Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Science Technology

The Quest for the Car of the Future 434

Lux writes "Where will the car of the future come from? It's unlikely to come from anywhere you'd expect it to. Wired's money is on the car of the future coming from NASA. 'New technology that promises to revolutionize the automobile as we know it is emerging from research institutions and startups — and these innovations won't set you back $100,000 like a Tesla will... One experiment involves small electric motors located in the wheels of the CityCar, a tiny, nimble and practically silent vehicle with wheels that turn 360 degrees, enabling it to slip neatly into tight urban parking spaces. Others are looking to revolutionize the automobile's engine, not replace it.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Quest for the Car of the Future

Comments Filter:
  • Simple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:15PM (#19570837) Homepage Journal
    Take a modern TDI engine from Europe and add it to a plug in hybrid.
    Run it on biodiesel when available and put solar cells on the roof of it.
    Ok the solar cells may just be for cute factor but my car sits in my office parking lot all day in Florida. It might give me enough power to run the AC on the trip home.

  • by the_kanzure ( 1100087 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:17PM (#19570867) Homepage
    The real car of the future may in fact be no car at all. Might it be possible that there are methods of living that do not require us to live distantly from useful and necessary services? Looks like we can get services to our computer fairly well, right?
  • Motors in the wheels (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:32PM (#19571109) Homepage Journal

    Motors in the wheels are okay when you're moving at low speeds and/or over extremely regular pavement. So they're fine for city-only cars that will never go over 35 mph. But while you might be okay going up and down the hills in SF, get on the freeway to scoot across town and you're fucked.

    Why is that? It's because one of the greatest enemies to handling is unsprung mass. The "sprung" mass is everything sitting on top of the springs, hence the name. But the unsprung mass is the weight that's not sprung, which in practice means directly or indirectly attached to the wheel and moving up and down with it.

    Thus, the problem is one of inertia. When the road sends the wheel upwards, the tire deforms more and it takes longer for it to rise, when there is more mass to move. When the wheel returns, the spring has to push against the greater inertia of the more massive suspension member, so it takes longer to make the first part of its motion, but the spring conspires with gravity (which has more to work on with more mass) to push the wheel back down. The falling wheel has more inertia than it would if you had a lighter unsprung mass, so it comes down harder, compressing the tire more (again). All this excessive compression of the tire makes handling inconsistent.

    This will actually negatively affect handling even in most cities, when cornering quickly. And it is often necessary to do so, or be stuck behind long rows of people.

  • Years back (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:33PM (#19571121)
    Years back I saw a video of a company (from one of the Scandinavian countries), using electric motor "inside out" as wheels.
    They built buses with these electric motors, put a small Volkswagen car engine (it may have been diesel) under the hood, running always on the most optimal rpm to generate electricity. It seemed like a perfect, cheap, immediately available hybrid solution - I always wondered why we don't see these "3/4 green" buses on the city roads.
  • Re:Crash tested? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DavidpFitz ( 136265 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:36PM (#19571161) Homepage Journal

    Love to see the stills of a simple 20 mile per hour crash, let alone higher. A four wheel drive would literally drive right through it without slowing at a guess.
    Then we should get the 4x4s off the road.

    Or, just get a huge JCB/Lorry/Truck/Juggernaut type vehicle to crush the SUVs. Bigger is better, eh?


  • Re:Years back (Score:1, Interesting)

    by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:38PM (#19571185) Journal
    You do, diesel-electrics like that are exceedingly common.

    Almost all "big equipment" runs on the same principle. Ships, trains, construction stuff (bulldozers, etc).

    It is simply not all that fuel efficient on smaller scales. You waste a lot of energy converting the chemical energy to mechanical energy (diesel to spinnign crankshaft), to electricity, back to mechanical energy.

    It is, however, the best way to supply a METRIC ASSLOAD of power to a drivewheel that needs the METRIC ASSLOAD of torque that only electricity can deliver.
  • by Ignatius D'Lusional ( 1010911 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:41PM (#19571241)
    I am so sick of reading about how the "car of the future" is going to run on hydrogen and be extra-sleek and this and that. We've heard it all before, for the last 15 years or more. What I REALLY want to know is this... when will the car of the future be the car of the PRESENT? Tell me when they will be on the market and be affordable for the common consumer. What good does it do us to say what's coming if it NEVER GETS HERE?
  • Re:Simple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:42PM (#19571251) Homepage Journal

    Ok the solar cells may just be for cute factor but my car sits in my office parking lot all day in Florida. It might give me enough power to run the AC on the trip home.

