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Where is the global automotive industry headed? Are electric vehicles set to replace conventionally-driven counterparts? Will driverless cars become the norm?
Innovation abounds in the electrified, automated and connected car fields, with many of the world’s leading technology companies contributing to the knowledge pool.
Among them is Bosch, a German-based designer and manufacturer of automotive products for OEMs and the aftermarket, which had on display at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show an array of wares engineered to address motoring’s future.
First, the company’s faith in conventional internal combustion engines appears to remain strong, its focus aimed at producing cleaner burning units which emit less harmful gases than their predecessors.
From a diesel engine perspective, Bosch has developed systems that increase fuel injection pressure to as much as 2 700 bar, the resultant atomization of the fuel helping it to mix better with air in the combustion chamber to create a clean-burning charge that reduces emissions of nitrogen oxide and other gases.
Unlike the system of pilot and main injection used up to now, a newly developed injection process relies on many separate injections involving miniscule amounts of fuel. The result is said to be a gentle combustion process that burns more efficiently.
Similarly, petrol-fuelled engines have been shown to benefit from high-pressure injection technology. Tests indicate that a system in which petrol is delivered at 350 bar significantly cuts particulate emissions, especially when the engine is working at high load.
Also, turbocharging plays a key role in a cleaner burn. According to Bosch, careful tuning of exhaust-gas recirculation, coupled with relevant control unit functions, significantly reduces basic emissions and improves fuel consumption.
Further, variable turbine geometry developed by Bosch Mahle Turbo Systems (BMTS) for petrol engines has introduced a new generation of exhaust-gas turbochargers, based on a principle that can be more widely employed in petrol- fuelled engines of the future.
The key breakthrough is that the turbochargers are less prone to deformation at higher temperatures and are capable of withstanding sustained temperatures of 900 ̊ Celsius.
Engines fitted with this new technology are said to deliver more performance or are more fuel efficient than forerunners. The same holds true for diesels, in which a reduced guide-vane gap further enhances the efficiency of the variable turbine.
On the connected powertrain front, regeneration of particulate filters can now be regulated via an electronic horizon developed by Bosch. The system interprets data received from sources ahead of a vehicle on its planned route and might involve filter regeneration well before city traffic is met – on a preceding freeway leg, for instance.
In terms of hybrid vehicles, the electronic horizon offers similar advantages. For example, if the car’s navigation software knows that there is traffic congestion ahead it will instruct the vehicle to charge its battery in preparation, so that by the time the snarl-up is reached the hybrid can switch to electric, zero-emissions mode to pass through the slow-go area without polluting the environment.
Another innovation involves an active accelerator pedal that helps to save fuel by providing a gentle haptic signal – a slight vibration – to indicate to the driver its most efficient position. Bosch claims the technology results in fuel savings of up to seven per cent.
Further, if the vehicle has a driver assistance system such as adaptive cruise control, the pedal can be used as a safety indicator: coupled with a navigation system or a camera that reads the road ahead, it will vibrate slightly to warn that a corner is being approached too rapidly.
On the electric vehicle front, Bosch holds the view that cost is paramount. If sales are to become widespread, vehicles must become significantly cheaper – and battery technology will play a key role in achieving the aim.
By 2020, the company expects that its joint venture with Japanese partners GS Yuasa and Mitsubishi Corporation will deliver lithium-ion power packs that provide twice the energy at half the present cost. Also, it expects its recent acquisition of US battery pioneer Seeo to complement the work of its existing partners.
Other areas of the company’s strategic approach include the development of technology to better monitor and control battery usage, including management of thermal systems in vehicles, and the launch of its second-generation 48-volt hybrid motor.
Further, on the road to the automated car, Bosch has developed a range of driver aids systems such as evasive steering support, which uses radar and video sensors to detect and measure obstacles ahead, reacting 25% faster than humans in taking avoiding action – even in complex situations.
The company has developed, too, an assistant for turning against oncoming traffic. Using two radar sensors at the front of the vehicle, judgements can automatically be made with regard to gaps in approaching traffic. If the gap is too small to permit a turn, the system prevents the vehicle from moving forward. Alternatively, if a collision with an oncoming vehicle appears imminent, the system will stop the turn in time by taking automatic emergency braking action.
Similarly, Bosch’s highway pilot is an automated driving function which takes control of a car on stretches of freeway. Prerequisites for this include sensors that reliably monitor the vehicle’s entire surroundings, highly accurate and up- to-date map data, as well as powerful, interconnected control units.
Once the vehicle has been driven onto the freeway, the driver can activate the function and let the vehicle drive itself. Before the automated part of the journey ends, the highway pilot alerts the driver and warns him or her to prepare to re- take control. The system has undergone tests on public roads and is scheduled for introduction once changes are made to the legal framework that governs road traffic ordinance.
Already in use is a traffic-jam assist system that automatically drives the car at speeds of up to 60km/h, accelerating and braking in accordance with the traffic pattern, and keeping the vehicle in its lane through steering interventions.
Common to many of Bosch’s automated applications is a stereo video camera which detects vehicles, pedestrians and traffic signs and offers a single-sensor solution for a range of assistance systems. The solution is a standard feature in the Jaguar XE and the Land Rover Discovery Sport, with each of the vehicles using the camera to effect emergency braking applications.
Parking, too, has fallen under Bosch’s spotlight, the company having developed an intelligent system that finds and reports vacant spaces and which can park a vehicle automatically. A similar system has been developed for smart trailer parking.
While safety, efficiency and convenience are among the major drivers of new technology and connectivity systems, Bosch acknowledges that the flood of information presented to the human behind the steering wheel can pose problems.
Accordingly, the company has developed display systems that prioritise and present information in a way that allows data to be processed as intuitively as possible through user interfaces in which visual and acoustic interaction is supplemented by haptic elements.
When drivers are using a touchscreen, for instance, they receive a haptic response that makes it feel as if they are running their fingers over virtual buttons, which have to be pressed to be activated. In the company’s view, this reduces distraction, as visual checks of the screen are no longer necessary. And, in terms of the connected horizon, Bosch is looking to build on existing technologies by adding real-time dynamic information that relates to traffic flow, accidents or roadwork sites while, on the smartphone front, a technology called mySPIN has been developed to make the device part of the vehicle’s communication system.
The technology means drivers can continue to use their favourite apps in the usual way, both for iOS and Android smartphones. The apps are pared down to show relevant information only, and are displayed and managed via the vehicle’s built-in display.