Putting IEEE in the Driver’s Seat

Working to raise the visibility of members’ contributions to vehicular technology

7 April 2014

Photo: Bonnie Nani

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced on 3 February that after years of research into vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology, the time had come for cars to talk to each other in order to improve safety.

“Vehicle-to-vehicle technology represents the next generation of auto-safety improvements, building on the life-saving achievements we’ve already seen with safety belts and air bags,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The technology would allow cars to quickly communicate information about upcoming hazards that the driver may not be able to see by exchanging basic safety data, such as speed and position. DOT research indicates that safety applications using V2V technology can address a majority of crashes involving two or more motor vehicles. With safety data such as speed and location flowing from nearby vehicles, vehicles can identify risks and provide drivers with warnings to avoid others in such common crashes as rear-end, lane change, and intersection.

Foxx said that V2V technology has the potential to prevent between 70 to 80 percent of crashes among unimpaired drivers, calling its potential “absolutely enormous.” Roughly 32 000 people are killed in U.S. highway crashes each year.

“By helping drivers avoid crashes, this technology will play a key role in improving the way people get where they need to go while ensuring that the United States remains the leader in the global automotive industry,” Foxx said.

IEEE, with its long history of involvement in vehicular technology, needs to be at the forefront of these kinds of decisions. After all, when you look under the hood of any vehicle, you see the contributions many members have made in the way of computers, networks, software, power electronics, control systems, batteries, and fuel cells, to name just a few.

One area where IEEE has been particularly active is electrified transportation. For example, the 2012 IEEE International Electric Vehicle Conference, which was held in Greenville, S.C., was a valuable resource for those looking for help or technical documentation. Other IEEE conferences have continued this strategy of discussing technology and how it will integrate with government regulations, companies, and the consumer.

This kind of activity is critical because the future EV landscape will look nothing like the current one. The companies that will make a name for themselves over the next 5 to 10 years may not even be one of the major auto manufacturers. They will be companies that can bring together the technology and make it affordable and useable at an acceptable price point. They also will be able to build a vehicle that makes average consumers want to buy an EV as not only their first car but also as a second and third one.

The ability to have small, powerful electric motors is a recent development that is helping EVs move forward. At their core, EVs have high torque motors that allow the standard 1000-pound [545 kilograms] power train to be eliminated completely. The EV is much lighter, but the motor still has to overcome the energy density of the battery. The newest EVs coming off the production lines at Chevy, Ford, Nissan, and Tesla have reached a breakthrough limit of 100 miles [160 km] per charge (mpc).

The batteries in the lab now will be able to deliver an affordable car with a range of 300 mpc. When we hit that number within the next five years, people will lose their “range anxiety” because they will be able to get where they are going and back on a single charge. Fortunately, the batteries in today’s EVs can be charged in three to four hours but the aim is an average of one to two hours. Tesla’s Gigafactory promises to produce fast-charge batteries at a price the consumer can afford.

More players will enter the market as EVs become easier to plug together and customize. Today we see single companies coming up with ideas that make their EV special and unique in the marketplace. The United States is one of the leading countries developing and manufacturing EV technology but Japan is also very active, and China is coming on strong under a national mandate to reduce pollution caused by automobiles. Nevertheless, this industry is not being driven by the top three or four countries—there is a lot of homegrown innovation taking place. Students in Kenya developed an affordable car for use in their country. India’s Tata Motors has just launched its EV. Tata has an excellent reputation for producing cars that are affordable.

While all this technology is important, educating consumers is even more critical to the success of EVs. Overcoming consumer resistance and getting them comfortable enough to buy EVs by the millions is going to take education and proof that the cars work as advertised. This is because most people only buy a car every 8 to 10 years, and it’s a major investment. We—as a society, nation, and as local communities—need to do a better job of educating consumers about the pros and cons of EVs.

As you can see, I firmly believe the transition to EVs is well underway. Within the next 5 to 10 years I predict that every two-car garage will have a hybrid and a plug-in EV. There will be a variety of fuel sources used to move EVs and their ability to connect into the grid will make it possible for people to operate them very efficiently.

We are already well underway to the world of clean, efficient, connected, and safe vehicles across a wide range of transportation platforms that include cars, trucks, ships, trains, planes, heavy equipment and a lot more.

Let’s continue to build IEEE’s resources, visibility, and industry involvement through efforts such as the IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative. Transportation is over one-seventh of the world’s economy and much of its developing technology. To continue its own growth and the careers of its members, IEEE has to be a driver of the future of transportation.

Lee Stogner is the president of the Vincula Group, a consultancy in energy management and transportation solutions, in Taylors, S.C. He is also the chair of the IEEE Transportation Electrification Initiative.

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