Automotive Engineers Help Save Lives

It turns out all those fancy automotive safety devices cannot only help save lives, they can also save cash. According to The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, roughly $230.6 billion was exhausted on motor vehicle crashes in 2000 in the U.S. Nearly 42 thousand people perished that year, and 28 million vehicles were damaged.

The same government report also revealed that 5.3 million individuals suffered non-fatal injuries, 39% of all traffic-related deaths were attributed to alcohol and such substance-induced accidents cost about $51 billion. Public tax revenues, amounting to $21 billion, paid the costs incurred by 9% of crashes. That’s $200 for each household in America.

But wait. There’s more. Lost market productivity was estimated at $61 billion, property damage at $59 billion, medical expenses at $32.6 billion and the cost of travel delays at $25.6 billion. Each fatality produced a discounted lifetime cost of approximately $977,000.

Active and passive safety systems developed by automotive engineers and their colleagues may be a bigger part of the answer than we might suspect. Systems currently being developed are addressing both the monetary and safety concerns of our roadways through devices that have automatic responses to dangerous conditions or events. For instance, adaptive cruise control adjusts the speed of the vehicle to maintain a preset time gap from the vehicle ahead. Active night vision uses infrared illuminators to help drivers to see better when driving at night and electronic stability control improves the safety of a vehicle’s handling, helping the driver maintain control of the vehicle.

Surprisingly, perhaps, these are just basic safety features – ranking amongst car navigation systems, keyless entry and hybrid cars as, yes, technological innovations, but old news to vehicle manufacturers. Lane departure and forward collision warning, pre-crash mitigation systems, side alert, pedestrian and road sign recognition systems are part of the new wave. These systems “read” the road using electronics, cameras and sensors. They alert drivers when they are drifting out of the intended lane, have another vehicle in their blind spots, are in danger of crashing or are distracted. These technological gems even respond to unavoidable crashes by enacting safety precautions, such as pretensioning motorized seat belts and applying brakes during the last 400 to 500 milliseconds before a crash, when there is little a driver can do to stop it.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 50% of all crashes involve “driver inattention.” It’s impossible to pinpoint how many crashes could have been avoided if there had only been some alert system warning drivers to pay more attention during critical moments. How many crashes could have been avoided by a single alert, some notification that another vehicle was in a driver’s blind spot? By shaving off four or five miles per hour before a crash by applying the brakes?

And while saving lives and preventing injuries is of the most concern, we cannot, in all reality, ignore the financial repercussions of roadway accidents. Billions upon billions of dollars are lost every year because of these crashes. Medical expenses, property damage and lost productivity are passed on to the average citizen in the form of higher taxes and insurance premiums. What if some percentage of this cost – even if slight – could be lessened by safety systems? One percent of hundreds of billions of dollars, after all, is nothing to scoff at.

Automotive engineers are critical contributors to advancing projects with aspirations of making roads safer. Without their expertise, none of the technology currently available would have been possible and neither would future innovations. What’s more, these talented individuals are integrating these devices so they are more affordable and, thus, more accessible to the masses.

In the near future, a modestly priced vehicle could have a myriad of safety features – forward collision and lane departure warning, road sign and pedestrian recognition, adaptive cruise control, pre-crash mitigation, electronic stability control, side alert. All of it. So kiss some automotive engineers today – hiding in their offices – and tell them you’re proud. They could just save your life…and at least a few bucks on your insurance policy.

A Technology Guru With Connectivity Solutions

Technology gurus are hiding in a variety of places these days. Say, for instance, the automotive industry.

The automotive industry has produced some of the most advanced and user-friendly technologies publicly marketed in recent years. We can now not only operate our cars without keys, but we can also map our next trip, download information from our desktops onto a “carputer,” assess the state of the vehicle, watch movies, arm a security system inside and out and be alerted when others are in our blind spots.

Take, for instance, an entry-level map-based integrated navigation radio, which uses a flash-based secure digital card color map database to provide high-performance navigation. A single, state-of-the-art navigation kernel and map data compiler used in the European market help shorten Original Equipment (OE) innovation cycles, and a range of options allows for entertainment and ease-of-use features. Integrated into a single unit, a map navigation system can be used in parallel to the audio system.

Such a system can include AM/FM radio, navigation tools, playback mechanisms like compact discs and MP3s, and connectivity options for portable electronic devices. Of course, customers can add nearly anything a techy heart could desire, like a digital tuner, USB, touch-screen interface, voice recognition, steering wheel control and audio codec options.

And that’s just the basic model. Touch-screen navigation radios are full-featured audio and navigation systems in one unit, using onboard computers that interact with the Global Positioning System (GPS), vehicle sensors and a DVD-map database. Such personal travel assistants minimize travel time, make travel more convenient and increase peace of mind. Benefits include multiple functions in one compact unit, the ease of a touch screen, voice prompts, entertainment options, state-of-the-art navigation, the ability to remap locations if the driver misses a turn and intersection views for detailed maneuvering guidance.

Active safety systems, like active night vision, lane departure warning systems and infrared side (blind spot) alerts, are other excellent examples of automotive engineers’ ability to connect advanced technologies in a manner that makes the driving experience both safer and more enjoyable.