    The AC on an average passenger car can consume as much as 5HP and is horribly unlikely to consume less than 3. that's 2.2 to 3.7 kilowatts.

    You're going to need at least a couple kWh for one hour of using the A/C, and almost certainly more...

  • Re:Crash tested? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:46PM (#19571293) Homepage Journal

    Love to see the stills of a simple 20 mile per hour crash, let alone higher. A four wheel drive would literally drive right through it without slowing at a guess.

    I don't know about any of the rest of these but the SMART car is supposed to be quite excellent in a crash and not that it's on this list but VW alleges their new ~230 mpg concept is safer than an F1 racer (it's built on some of the same principles and provides an enclosed cockpit, unlike an F1 car.)

    There is nothing inherently uncrashworthy about a small car, although it IS likely to be substantially more expensive for the same level of safety.

  • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:52PM (#19571407)
    Summer 1977 Probably you weren't born yet or were an infant.

    In any event your parents were sneaking a few tokes on a joint in the parking lot of the theater (and a few gulps of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill) that was showing Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever, Marathon Man ('is it safe?'), or Black Sunday (' Zere ahr no accidents!' Martha Keller and Ahhnold - jeez what a team!)

        Honda is losing all their credibilty on a piece-of-shit CVCC engine. Mazda is blowing their wad on a Wankel. Toyota is toying around with the uglyest cars ever made. GM gives us the Vega, Ford the Pinto, and AMC brings up the rear with the Pacer. And the only pants that we could buy a bell-bottoms. No wonder we needed to get stoned and right now if not sooner.

        If you could predict a car for 30 years in the future that you would want to buy you could have done worse than a Hyundai Accent with a ten year warranty or a Prius. Hell you could have just kept your BFAC (Big F*ucking American Car, with the emphasis on Big), your Monte Carlo or Riviera.

        So the car that I want 30 years from now. Small, for good mileage. Cheap. everyone's going to be poor with the coming Peak Oil and Global Warming situations manifesting. Big Tires for driving on really bad roads. Safe, with serious air bags. Durable; something that will last a long time. Bulletproof safe, because the Peak Oil and Global Warming situations are going knock a lot people out of the middle class and they're going to looking to fuck with someone just like me for no other reason than I have a car and have the ability to make enough money to not have to live with people like them. Vandal-proof,with special coating on the exterior so that spraypainted gang symbols just wash off. Theft-proof, with a tracking device so if the shitpeople actually do manage tosteal it then I can get it back quickly.

        Are you looking for a career with a real future? Make cars like the one described above. I'll buy it and so will millions of other people.
  • Re:Simple (Score:3, Interesting)

    by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @05:54PM (#19571429) Journal
    Soybeans can be converted to biodiesel, and the "waste" product of protein/carb cake can be used as foodstuff for livestock. fairly win/win there.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:29PM (#19571869) Homepage Journal

    Mr. Poo, nobody has cleared up for me if the motor is directly attached to the wheel or by some sort of CV joint. You also should take into account the fact that the motor also takes the place of the brake disk and calipers

    No, it doesn't. You need at least two real brakes (on the front or rear pair of wheels, makes no difference to me) for two reasons:

    1. If your regenerative braking system fails, you need a mechanical brake for backup. A failure of the braking system could occur anywhere from the motor (whose drive shaft could break) to the batteries (which could fail) and all parts in between (cabling, power protection, charge/discharge controller, sensors, etc etc.)
    2. Electric motors may have peak torque at 0 RPM but that doesn't mean you can't turn them. So you also need a parking brake. Also, at low speeds you have two choices; use a physical brake, or apply power to the motor to hold the vehicle in place. But if the power system fails, the latter fails (even if it were feasible from a power consumption standpoint, which it is not) and so you still need some real, physical brakes.

    So you can eliminate about half of the brake system, but that still leaves you needing a master cylinder (and some way to drive it, which may be a hydraulic pump like that of a typical antilock brake system) as well as lines and at least two calipers, plus the whole system to actuate the brakes with the cable.

    There's actually a whole lot we could do right now to reduce the weight of the brake system, for instance using a two-piece rotor where only the friction part is replaced, and the hat is built right into the hub (so it's really a one-piece, but I was just trying to be evocative for people who have seen two-piece rotors.) I'm kind of at a loss as to why we don't do that. But there may be a good reason.

