Consumers and legislators are making unparalleled demands on personal transport for flexibility, power, passenger security, control and environmental safety. The automobile industry is being made to tread a careful line between meeting these aspirations and the costs they generate. Getting the relationship between these forces and the individual's perception of their personal transport wrong, courts certain commercial disaster.
After house purchasing, acquisition of personal transport is the second largest financial transaction made, the stakes for both buyer and producer are high.
Because the relationship between buyer and producer merits caution, automobile technology has remained fundamentally the same for many years. There has been a conception that a safe consensus between the consumer and the automobile industry will always keep personal transport foiling. It is a belief that has created the technological inertia, that threatens both the environment and the economic balance enjoyed in the past.
A symptom of this inertia is the internal combustion engine.
Consumers and the automobile industry have long had a love affair with this one hundred year old technology. Has it now become overstretched and wasteful? Has the petrol spark ignition engine, regardless of size or sophistication become a symbol of inefficiency and a gross contributor to air pollution?
Modern engines require sophisticated electronic management systems, chemical catalysts, and complex engineering to meet legislation while still trying to retain the performance and operating standards inherent in the aspirations of the consumer. The economics of maintaining this technology has reduced manufacturers margins and concurrently, provided little consumer enthusiasm.
Personal Transport must give the consumer a new style of power mirroring the high standards of achievement that distinguishes newer high technologies. Electronics, electrical power generation, public transport, and even the aircraft industry have a role to play in the search for new systems of power and performance.
In the early nineteen sixties, the aircraft industry was faced with a similar problem. Passengers were used to the idea of the reliable piston engined aircraft, and yet the expansion of traffic demanded a new technology. The jet engine was introduced, and piston engines were relegated to small personal aircraft and aviation enthusiasts. As a service industry, air transport was better placed to undertake this change than the car industry, but it is significance that the kind of technology changes needed, are being undertaken in public transport, and commercial vehicles.
One reason technologies are easier to change in transport industries other that personal transport is a matter of scale. Production implementation and design can be readily changed in all these industries, with variations of type commonly produced, back to back. Aeronautical engineers and designers have produced large multi-engined aircraft, light aircraft, military aircraft, aircraft that act like helicopters and vice-versa, and so on. Much of this inventiveness stems from the wide variety of tasks required of the air transport market. The automobile has had fewer demands made on it, almost all concerning load variations, performance and comfort. Therefore, types are more restricted and narrow, which has encouraged conformity in manufacturing and design.
Personal transport needs a rethink from the wheels up. Both motive power and performance can enter a new age of design and engineering, to produce vehicles with greater refinement, pollution free power, and energy efficiencies greatly enhanced by reductions in losses generated by heat, noise and vibration. In some respects the automotive industry, has challenged the market with new ideas. In recent years, auto-makers have marketed four wheel drive cars in common variants. Four wheel drive provides greater road holding, and safety. However, the common 4X4 vehicle is powered by one large engine, with energy eventually transferred by gears, shafts and mechanical drives to the wheels. Mechanical transfer of energy by this method is inefficient and expensive in fuel, materials and maintenance.
PERFECT WHEELS seeks a system that eliminates drives and gearing to enable the motive power to be directly applied to the wheels. Following the aircraft industry model, the wheel should be driven directly as part of the function of the engine, like a rotary or jet engine. However, four mechanical rotating engines would be too cumbersome, expensive and difficult to control. The power system that does lend itself to this function can be routinely seen in public transport.
The French TGV train can accelerate from 0 to 100kmh in 8 seconds. It has a top speed in excess of 300kph, is smooth and almost silent. It is electrically powered like most modern mass transit trains.
Electric motors as motive power lend themselves easily to adaption. They are relatively light, and have wide variants. They can be easily controlled by computer systems though low power multiplexing techniques, and even fibre optics. They are safe and reliable.
Switched Reluctance Drive electric motors for example, rotate in such a way that they could be part of the function of the wheel. They are simple motors operating on the principle of magnets passing over each other on opposite poles, being forced apart one from the other. Following this principle, by passing a current through eight electromagnets set in a circle with a further six set around a central shaft, the shaft can be made to rotate as current is switched from one of its six electromagnets to the next. Speed is determined by the speed the switch operates. As computers art essential binary switches, the intelligent car is a perfect medium for using a system like this for the prime motive power.
As a single motor can directly rotate a single wheel, it is possible for four motors driving one wheel each.
