-L three-cylinder previously used. However, a lower-output 71-hp (53-kW) engine also is available in Europe and reportedly will come to the U.S. later.

The new transmission offerings are significant. The previous automated manual transmission was much maligned for jerky shifting. There’s now a five-speed manual and a six-speed DCT (dual clutch transmission). Although DCTs, particularly lower-end versions with dry clutch packs, are not noted for their smoothness, this one is likely to provide significantly better shift quality than the previous automated manual.

The new model adds a third “door,” actually a horizontally-split tailgate (top half goes up, bottom half goes down) to permit easier loading of the cargo area, particularly in tight parking spaces. The passenger’s seat also easily folds flat to increase capacity. Passenger compartment width has increased by 104 mm (4.1 in) to 1663 mm (65.5 in) to provide more comfortable seating positions.

Operation in the tight quarters of city driving has always been a Smart’s hallmark, and the new model claims a record for smallest turn circle diameter (curb to curb) of 22.8 ft (6.95 m).

Ride comfort is always a challenge with such a short wheelbase, but engineering steps were taken to make improvements. The front MacPherson strut was redesigned and incorporates greater spring travel, for lowered impact over uneven road surfaces. In the rear the reworked DeDion axle separates the twin-tube shocks from barrel-shaped helical coil springs, which include elastomer spacers to reduce spring noise transmission to the body and rear axle. A Crosswind Assist system, which comes into play at 50 mph (80 km/h), uses the electronic stability control system’s anti-lock brakes to steady vehicle tracking in windy driving conditions.

A Sport suspension with less coil spring travel is on the option list, but with the typical U.S. buyer more concerned about less bouncing on public roads, the take rate might not be significant.

Safety upgrades

Although the previous Fortwo’s high-strength-steel Tridion structure has delivered good ratings in U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-mandated crash testing, it saw less success in narrow-offset crash tests, such as the one performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. For the new model, the car was subjected to such tests against C-Class and S-Class cars and apparently performed well, as indicated in a Mercedes-Benz video that showed the Fortwo driver area was basically intact and the door could be opened.

The new Tridion cell had been significantly strengthened with greater use of ultra-high-strength steels, and Mercedes-Benz said it functions as a safety cage in severe collisions. Eight airbags are standard. The new Fortwo does add some weight as a result, with an increase of 132 lb (60 kg) to 1940 lb (880 kg).

Available safety options are Lane Keep Assist and Forward Collision Warning. The collision warning system incorporates mid-range radar sensing, with a warning light that goes on if the car is getting too close to one ahead. The system issues an audible warning if the electronics sense a danger of collision.

There are three trim levels: Passion (basic, but includes power-operated and heated mirrors), Prime (adds rain and light sensors, heated seats for driver and passenger, fog lamps, and panoramic roof), and Proxy (which upgrades the interior trim and adds stowage in the tailgate).

The Fortwo uses smartphone connectivity to a control stack touch-screen with integrated real time navigation. A free app is Cross Connect, which provides guidebook-like assistance and a feature called Car Info, which computes g force, fuel efficiency, and posts geo-identified access to Smart-size parking; plus an assortment of music options.

A new four-passenger model (Forfour) also has been developed; and diesel, electric vehicle,  and cabriolet have been available in the past, so the 2016 Fortwo just introduced may soon have U.S. stablemates.

Audi details piloted driving technology

Before autonomous vehicles make drivers obsolete, electronic technologies will depend on people to make decisions when something unusual happens. During normal driving conditions, autonomous controls could pilot the vehicle, relying on humans when complex decisions are required.

Audi recently provided technical insight into its piloted vehicle project, in which an Audi A7 concept car drove from San Francisco to Las Vegas earlier this year. The vehicle drove itself most of the journey, though drivers had to remain alert to take over when alerts directed them to resume driving.

The concept car has a range of computers in the trunk. Audi engineers plan to reduce them to a single board over time. The mainstays of the piloted vehicle technologies are an array of cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors that are controlled by what’s called the zFAS board. It combines sensor inputs to give the car its view of the world.

“All raw signals from the sensors is collected in a sensor fusion box,” Matthias Rudolph, Head of Architecture Driver Assistance Systems at Audi AG said during the recent Nvidia GPU Technology Conference. “From that input, a virtual environment is created.”

Four semiconductors are the basis of the zFAS board. An Nvidia k1 processor collects data from four cameras and “does everything while driving at low speeds,” Rudolph said. An Infineon Aurix processor handles additional chores. Mobileye’s EyeQ3 performs vision processing, while an Altera Cyclone FPGA (field programmable gate array) performs sensor fusion.

The software architecture is layered, with the perception sensor programs forming the first layer. Above that, there’s a fusion layer that blends data from the sensors with information from maps, road graphs, and other sources. Rudolph noted that combining inputs provides better information and increases confidence in the analysis.

