Advanced electrical systems needed to power highly automated, next-generation cars

07/12/04

Technical Insights analysis: Developments in automotive electronics technologies in North America




Palo Alto, Calif. -- July 12, 2004 -- Car manufacturers will require advanced electrical systems to provide power and range for highly automated next-generation vehicles. New electrical generation-storage and control systems are likely to be the buzzwords in electrical supply systems, as cars come equipped with increasingly sophisticated and power-hungry devices such as in-car computing.

"As engines move toward hybrid and fully electric designs, new motors, generators, converters-inverters, and storage batteries have to be developed," says Technical Insights Research Analyst Joe Constance. "New vehicles are expected to have 42-volt (V) battery systems by 2020."

The automotive industry will have to deal with several issues before they can fully launch the drive to install 42-V batteries in cars. For instance, they must find solutions to arcing, corrosion, higher cost of power semiconductors for 42-V systems, and optimization of the battery technology.

Increasing the working voltage of the battery will make it possible to shrink the physical size of the wiring harness to half its current size. This will not only reduce manufacturing costs but also decrease the size of other components such as electric window motors.

The 42-V systems can eliminate the need for steering column and related steering linage by making drive-by-wire technology a reality. The wide adoption of 42-V batteries is also likely to phase out push rods and camshafts.

The 42-V architecture helps fuel economy and emission reduction by automatically shutting down the engine at traffic lights using the 'idle stop' feature. The development of a host of features including variable valve timing, electric power steering and braking, dynamic suspensions, and heated steering wheels and windshields are dependent on 42-V technology.

"While these features offer comfort and convenience for consumers, they also form the basis for future automotive capabilities such as adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance," notes Constance.

When catering to customer demand for such advanced electronic products, automakers should be careful to develop marketable systems. Drive-by-wire systems, for instance, offer obvious saleable advantages such as reduced maintenance requirements by eliminating the need for mechanical links from the driver's controls to the control actuator.

Since drive-by-wire systems do away with mechanical links, they reduce raw material and labor costs while improving fuel efficiency because the vehicles can be made lighter. However, the use of drive-by-wire systems necessitates the development of haptics technology.

By simulating the sensation of touch, haptics technology facilitates precision driving. It enables drivers to determine the commands they have to initiate by helping them detect obstacles through remote environment sensing.

However, this can deprive drivers of the mechanical feel of the road (terrain roughness, bushy pathway) unless manufacturers can enhance the technology to give this option back to the drivers so they can keep their focus on the road.

"Advanced electronics technologies such as collision avoidance systems inform drivers of impending danger so that the driver, passengers, and pedestrians have a chance of remaining safe when an accident occurs," states Constance.

These devices consist of radar and vision sensors that gauge the distance between vehicles and alert drivers if they get very close to another vehicle. Manufacturers will have to ensure that the readings are flawless if such systems are to take control of a vehicle.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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