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What the future holds

Nanoflowcell Quant e-Sportlimousine
The battery in this car will cover up to 373 miles making electric a real alternative. But it doen't stop there. Other developments such as laser lights and cars that drive themselves will all impact on our industry in the not too distant future.
The motor vehicle is continually being updated and improved. It’s not that many years ago that airbags were the big thing coming into our yards and more recently hybrids have reached the end of their natural lives. What’s coming next?

We thought we would take a look at a number of developments in vehicle technology which will no doubt impact on the industry in the future.

Firstly, Volvo and their work on autonomous vehicle technology. Will it be long until cars drive themselves? Not if Volvo have their way. Their latest research involves the use of magnets to keep self-driving cars on the road. As well as keeping cars on the road, the Swedish car maker says the technology could also help improve road maintenance and allow for lanes to be narrowed.

According to a report on Gizmag The recently-completed research project took place at Volvo’s testing facilities in Hällered, Sweden. This is just outside Gothenburg, the city hosting Volvo’s large-scale autonomous driving project which will see 100 self-driving cars using public roads in everyday driving conditions.

The trouble with many of the positioning technologies such as GPS and cameras is that they can struggle in certain locations and conditions such as tunnels and fog. Volvo’s research team has embedded round magnets measuring 40 x 15 mm at a depth of 200 mm below the surface of a 100-metre long test track to allow a test vehicle equipped with several magnetic sensors to be driven on the road at a range of speeds. Jonas Ekmark, Preventive Safety Leader at Volvo Car Group explained, “The magnets create an invisible ‘railway’ that literally paves the way for a positioning inaccuracy of less than 10 cm (4 in).”

Ekmark went on to say that it would be entirely possible to put autonomous vehicles on the road without changes to present infrastructure, but that the magnet-based positioning technology offers benefits other than just keeping self-driving cars on the road. Preventing damage to snow-covered objects by winter road maintenance crews and enabling lanes to be narrowed are just two other possibilities provided by the accurate positioning information provided by road-integrated magnets.

“Our experience so far is that ferrite magnets are an efficient, reliable and relatively cheap solution, both when it comes to the infrastructure and on-board sensor technology,” says Ekmark. “The next step is to conduct tests in real-life traffic.”

Perhaps this all sounds a long way in the future but it would appear self driving cars are developing at a fast rate. What we must think about is the potential sales of the high value parts that will be on board these vehicles and how to combat the car makers’ constant shouts that items are safety related and shouldn’t be sold!
What about laser lights
These are already fitted to the BMW i8 and Audi have them fitted to their race car for the World Endurance Championship, the R18 e-tron quattro racer. Lighting has come a long way recently, and with it the value of these units has risen dramatically.

According to the info, the laser headlights complement the primary LED headlights, creating a more homogenous light on the road ahead. The blue laser shoots light through a yellow phosphorus crystal lens and Audi will be using them during the 24 Hours Le Mans and other WEC races. This may be on a race car but this is development for future production models.

So how good are they? In high beam mode the i8’s lamps can kick out up to 344 lux. To understand this, the latest LED headlamps can put out 180 lux while conventional halogen headlamps handle a maximum of around 100 lux. So this is impressive stuff especially when you think that these lamps can light up to 600m, that’s twice the distance of LED lamps and BMW claim a 30% improvement in energy efficiency over the latest LED lamps.
What’s a NanoFLOWCELL?
The Geneva Motor Show played host to the Nanoflowcell Quant e-Sportlimousine (photo above). This research prototype is powered by a flow battery that uses a special formula of ionic charge-carrying salt water as its storage medium. This is no ordinary electric car, Nanoflowcell uses its technology to deliver 912 horsepower to the wheels - that’s big!

At a nominal voltage of 600 V and 50 A nominal current the system is achieving an impressive continuous output of 30 kW. The nanoFLOWCELL® has a five times greater performance by weight than current lithium-ion technologies that power most of today’s electric vehicles, meaning its driving range is five times greater than a conventional unit of the same weight.

At last, a sensible range for an electric vehicle. For the Quant e-Sportlimousine they claim a range of up to 373 miles but there is something else we need to know. Flow cells or flow batteries combine aspects of an electrochemical battery cell with those of a fuel cell. The electrolytic fluids in flow cells (usually metallic salts in aqueous solution) are pumped from tanks through the cell. This forms a kind of battery cell with a cross-flow of electrolyte liquid. One advantage of this system in general is that the larger the storage tanks for the electrolyte fluid are, the greater the energy capacity.

From the usability perspective, the flow cell system means that you change the electrolyte to get a fresh charge. This can fit into the existing service station system and shouldn’t take much longer than a conventional fill up with fuel. This could really open up the practical use of electricity in vehicles. Take a look at the website for more about this vehicle - time are changing fast!

Our future depends of us being able to capitalise on developments as they turn up in the yard. Over the coming months we shall be keeping an eye on developments that will become part of our businesses in the future.

April 2014

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