By incorporating sophisticated control systems great improvements can be made in both control and energy conservation. Acceleration and deceleration can be controlled by microprocessors, so that all functions are centralised into one command instrument. This would eliminate the need for using numerous limbs of the body to operate the car, improving the man, machine interface. Brakes would be eliminated, creating a safer car as reaction times would be redefined by the shifting of driver fine motor co-ordination. Systems for anti-skid, anti-lock would be greatly simplified and smoothed, using gyroscopic control systems to co-ordinate motor, suspension and even route optimisation systems. The whole motive system would interface with the journey command computer and all the vehicles sensing devices. Most mechanical functions can be replaced by low cost, high efficiency electronics, that could be updated easily without major changes in the vehicle's design. As the motors are controlled electronically, their performance would be monitored and constantly subject to corrective commands, eliminating the need for differentials and transmissions. Oil and hydraulic fluids would be reduced to a minimum, thus saving considerable maintenance and materials cost.
Finally, this element of the motive power of the PERFECT WHEELS car is completely pollution free. It emits no poisonous gasses into the air, and the materials needed for its manufacture are cheap, easy to produce and more environmentally sound in all respects than those currently used. It would use fewer nonrenewable resources and would greatly increase driver control and occupant safety.
The direct motive and control system relies on electricity for energy. Modern internal combustion engined cars develop the power equivalent of 125kW at peak load. Currently there is no sensible battery system that could store that amount of energy.
In the past Electric cars have been discounted because they relied on battery stored electricity. The use of battery storage systems makes a vehicle heavy with a relatively short range. PERFECT WHEELS sees the electrically powered vehicle as an independent entity producing its own electric power. Each vehicle must therefore have a power plant or electrical generating system. PERFECT WHEELS requires a constant running power plant that produces consistent and reliable energy at constant peak performance.
Any existing fuelled motor such as a diesel or gasoline engine can drive an electric generator. But on-board electrical generation can look to ideas well tried in the most experienced of electrical generating industries, the electrical power companies. The principle system used by them for generating power is the high speed turbine. Turbines can be fuelled in a variety of ways with a variety of energies, hydro power, steam, gas, liquid fuels of varying types.
Liquid fuel or gas turbines offer advantages in energy efficiency and very low emissions. They are basically simple and reliable systems that have traditionally been discounted for cars because of their size and very high rotational speeds. Recent technology breakthroughs have reduced the size of turbines while increasing their efficiency. High constant revolutions, a disadvantage in direct drive, are an advantage in producing electric power.
Essentially, the turbine would drive an electric generator, which would produce power to run the Switched Reluctance Drive motors. Because the turbine would run at a constant speed its optimum efficiency any loss of energy from power transfer would be compensated by its continuous optimum performance. Engaging the turbine would be through the use of stored battery power, constantly renewed by the generator. Fuel for the Turbine would be principally any hydrocarbon, depending on local feed stocks and supply. Turbines are intrinsically multi-fuel, and therefore offer the consumer real choice.
The on-board production of electricity is the essential factor in an environmentally friendly, safe, economic vehicle. Turbine technology still relies on combustion, and combustion will always produce by-products that do not suit the environment. There is a technology that is capable of producing no pollution whatsoever, and that is the fuel cell.
The fuel cell is an emerging technology that may provide the answer to the problems of personal transport and the environment. It is in a sense a battery technology. Like a battery it operates by a chemical reaction between a diode and a cathode. Hydrogen is the principle fuel which when combined with oxygen produces electrons. The only byproduct is water. The problem with this technology is that the energy storage system, which will be a hydrogen bearing molecule, will require a system for releasing the hydrogen as the fuel. This requires an additional system to reform the molecule into its molecular components. Reformers are yet to be made cheaply and efficiently. Hydrogen can be carried as a fuel, but requires specialised equipment to store it. It is the new technology for both mechanical or chemical storage systems and reforming systems that will be explored in " Perfect Wheels "
Fuel-cells are multi fuel systems. They rely on any energy storage system that contains hydrogen, be it naphtha, methanol, ethanol, coal, or even water.
Water has never been a substance that man has had difficulty with. The PERFECT WHEELS car is a vehicle designed to be powered by simple transfers of energy through the application of minimal mechanical processes. It makes the assumption that careful employment of the best of modern motive technology, along with sophisticated but ergonomic control systems will reduce waste.
The use of these systems provides the driver with exceptional economy, ease of handling and environmental cleanliness. Moreso it provides an extremely safe and flexible system, a system that redesigns itself to suit its driving environment. It reduces the mechanical functions in such a way that allows the driver to be less dependent on his physical motor coordination. That means the PERFECT WHEELS car is safer and easier to drive, by design.
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