“Radar is not good at determining the width of a car,” Rudolph said. “A camera does that well. If we fuse data from each of them we get good information on what’s ahead.”

Ensuring that the zFAS boards detect potential threats and respond to them correctly without false alerts is critical. If vehicles stop or swerve to avoid something that isn’t a true danger, drivers are likely to stop using the system.

“If the car brakes and nothing’s there, it will destroy the confidence of the driver,” Rudolph said. “We have had no false positives; that’s been proven with over 10,000 hours of driving at an average speed of 60 kph (37 mph) in situations including snow and freezing rain.”

Audi looks at moving objects to analyze their potential impact given the vehicle’s driving path and speed. All stationary items are viewed with a single goal.

“We look at static images as the same,” Rudolph said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a wall or a parked car, we don’t want to hit it.”

Pedestrians are a major challenge for all types of autonomous systems. They’re harder to spot and categorize than vehicles, and they have more degrees of freedom. The system uses a single monocular camera to search for pedestrians. Given the erratic behavior of some walkers, Audi doesn’t stop for pedestrians unless they’re truly in harm’s way.

“When we detect pedestrians, we compute the time to contact,” Rudolph said. “We’re close when the vehicle stops. We want to be close, just a few centimeters away. We do not want to stop far away.”

Though the piloted system aims to avoid pedestrians and most everything else, Audi realizes that collisions can’t always be prevented.

“If we can’t avoid an accident, we steer to use the structure of the car to minimize the chance of injury,” Rudolph said.

Such an action would occur mainly when the human driver didn’t take over in time to avoid a collision. Audi uses an LED alert system to tell drivers when they need to take charge. They can do that by hitting the brakes or making a sharp steering wheel movement. An internal-looking camera watches drivers so the system knows whether the LED alert needs to be augmented with an audible warning.

“In the piloted driving mode, we may need to get the driver back, so we need to know what he’s doing,” Rudolph said.

Schaeffler developing novel powertrain for 2015/2016 FIA Formula E season

“We are in the process of developing an electric motor and a new transmission in the defined specification that FIA came up with,” said Prof. Dr.-Ing. Peter Gutzmer, Deputy CEO and Chief Technology Officer for Schaeffler AG.

Gutzmer and Schaeffler’s CTO for the Americas, Jeff Hemphill, sat down with Automotive Engineering prior to Formula E’s March 14 street race in Miami, the first U.S. stop in the 2014/2015 inaugural season of all-electric racing in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

As Team ABT Sportsline’s exclusive technology partner, Schaeffler is developing a novel power unit to replace the McLaren Applied Technologies powertrain. “We are now starting to get parts in for the prototype model,” said Gutzmer.

Schaeffler technical specialists are leveraging their extensive application development know-how together with the ABT race team and other technology experts to develop jointly a powertrain for Team ABT Sportsline. Said Hemphill, “One of our strengths in the automotive arena is systems engineering, and we’ll apply that systems approach to this development task.”

Each Formula E racecar in the 2014/2015 season uses a 57-lb (26-kg) motor to accelerate the single-seat car from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 3 seconds. The motor mates to a Hewland Engineering five-speed paddle shift sequential gearbox.

Audi Sport ABT driver Daniel Abt told Automotive Engineering that the electric racecar’s instant torque means “whenever you hit the throttle, it just goes. There is no delay. And there’s a lot less noise than if you had a screaming V8 engine behind your back.”

Virtually no technical details about the under-development powertrain are being publicized. “I hesitate to talk too much. There are seven competitors producing electric motors for next season, so it’s getting very interesting,” said Gutzmer.

Jacky Eeckelaert said the next race season is all about increasing the powertrain efficiency. “And the whole package will be lighter and at a lower center of gravity,” Eeckelaert, race engineer for ABT team driver Lucas Di Grassi, told Automotive Engineering.

While Schaeffler has supplied bearing components and alternator overrun systems for baja, endurance, and touring series cars powered by internal-combustion engines, developing an electric racecar powertrain is new territory. Said Gutzmer, “This is the first time that Schaeffler will be providing a functional, complete unit.”

One desirable for the Schaeffler powertrain is improved cooling efficiency.

Team owner Hans-Jurgen Abt spoke with Automotive Engineering while a crew member put dry ice inside the air intake ports for the battery cooling system and the engine cooling system.

“The dry ice can lower the temperature about 25°C. We need to pull the temperature down because then you can increase the power. In the race you have only the cooling from the air, and it doesn’t help if you have not the right temperature to start,” Abt said prior to the 39-lap, 1.34-mi (2.16-km) Miami race.

Developing an electric powertrain for a racing application will mean challenges and victories.

“You have to work with suppliers on different materials; that’s a challenge. You have to have a very fast loop of re-engineering if re-engineering is necessary,” Gutzmer said, referencing some of the challenges. “But the knowledge that we gain during this process will be fruitful for future developments.”