Bad roads leading to bumpy rides' Not for much longer. A fleet of new-gen cars that can automatically slow down over a bump or a pothole would soon hit the road. British researchers have created the world’s first “thinking” car wheel that can even adjust to bends in the road without the driver getting to know about it!
Functional mechanics in a motor vehicle is set to give way to artificial intelligence as researchers at the University of Portsmouth in the UK have designed “smart” car wheels that enlist the services of tiny embedded computers to “think” and act according to the situation.
Developed as part of a project supported by the UK Department of Trade and Industry and PML Flightlink, a Hampshire-based private carmaker, these smart car wheels use artificial intelligence to think and learn as the vehicle is being driven, making calculations and adjustments as required by the travelling speed and road conditions.
“Conventional wisdom says you can’t reinvent the wheel. We have just done that. We have taken the wheel, given it brains and the ability to think and learn. It’s a huge breakthrough,” claims David Brown of the Institute of Industrial Research (IIR) at the university.
These wheels — to be fitted to an electric super-car that is being developed by PML Flightlink — will employ artificial intelligence to control the suspension, steering and braking systems and as well as adapt to road bends, potholes and other potential hazards. The information thus generated will be retained in the computer’s memory and used the next time the car encounters similar road conditions. “The car will learn as it drives and adapt its performance accordingly,” Brown points out.
Traditional suspension means the vehicle dips when the wheels detect a poor road surface and passengers experience a bumpy ride. Similarly, when the vehicle — fitted with conventional wheels — takes a sharp turn, the drag slows it down. But the electronic traction control and suspension that the new wheels offer will counterbalance such drop and drag effects and the driver won’t even know about it. “This means a faster but safer car,” Brown explains.
The new car involves a novel motor arrangement with a disc motor in each wheel. Each wheel will also have a small computer for collecting data such as on road conditions. The main computer in the car will analyse the information and transmit commands to each wheel. And all these happen in real time, Brown told KnowHow.
P. Mannar Jawahar, head of the department of automobile engineering at Anna University in Chennai, however, feels that this is only an incremental technology development. While addressing the “drag factor” is certainly something novel, the suspension system in vehicles has improved a lot over the years with passive leaf-suspension system giving way to semi-active and finally to active pneumatic (air-controlled) suspension system. Many of today’s vehicles have very good suspension systems and “a ride on a potholed road does not always mean an uncomfortable journey,” he says.
Interestingly, the thinking wheels will not take away the joy of driving as the driver will remain in complete control of the car. “The next generation of vehicles have the potential to be fully autonomous, but where’s the fun in that' People get pleasure from driving and they will always want the freedom to drive and where they please,” says the IIR researcher who received a 200,000 Pound Sterling grant to design the smart wheels.
The electric car running on these wheels is expected to be a cut above the other electric cars. Besides having a top speed of 240 kilometre per hour (kmph) and an acceleration of 0-100 kmph, it can traverse 1,500 km without re-fuelling. This is possible because the car has an additional 250cc petrol engine that charges the battery while it is being driven. Electric models currently available barely manage 100 kmph and have a range of 160 km.
The company has already created some prototype cars, but currently they work without artificial intelligence. “They will be truly smart in two-three years when the university has the “Completed AI (Artificial Intelligence)” part of the project, and perhaps the car will be in production within five years,” says Brown.