29th March 2017
Geneva Motor Show 2017 tech that caught our attention
Geneva is widely known for an array of heart-racing automotive exotica on show from hypercar manufacturers like Bugatti, Koenigsegg, Pugani and electric-touting newcomers like Rimac, but as an innovative telematics and insurance solutions company whose staff live and breathe big data and the internet of things, it’s the tech announcements that primarily get us salivating, though.
Artificial intelligence and bionic skin
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a cartoon superhero was under discussion here, but Goodyear turned up at Geneva 2017 with its vision of harnessing these kinds of technologies for tyres. Reinventing the wheel in a literal sense, the Eagle 360 Urban concept is a 3D-printed spherical tyre with AI and sensors at its heart, enabling it to detect, make decisions, interact and even morph itself.
Detecting road surface variations in real-time, actuators beneath the elastic polymer outer material that covers the foam-like core will act like human muscles, expanding and contracting to provide optimum traction. Individual sections of the ‘tyre’ will be able to morph independently, even as far as sprouting grippy dimples if moisture is detected, or shape-shifting into ‘slicks’ for track use. Data collected by these ridiculously clever tyres will be shared with other compatible vehicles and even their respective individual tyres via the cloud and the IoT. Before anyone gets too excited, though, Goodyear’s smart tyre concepts are intended for bringing an additional layer of safety to autonomous rather than traditional ‘driven’ cars.
Smart tyres for conventional cars
Tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) have been around for over a decade but many incarnations are still relatively rudimentary ‘indirect’ solutions that guesstimate pressure by using ABS wheel revolution data.
‘Connected’ technology is being applied to every nook and cranny of car development, and Geneva saw Pirelli announce that its Cannesso technology can be specified by P Zero and winter Sottozero-buying customers right now. A tiny lightweight sensor embedded in the tyre wall gathers data on tyre pressure, temperature, load, distance and tread wear, with the information transmitted to an app. Fleet managers in particular will find systems like this invaluable in planning tyre replacement as part of their vehicle maintenance schedules.
Ride sharing – with garden included
The future is definitely going to be shaped by Mobility as a Service (MaaS) solutions, with car ownership and even leasing becoming outdated concepts soon enough; and one of Geneva 2017’s highlights in this regard was the Rinspeed Oasis. A self-driving EV aimed at undoing the horrid things SUVs have done to the world’s cities, the Oasis concept also addresses the fact that cars spend most of their lives stationary. Full social media integration means that authorised people can summon cars displaying an ‘available’ status, while connected apps will enable the on-board personal assistant to suggest restaurants and other destinations recently travelled to, for example.
What Rinspeed has called ‘Life-Enhancing Intelligent Vehicle Solutions’ will see the Oasis maintaining an understanding of what’s happening in the world around it, so that the car will know, for example, that roads will be flooded with traffic after a concert or sporting event ends. Oasis’ windscreen will double up as a cinematic display, the rear of the vehicle will even include a delivery hatch, and the interior will be more like a home, complete with tables and chairs. The most eyebrow-raising feature, though, is the garden area between the ‘dashboard’ and windscreen, which Rinspeed envisages as a motivator to embrace a green lifestyle and more frequently enjoy the great outdoors.
The cute name VW has given to the autonomous vehicle it showcased at Geneva 2017 matches its cartoony aesthetics, looking unashamedly unlike a car and resolutely like a people-ferrying capsule or pod. Volkswagen is pouring money into driverless vehicle development in a bid to scalp a few victories ahead of the ever-expanding list of rivals from Ford, Mercedes and Volvo to Tesla and Google.
Sedric’s understated yet modern and stylish exterior encapsulates an interior focussed on comfort and spaciousness, perfect for various en-route activities from chin-wagging with family or friends, watching television or surfing the internet, to concentrating on serious work or even delivering presentations. The battery pack’s flat design and its location between the axles help maximise the space available. Fully electric and autonomous vehicles like Sedric will eventually provide mobility to people of all ages and physical abilities in a safe, clean and efficient manner. VW believes that such a world is less than a decade away and is busy developing other automotive technologies as part of its ‘TOGETHER – Strategy 2025’ programme.
Producing engines capable of peak power in excess of 1,000bhp is nothing new nowadays, making the original Bugatti Veyron seem somewhat like old hat. While many hypercars of this ilk now incorporate hybrid and EV technology as a given, the Chinese turned up at Geneva 2017 with something a little different in the form of a car called Ren from an aeroplane turbine specialist called Techrules.
Underneath the Italian-designed, fighter jet-esque exterior, a functional chassis was showcased at Geneva this year, and Ren has even been tested at the Monza F1 circuit in Italy. At Ren’s heart, a remarkably small jet engine, or turbine, produces electricity that is then sent via the battery to the car’s electric motors, endowing China’s debut supercar with upto 1,282bhp, 1,726lbs ft torque, a top speed of 217mph and a 0-62mph time of just 2.5 seconds. More remarkable, perhaps, is Ren’s overall range of upto 726 miles, or its theoretical combined fuel economy of upto 31.5mpg.
It’s worth noting that these phenomenal statistics are associated with the most powerful version of Ren, complete with no fewer than six electric motors, split 2:4 front to back, but the car’s inherent flexibility will enable customers to opt for four motors at the back for tail-sliding antics, or a more sensible ‘one motor per wheel’ approach for all-wheel drive reassurance. Different battery capacities and turbine configurations will also be customisable, and although Ren’s auxiliary motor, which acts like other ‘range extender’ cars around, can run on various fuels such a liquefied natural gas, petrol or hydrogen, Techrules has actually found diesel to provide the best performance with the lowest emissions. They reckon 80% battery charge will be possible in less than 15 minutes and that Ren’s electric-only range could be as impressive as 124 miles, but just 96 will be built and it’s never going to sit well with the new VED regime despite its relatively green approach.
Unlike times past when it took several years or more until, for example, safety tech trickled down from Formula One cars into flagship saloons before reaching brands’ lesser models, automotive advancements are being integrated much more speedily these days at this interesting period when semi-autonomy has become commonplace but fully driverless cars are just around the corner.
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