    You could also use electrically actuated brakes. I hear some people are doing this in racing. But that is expensive, and this car will already be plenty expensive.

  • Re:water (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Original Replica ( 908688 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:30PM (#19571881) Journal
    The carbon is certainly the major problem. Perhaps when it comes to using hydrocarbons for fuel we need a new definiton of "perfect". A reaction where the carbon by-product is a solid not a gas, might be of more long term interest than maximum energy extraction.
  • Re:Simple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:36PM (#19571961) Homepage Journal

    Biodiesel's not a viable alternative to fossil fuels. We can't grow enough to both feed and fuel or society.

    That is a bunch of nonsense. Besides hemp (as suggested by a sibling comment) there is algae, which can be grown in salt water and which requires nothing more than agitation of the pond it grows in. You don't even have to stock it; research done at Sandia by the USDOE suggests that using carefully cultured algae is actually counterproductive because it will not do as well in your environment as the local, naturally selected algae that will colonize your ponds for you automatically, by virtue of being carried in by the wind.

    That same report said that biodiesel from algae should be profitable by the time diesel fuel hits $3/gallon. Guess where it is now! And that was using the techniques of over a decade ago.

    Topsoil-based fuels are incredibly fucking stupid and, mark my words, Brazil will be suffering horribly from it within our lifetimes. But that's not the only way to produce biofuels.

  • Re:Simple (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Vancorps ( 746090 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @06:53PM (#19572151)

    Yeah, you have a strange tone in all your posts. Probably because you don't wish to think and expect everyone to spell everything out for you.

    A trip around the southwest would require little to no planning with weather not mattering. So I can drive from Phoenix, to Vegas, to LA, to San Diego without stopping. If you wanted to go all the way across the country without having to stop to charge then you would have to plan your trip according to the weather. You could then do the whole trip non-stop unlike any other vehicle out there which would require you to gas up several times.

    Also, 250 miles is roughly the same range as a lot of traditional cars. The only difference being that it takes 5 minutes to gas up and go again whereas the Tesla would require a 3 hour charge. If it was charging the whole time you would go across the southwest off basically solar power and get through the cloudy parts using the 250 mile range that the batteries have. It's not a bad deal.

    If a third option could also be integrated you could also use an IC engine to recharge in the event that weather isn't cooperating. You could refuel that as needed. I don't think that is a valid option with the Tesla but I don't know if something couldn't be worked out.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday June 19, 2007 @08:27PM (#19573143) Journal
    Motors in the wheels? ... How they hell is this a new idea?

    It's an ancient idea in internet time. They were talking about this back in the 1950s.

    It's also a rotten idea. The more mass in each wheel, the more forward momentum is converted to vertical momentum in the suspension as the wheel follows irregularities in the road, then converted to heat as the suspension damps the bounce. This is one of the major sources of energy loss that must be made up by prime-mover power.

    I.e.: Heavier wheels, lower mileage. That's why even electric cars with independent motors on each wheel put the motors on the frame and connect them with axles and CV joints, despite the considerable increase in moving parts count and expense.

    NASA designing a car? Why does this remind me of BART and AMTRAK? In both cases aeronautical engineers were hired to redesign a surface vehicle (despite their experience with surface travel being limited to things like landing gear, used for a tiny percentage of each flight). In both cases they threw out more than a century of engineering solutions and started from scratch. And in both cases they ended up with an expensive deisgn that had rotten ride. (In BART's case new cars now cost six MILLION each and even at that price only one manufacturer - located in France - is willing to build them.)

  • My car of the future (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zoxed ( 676559 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @03:00AM (#19575557) Homepage
    I already have my car of the future: it is called a bicycle :-)
  • Re:water (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bmgoau ( 801508 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @04:30AM (#19576067) Homepage
    I agree with on on every point, and hope that the future turns out to be nuclear/fusion powered, with hydrogen and battery cars on the road.

    One question i have above future power sources is how, if battery power is made the norm, we will find all the materials to make all these batterys and what will their cycle lifes be?

    BTW ethanol would never work, we did calculations in high school chemistry. Everything about ethanol is great, the only problem is that in order to produce enough to run the USA's cars alone (not industry, or other countries) we would need to devote most of the worlds farmland to the venture.
  • Re:water (Score:2, Interesting)

    by White Yeti ( 927387 ) on Wednesday June 20, 2007 @10:08AM (#19579183) Homepage Journal
    But dust and particulates are "solid". I want my engine to extrude its waste as a block of graphite. Or a rope of carbon nanotubes!

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe