The automobile industry is currently facing a number of problems: emissions scandals, excessive CO2 emissions, global traffic gridlock – just to name a few. One solution to many of these problems is the innovative modular tilting vehicle currently under development at the Steinbeis Transfer Center Ino8 Pty Ltd Australia. It is based on the center’s own Safe8™ balance aid.
Every year 1.3 million die on the words roads, especially in developing countries. Many of these accidents involve two-wheeled vehicles. This number is forecast to rise to 1.9 million by 2020. In contrast, the number of accident fatalities caused by cars has been decreasing in recent years. Reasons include, among other things, the increasing use of e-bikes and the economic growth in emerging countries, which makes two-wheelers affordable for more people. The next big challenges are global warming - and the resulting new legislations to reduce carbon emissions.
But the biggest problem, however, is the global traffic gridlock, especially in megacities. Over the course of each motorist’s life, two full years will be spent waiting in a car. And this doesn’t even include really the time in traffic jams – it is just a reflection of the time a motorist sits idle, as defined by the New European Driving Cycle, which was developed more than 20 years ago. Globally the resulting economic damage is estimated to be around 1 trillion USD per year. The biggest cause of this traffic problem is that, on average, only between one and two people sit in each car, but a most cars car take up roughly four times the space compared to a motorcycle with two seats.
The first try to solve this problem was to reduce the length of a standard car by half, as with the Smart. Although this helps open up options in the parking space parallel to the streets it doesn’t help in most car parks. And on the roads such cars are even less helpful to reduce the space requirement since this is determined by the minimum distances between cars. For example, at a speed of 50 km/h, the legally required minimum distance to the car in front is 27.5 meters. A difference of 1.5 meters between a 5-seat Ford Fiesta and a 2-seater Smart only increases the use of road infrastructure by just about 5%. Driving at highway speeds of 130 km/h this drops to a meager 2%. The short body design of a Smart type two seater car is also less aerodynamic. Another attempt was made by Toyota with their i-Road, which, like a two-wheeler, takes up significantly less space. Unfortunately, the car’s active balance control is very complex and uses a lot of energy. Due to safety reasons related to driving dynamics its top speed is limited to 60 km/h and it comes with a hefty price tag, which is why the vehicle isn’t currently available for sale but only used in fleet trials, for examples in car sharing programs.
A genuine solution for many of the problems mentioned here is a modular tilting vehicle. The relatively simple balance control called Safe8™ Balance Aid offers a basis for such vehicles. It was developed and patented by the Steinbeis Transfer Center Ino8 Pty Ltd Australia. The Safe8™ works very similar as electronic stability program (ESP) in cars. A number of sensors – many of which are already installed in the car for other systems like the antilock braking systems that are required by law – measure the movements of the vehicle in different directions. A minimum of two balance dampers each with two separate oil chambers and a valve regulate the flow between the two oil chambers. In dangerous driving conditions, the amount of oil flowing through the valves is reduced based on a predefined model. As a result, the vehicle is stabilized almost passively by generating a reaction force in the opposite direction to the movement of the dampers piston.
There are plenty of advantages to this approach: Even at relatively low speeds, the system can stabilize itself. In normal, non-critical driving conditions, the piston of the balance damper can move freely from one side to the other apart from the internal friction, and making use of the self-stabilizing effect of a typical two-wheeler. This is a built-in redundancy. Furthermore, the damper valves are only activated in less than 10% of driving time, so the energy is very small. Another typical characteristic of a leaning two-wheeler is that drivers can shift their weight to steer the vehicle – without the need to use the steering wheel. This is an additional technical safety redundancy that simply isn’t possible in a car. The Safe8™ system also detects and compensates for crosswinds, a feature that, up until now, has only been available in very high-end luxury cars.
Electrorheological dampers from the company Fludicon are used as balance dampers. They are far more dynamic than, for example, electromechanical or magnetorheological hydraulic valves, and they offer the equivalent value for money. More importantly, the compact valves contain no moveable parts, so they are not prone to wear and can not get stuck. That makes them far more advantageous in terms of safety. Before defining the most important dimensional parameters of the new tilting vehicle, the Steinbeis experts went through a number of rounds of market research. In Australia, Prof. Paul Couchman and Associate Prof. David Bednall supervised eight focus groups with respondents from Australia, India, and China. Prof. Werner Hagstotz from the University of Applied Sciences in Pforzheim, and co-founder and partner of the company Hagstotz ITM, initiated a series of expert interviews within the German automobile industry. The findings led to several changes in the initial concept. Since the number of people holding a standard car license is ten times bigger than those with a motorcycle license, the vehicle will be built modularly – with either three or four wheels depending on the target market. The length of the vehicle is also scalable and can be anywhere from 2.5 to 5 meters, depending on whether one, two, three, or even four seats are required. The first version are planned to have a top speed of approximately 200 km/h. This was determined in cooperation with the motorcycle unit of the Australian police department in Melbourne. The number of motorcycles in their fleet was reduced by roughly 2/3 in recent years on account of safety concerns and a lack of qualified motorcycle drivers. This comes despite the fact that motorcycles are faster to arrive at the scene of an accident or crime and despite the fact that the elevated rider position makes it easier to spot people not wearing seatbelts or using their cell phones while driving. That’s why the police department in Melbourne is willing to pay the same price for the new tilting vehicle as for their current police cars.
This April the Steinbeis Transfer Center Ino8 Pty Ltd Australia reached another milestone on the path to realizing their revolutionary vehicle: The center’s founder and director, Dr. Frank Will, was the only German participant to qualify for the finals of the first innovation competition for international talents in Shenzhen, China. The contest covered four continents, and, at the finals, the municipal government of Shenzhen showed great interest in the vehicle, since the daily traffic situation is one of the city’s biggest problems.
As a result, the authorities quickly arranged meetings with the battery manufacturer BYD, as well as with several investors. A letter of collaboration was signed with one investor. Even BYD, which produces luxury electric cars under the Denza brand as part of a joint venture with Daimler, is interested in a cost-effective and energy-efficient solution. This highlights further advantages of the new vehicle: Thanks to the reduced frontal area and the lengths similar to a normal car, the wind resistance is reduced, which makes the vehicle very efficient. The market research conducted by Hagstotz ITM showed that the driving range expectations for tilting vehicles are like those of motorcycles – only about 20% of the range of standard road vehicles – so the battery size and associated costs can be minimized to a fraction of those of electric cars. This means that as leaning cars, the costs of electric vehicles are no longer a prohibitive, so this could be the break-through for electromobility!
Dr. Frank Will is the director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center Ino8 Pty Ltd Australia. The enterprise focuses on the issues related to reducing fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, improving safety for tilting vehicles, and offers its customers engineering consulting in the automotive field and in research and development.