Category Archives: Automotive

Respect Your Wheels

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a pedestrian through and through. You’ve never owned a car, truck, van, or SUV, and you’ve worn holes in the soles of your Foot Locker shoes from walking everywhere you need to go. Because of this, your range is severely limited. You can’t always get where you need to go, you’re often late, and walking to and from a hard day of work leaves you exhausted. Then, as if by divine intervention, or black magic, you’ve been a car and the ability to drive it. How do you feel? If the answer is not “incredible, thanks for asking,” I”m a bit disappointed. After all, a set of wheels is instrumental in our modern worlds for just about everything. Have we as a society lost track of that basic fact? Have we ceased to be grateful for this technological marvel that so recently revolutionized all of human civilization? I think we have.

Speaking as someone who only recently upgraded from pedestrian to cyclist and has still never owned a car due to poverty, I can say that people are entirely too indifferent to the fact that they own and operate what would look like magic to our recent ancestors. The automobile, in and of itself, was like catching lightning in a bottle. The reinvention of the wheel, both literally and metaphorically. To add to the grandeur we all take for granted, cars, for the most part, are fueled by the remains of long dead dragons. Well, dinosaurs, but who’s counting?

To avoid ranting and raving and rambling any longer, let me summarize thusly: Next time you get behind the wheel of your ride, remember that we’re not all so lucky, for one thing, and also that the machine that grants you near limitless freedom is the result of some truly spectacular engineering that took us as a species thousands of years to stumble upon.

Hybrid Technology


Normally a “Hybrid” is an offspring of two dissimilar plants or animals, but one must wonder how “Hybrid” is related to Automotive Technology. The US Dept. of Energy defines a hybrid as a type of electric vehicle (HEV) which combines two or more energy conversion technologies (e.g., heat engines, fuel cells, generators, or motors) with one or more energy storage technologies (e.g., fuel, batteries, ultra capacitors, or flywheels).

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are somewhat as same as today’s day to day automobile; it is different only in one sense that it has two “engines” (sources of power). Today some  companies are using gasoline or diesel internal combustion “heat” engines (or ICEs), a few  are using electricity-generating micro turbines, and a few are using fuel cells.

In today’s gasoline-only vehicles, the ICE is “sized” to the vehicle for peak load demands like accelerating, hill climbing etc. While “pure” battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are considered pollution free, they unfortunately lack extended range, quick recharge, and a charging infrastructure… plus the batteries are heavy. To overcome these obstacles, the lighter, cleaner, more fuel efficient hybrid-electric vehicle provides an alternative: the HEV uses an electric motor to serve as a supplemental power source for peak-load conditions.

Generally, most production hybrid-electric cars use a relatively small (~1 liter) gasoline or diesel ICE in concert with batteries and electric traction motor(s). Some of the HEV gasoline and diesel engines use direct fuel injection (into the combustion chamber). Diesel-electric hybrid transit busses are now using relatively small engines for lower emissions, and one bus configuration instead uses a pair of propane-powered micro-turbines to generate the needed power.

There are two basic HEV configurations:

The series-hybrid system which uses a small fuel-burning engine to drive a generator for electricity, which is inturn sent to one or more electric motors which drive the wheels.

The second is parallel-hybrid system in this there are two power paths. Either, the fuel burning (heat) engine, the electric propulsion system, or both, power the wheels.

Thus, with the hybrid electric vehicles (HEV s), the heat engine can be downsized and run at peak efficiency (peak-torque RPM) to propel the vehicle and to run the battery-charging generator. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) help in cutting fuel consumption and emissions, while minimizing the range and weight issues. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) also help in reducing CO2 [global warming].

One such company which manufactures and designs Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) named the Protean Drive(TM), a fully integrated, in-wheel motor, direct-drive solution is Protean Electric. Protean Electric’s patented in-wheel motor design with distributed architecture revolutionizes the integration of electric propulsion and propulsion assist for mass production vehicles.