Active night vision uses near-infrared headlamps to illuminate the road scene ahead and displays an enhanced image in the vehicle. This system provides high-beam visibility without blinding oncoming traffic. Components of the active night vision system can be shared with other safety features, such as a lane departure warning system.

When lane departure warning systems utilize a camera, the camera can also be used for multiple features, such as active night vision, pedestrian recognition, rain sensing and intelligent headlight control. The lane departure warning system uses a monocular camera mounted behind the windshield to track lanes in front of the vehicle. Accompanying software estimates lane width and road curvature, and determines the vehicle’s heading and lateral position within the lane. When the driver strays from his or her own “dotted lines,” an audible, tactile or visual alert is issued. According to an automotive magazine, ninety-five percent of all vehicular accidents involve some degree of driver behavior — such as swerving. Systems like lane departure warning provide hope of reducing the approximately one hundred deaths that occur every day on American roadways, as reported by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1995.

Side (blind spot) alerts provide the same hope. These systems help drivers be aware of vehicles in side blind spots when changing lanes and making turns. Sensors integrated into mirrors, taillights and side fascia measure the adjacent lane temperature over time to detect if vehicles are entering the side blind spot. If detected, the system provides visual indications within the mirrors. If this proves ineffective and a turn signal is activated anyway, an audible alert follows. These warnings give drivers more time to react and, hopefully, help avoid the more than 200,000 lane change accidents that occur every year according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It’s amazing how easily they hide those geniuses of technology. We never hear their names, see their faces, or even, in most cases, acknowledge they exist. Yet it is the knowledge, safety and connectivity solutions of automotive engineers that are helping save lives and helping make sure the rest of us don’t get hopelessly lost on the way to that next great adventure — at least not too often.

Automotive Engineer

at3An automotive engineer helps design, adapt and develop vehicles either for retail or for motorsport. He or she may specialise in a particular area e.g. in the development of parts such as the chassis, or may be an expert on electrical technology or aerodynamics or fuel consumption or thermodynamics. They usually work as part of a multidisciplinary team with members both in the UK and abroad.

Tasks undertaken by an automotive engineer include

o Using technical skills and computer design technology to find ways of building new systems and parts for vehicles, whilst being aware of environmental issues affecting the new designs

o Creating prototypes and find ways of testing new products both using computer software and physically testing them

o Managing and leading projects, including the work of other staff, and overseeing the budget during the production process, and being responsible for all quality control issues

o Attending meetings in order to discuss new technology and take into account others’ concerns or suggestions

o Keeping up to date with new processes and technology, and developing new ways of designing and creating change

o Solving engineering problems in all areas of vehicle construction including electrical, thermodynamic, fuselage, and aerodynamics

Automotive engineers in the retail industry are still primarily based in the Midlands which is where most car manufacturing takes place. Those working in motorsport may be based in the South East however in what is known as Motorsport Valley, which is where they tend to have their research, design and production facilities. Other smaller specialist firms are dotted around the UK and it is possible to find work with one of these.
The hours worked by automotive engineers is usually 9-5 in the retail industry, but will vary for those working in motorsport where weekend and evening work is the norm.

Some Wonderful History of the Mighty V8 Automotive Engine

Have you read the latest Wheel’s magazine? The January 2010 edition has a wonderful section on the wonderful history of the V8 engine that we know and love today. I will share some of the hi-lights from the magazine as well as my own personal comments, so read on…

The automotive vee-eight as we know it had its birth with our friend Henry Ford with the arrival of the ‘L-Head’ flat head vee eight of 1932. We must remember that he was not responsible for inventing the 8 cylinder engine in the V format as we know and love. But he was responsible for ensuring that it was available to the masses, ie the likes of you and me! It was pretty basic and simple, no complicated overhead valves or the like, hence the term ‘flathead’.

A company called Duesenberg, back in the 20’s had a straight 8 cylinder engine and this was probably the first mass produced 8 cylinder automotive engine (it also had fancy overhead cams and multi-valves!). Unfortunately the company did not stand the test of time.

Some suggest that the longest ‘living’ V8 engine is the 6.75 litre V8 belonging to our British friends Roll-Royce and Bentley. Based on an American design it was released in the 1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud (as a 6.2 litre with OHV and 90 degrees V angle). Later it was enlarged to its current size of 6.75 litres and continues in production today inspiring Bentleys.

Of course technology has allowed the V8 to develop just like all things automotive and we now have every V8 arrangement possible across the automotive spectrum. Usually only limited by our imagination (and our wallet). Turbocharging/supercharging, direct injection, mulit-variable valve technology along with massaging of the engine ancillaries are all available on your Ferrari down to your humble home grown Falcon or Commodore.

All of this of course means that you can be kind to the environment and own a V8. I drive 350K’s to my daughters farm from Kwinana south of Perth and get better than 11l/100kms cruising at 110 with the safety of better braking and handling and the ability to safely overtake slower vehicles. So it is V8’s til 2028 at least. Enjoy your V8!