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Audi's take on future tech

Adarsh Gopalakrishnan April 4 | Updated on April 04, 2012

Park pilot   -  BUSINESS LINE

FRP coils   -  BUSINESS LINE

OLED   -  BUSINESS LINE

Multitouch gesture   -  BUSINESS LINE

Being a luxury car-maker in such challenging times is no easy task. You've got hungry competitors across the globe constantly looking to usurp market share. The battle ground spans far and wide with potential buyers across the world having their own little quirks which car-makers need to learn about and cater to. The one constant however is technology focused on ride and build quality. But the dynamics of the fast-changing automotive market of today has meant that a lot of the current R&D be focused on capturing efficiencies and on making electric mobility more viable.

Audi has been at the forefront of developing new safety and performance technologies for its cars of today and the future (like its famous e-Tron electric concepts). The company recently showcased some of its innovations which are likely to go into its cars over the next five years. We look at a sampling of the tech stuff that will go into an A8 or Q7.

Audi's wireless charging

Audi's efforts at making its e-tron series of battery charged (in combination with a regular combustion engine) more convenient includes a nifty induction charging mechanism called the Audi wireless charging. The company is working in conjunction with American company WiTricity Corporation. The technology involves a charging plate on the ground which has a coil built in. This could be in a parking slot or other locations. The driver is then guided by the vehicle to park the car in such a way that another coil on the underside of the car aligns itself with the charging plate in the ground. The car's batteries are then recharged through induction. The touted advantages of this concept are that the time spent in a parking lot double up as time spent charging the vehicle. Unlike a cable-mechanism, there are no wires to lug around, no exclusive time spent at a fueling station and the platform is potentially agnostic to manufacturers. Toyota and Mitsubishi are also working with WiTricity for their induction charging models.

OLED Technology

Organic light emitting diodes are the next frontier for everyone who is anyone in the automotive and consumer electronic space. In the auto space, it means brighter, cheaper and more effective light. These organic polymers are only a few nanometers thick which are paste-like and occupy very little space. Depending on the number of layers used, different colours can be generated. OLEDS as Audi's head of lighting technology Stephan Berlitz puts it “weigh little, light up extremely fast, develop only a small amount of heat, least for several tens of thousands hours and don't consume any more energy than conventional light emitting diodes.” Audi envisions the use of OLED based lights for safety lights during heavy fogging or low visibility.

Hybrid Materials

In an effort to merge the benefits of strong and light weight materials such as carbon-fibre with aluminium and traditional materials like steel while keeping costs down, Audi is exploring the use of hybrid doby materials. The core idea behind this effort is ‘the right material in the right place for outstanding performance'. The company works through a process called the Multimaterial Space Frame which combines aluminium, steel and fibre-reinforced components. To further shed weight, individual components will be fabricated using multiple materials. A B-post or sill is reinforced with CFRP. This way the component gets both lighter and stronger. Traditional methods to join materials include rivets, screws and heavy adhesives. Audi has not spared this approach either. They are exploring the use of a synthetic resin formulated using the same material as carbon-fibre reinforced plastic. These approaches are however further away than FRP Springs in terms of use in mass-produced vehicles.

FRP Coil Springs

Taking the fixation with shaving off weight to aid performance and lower fuel consumption to higher levels is Audi's efforts to use fibreglass reinforced plastic in place of steel to build suspension coils. Audi is working with Italian auto comp maker SOGEFI which holds key patents for this technology. Using FRP could shave up to 40 per cent of each coil. This is an important advantage which as Audi sees it ‘Ultra-lightweight design is especially interesting in the chassis and suspension area. Every reduction in unsprung mass improves ride comfort and handling.' Other advantages as the lead developer of Audi's FRP Spring project adds, “From the very start FRP proved to be an excellent choice of material. It is absolutely immune to corrosion, even if struck by stones flung up from the road surface, and effectively resistant to chemicals such as wheel cleaning products. Manufacturing FRP Springs consumes less energy than steel springs, and they reduce the weight of a car such as the Audi A4 by about four kilograms - a notable step forward.”

Predictive Suspension

Enhancing ride quality is one of Audi's targets. A key step is providing suspension systems response time to anticipate upcoming ‘obstacles'. Existing systems employ video cameras, infrared sensors and radars to scan upcoming terrain for bumps, breakers and objects. Dynamically scanning such data allows for the vehicle to alert the driver or better yet initiate braking or other responses to support the driver. Audi has been looking at improving its predictive suspension mechanism. A year ago, they used video cameras to anticipate traffic from various corners and upcoming turns. This data was relayed to physically shift the car to keep the occupants from tossing in one direction. Audi is now playing with sensors which use software to analyse bumps and breakers in upcoming stretches of tarmac. This is then used to allow the suspension to dynamically adjust accordingly to provide a less bumpy ride.

adarsh@thehindu.co.in

Published on April 04, 2012

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