To speak about Protean Drive™ is the most advanced in-wheel electric drive system for hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric light duty vehicles, developed by Protean Electric. The wheel motors can significantly improve fuel economy, depending on the vehicle and driving mode.

In addition, this unique and patented direct-drive design has the highest torque and power density of any electric propulsion system and incorporates the motor control electronics and regenerative braking inside each motor assembly. Each Protean Drive in-wheel motor can deliver 110 hp (81kW) and 590 lb.-ft. (800Nm), yet weighs only 31kg (68lbs) and is sized to fit within the space of a conventional 18-inch road wheel. The simplicity of the design creates more power density per motor and much simpler vehicle integration.

These motor wheels are powerful enough to be the only source of traction drive for a variety of battery electric vehicles, and can also be added to a FWD or RWD car or truck with an internal combustion engine drive train, creating a hybrid configuration. In hybrid applications, the technology is designed to be “driver selectable,” which means the driver has choice to decide between three operating modes: all electric (city/stop-and-go traffic or low-emissions zones), hybrid (combined constant and slow speeds) or all gas/diesel (constant speeds). This helps in providing fully independent torque control, making vehicles safer.

Some of the Benefits of Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs):

  • »Provides the power and torque required for electrification of full size sedans and SUVs without compromising performance.
  • » Enables full regenerative braking in normal driving, recapturing large amounts of kinetic energy, which reduces well-to-wheel CO2 emissions for large vehicles to less than those from small city cars and can increase electric range by as much as 50 percent.
  • » Offers a unique, highly integrated and modular motor/inverter technology with very high power and torque density, which eliminates the need for a separate large power electronics module.
  • » Packaged in-wheel, which saves large amount of space in the vehicle for passengers, load-space and batteries, and eliminates the need for transmissions, drive shafts and differentials.
  • » Enables advanced vehicle dynamics through independent “torque vectoring” torque control of each wheel.
  • » Designed for high volume, low cost automated mass production.
  • » Supplied with reference control system software for a centralized electronic control unit (ECU), which provides all essential electric vehicle control functionality and braking control

Other companies manufacturing and designing Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are Toyota and Honda. Some of the HEV s from Toyota and Honda are –

Toyota Prius HEV.Toyota’s 4 cyl. “Generation 1” hybrid seats 5 and gets around 50 mpg.
Toyota Prius Underhood
Honda Insight HEV. Honda’s 3 cyl. Seats 2 and gets around 70 mpg>
Honda Insight Underhood.

An American Methanol Institute report predicts that by 2020, seven to 20% of all new cars sold will be powered by fuel cells. There will be a time when various engines and power sources will exist simultaneously.

For now, those who service and repair today’s vehicles will have plenty of work to do. And for those trained and equipped for hybrid vehicle service and repair, hybrids have two power sources to work on.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Automotive Technology, GM, Ford, Chrysler and the National Renewable Energy Lab are all working together under the President’s PNGV initiative (Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles) to produce a variety of automobiles featuring all the comfort and performance of today’s passenger cars, yet achieving 80 miles per gallon.

Telematics – Connecting present through future!

Telematics – Connecting present through future!

The worldwide market for trucks industry is widely divided into two sectors:

The First: Europe, North America, Japan & other industrialized East Asian nations
The Second: BRIC countries & other emerging markets which are highly cost conscious and experiencing faster growth.

The developed markets have always been characterised by high level of environmental regulations and increasing demand for sophisticated technological improvements.

However, with the growing competition in emerging markets, the increasing demand for quality, features & services is now playing a pivotal role in intensifying industry dynamics. The customer demands are driving the shift from merely being low-cost solutions towards higher value, heavier trucks, aftermarket sales & latest innovations.

For the global truck industry, the latest growing trend in the segment of Innovative products is “Introduction of Telematics-enabled services”.

Globally, telematics technology is expected to become a standard automotive equipment by 2020.

Till now, the Indian telematics market has grown at a steady pace owing to factors like early adoption, upgradation of infrastructure and government regulations. After 2010, companies like Ashok Leyland, Mahindra & Mahindra and TATA have ventured into the telematics business. But, in the coming years, with the increase in awareness level, the growth of Telematics industry is a necessity. It has to happen.

In India, Heavy commercial vehicles (HCVs) have accounted for majority of the market share till now. However, with the increasing need for fleet management, Medium Commercial vehicles (MCVs) are also expected to register significant growth in telematics market over the coming years.

India’s Commercial Vehicles Telematics Market will exhibit rapid growth in the coming years. Initiatives like Toyota’s “Toyota Connect” for cars, “Tata SkoolMan” for school buses, “Tata FleetMan”, Eicher Drive Telematics, JCB’s “Livelink” and Mahindra & Mahindra’s “Digisense” from the major CV players of India prove that our market is placed in the right direction for growth in the Telematics segment.

The vehicle OEMs and telematics suppliers are upbeat about the increasing demand as awareness is on the rise with government involvement on passenger safety. With policy initiatives by central and local government, a prerequisite of 400,000 new buses is required by 2017. Such Initiatives, rising fuel prices and minimal profit margins in transportation industry are forcing the fleet operators to gain an edge through adoption of features such as vehicle tracking, route calculation, checks on fuel pilferage and other telematics capabilities.

Software Updates in Cars – To provide a Better Driving Experience

From being more mechanical to surprisingly intellectual is what defines now-a-days cars that are all ready to embrace the trending software updates. Cars that get software updates not only shrink gap between your car and dealer but stands on the front line to provide improved safety, fortified performance and reduced driver’s distraction while driving. While these many benefits are amazing each and every car lover, an evident advantage of getting those benefits without gearing up wheels is what buzzing in the automotive industry – Yeah, there is no need to travel under the roof of a dealership every time a new update got pop out – It is easy to get updates released from the manufacturer straight away on car with the help of a Wi-Fi connection.

Despite every car tends to hurl off the point being old with the help of sophisticated software updates, only cars from some leading manufacturers like Tesla, Ford, Toyota are simplifying the customer needs and grabbing newness through innovative software updates.

Tesla Motors, one of the world’s popular car brands renowned for producing electric cars is committed to offer a series of software updates for its acclaimed Model S in 2015. In its first set of updates, the software can analyze road conditions and driver’s route, controls driver from driving at high speeds and stops the attendant access of using personal data through valet mode, performs automatic braking and blind-spot detection alongside providing topography that alarms driver if the car is moving out of a charging location. Once the car automatically downloads and installs the code issued by the company, it gets updates.

This U.S. based car brand is also planning to provide another set of updates after few months from first set of updates release, that consists of an option that allows car to drive itself, and guides towards the destination.

Not just these, but Tesla already wowed its Model S owners with a remote software update that increased car speed more to the existing in the year beginning. Model S P85D can now accelerate from 0 to 60mph within just 0.1 to 3.1 seconds with the help of a new software update – which made a difference in its previous version that takes 3.2 seconds in the insane mode to accelerate the same speed range.

Ford, an American Automaker with a global presence is set to offer software updates for its latest infotainment system Sync 3 – the all new 2015 model, after partnering with software market giant Microsoft to keep the infotainment system updated and also to give its customers more freedom to get updates. Software updates received by Sync 3 from Microsoft with the enabled WiFi allows the system to stay updated with the current.

Sync 3 infotainment system equipped Ford cars can stay update to the latest with the Microsoft’s reliable and easier software downloads, which is an unrivaled smart process compared to its previous way of downloading Sync updates to USB thumb drive and then again updating it manually through dashboard.

Automotive industry to gain from simulation-based engineering

Growing Automotive Industry

Automotive industry to gain from simulation-based engineering

The global automotive industry has been growing constantly. Technologies such as connected transport, smart driver experience, improved battery management systems and better fuel efficiency are reforming the automotive industry.Innovation never stops!

Automotive manufacturers are required to work in uncertain conditions with increasing complexity as a result of wide range of products available to the customer, changing technologies, increasing pressure to innovate, environmental concerns and globalization.

Simulation-based engineering

Engineers are constantly under pressure to develop products that are future-proof. Hence, it is vital to bring the right expertise together that can combine multiple engineeringdisciplinesto handle challenging applications that lead to faster production.

Simulation-based engineeringhelps develop the products in a risk-free environment. This is a faster and more cost effective way to test the products when the expectations are high and failure can be disastrous.Simulation is the key to shorteningtime tomarket as it will accelerate the workflow from design to prototype.

COMSOL Multiphysics enables automotive engineersto accurately investigate design concept to production and fully benefit from the virtual prototyping capabilities that it offers. With COMSOL Multiphysics engineers can couple electromagnetics with heat transfer, structural mechanics, fluid flow, and other physical phenomena, allowing them to accuratelysolve real world problems.

A thermoelectric cooler application is one of 50 app examples available with COMSOL Multiphysics. The user may test different geometries, thermocouple configurations, and material selection in order to determine the ideal cooler option for a specific configuration or an optimized design for best performance.

Researchers working within the automotive industry have used COMSOL Multiphysicsto study corrosion in automotive parts found in car paneling, for example. Simulation helpsresearchers investigate electrochemical reactions on the surface of the rivet, analyze decay in sheet metal, and understand the effects of geometry in the corrosion process.

Multiphysics for everyone

It’s important to support the experts who often have to serve the entire organization while covering a diverse range of simulation needs,by bringing simulation to a larger group of people. The latest version of COMSOL Multiphysics and its Application Builder provides simulation experts with the tools needed to turn their detailed physics and mathematical models into easy-to-use simulation apps for use by everyone in their organization and beyond.

Designers can easily build a simplified interface based on their model in order to let anyone in the product development team test different operating conditions and configurations. Given how competitive the automotive industry is, building simulation apps for an entire team will allow designers to maketheir expertise easily available and free up resources to develop new concepts.

In order to get the products out in the market faster, experts should be able to deploy their simulations easily that is accessible to a larger group of people. This is already a reality thanks to the addition of the Application Builder to COMSOL Multiphysics for creating simulation apps and the introduction of COMSOL Server to distribute them via a COMSOL Client or browser.

Microsoft to Put Voice-Activation Software in Hyundai

Microsoft is expected to announce Tuesday in Seoul, South Korea, that it will develop a version of its Microsoft Auto software for the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, the world’s fifth-largest automaker.

Microsoft already has a deal with the Ford Motor Company for its Sync system, which uses voice activation technology to operate cellphones and play digital music.

With both Ford and Hyundai as customers, Microsoft’s software could potentially be put into more than eight million vehicles worldwide each year. Its competitors include OnStar from General Motors, Johnson Controls and QNX Software Systems from Harman International.

Systems based on Microsoft Auto are available in Fiat Group vehicles in Europe and South America, as well as in 12 Ford models in North America.

Microsoft Auto will first appear in Hyundai vehicles in North America in 2010, said Martin Thall, general manager of Microsoft’s automotive business unit. Subsequent versions will give drivers voice control over navigation systems and video entertainment, in addition to cellphones and digital music players.

The Hyundai deal suggests that Microsoft may be achieving the critical mass it needs to encourage other companies to create links to its auto software, in much the same way that third parties create software applications to run on Windows-based PCs.

With millions of potential users, G.P.S. navigation device makers like TomTom and Garmin may start developing software for their products specifically for Ford and Hyundai.

“Microsoft is certainly raising their level of involvement and their competitiveness in the automotive industry,” said Phil Magney, an analyst at the Telematics Research Group. “It makes it one of the top operating systems that automakers must consider in developing their ‘infotainment’ systems.”

Details of the Hyundai deal were not available Monday. But Mr. Magney noted that revenue from the automotive systems was minuscule compared with other areas of Microsoft’s business.

So the goal of becoming the software standard for cars is largely strategic, creating new ways to align the company’s various products. One possible example would be using its online mapping and traffic prediction software, called Clearflow, in future versions of Microsoft Auto.

Microsoft Auto has been exclusive to Ford in North America, but that agreement ceases at the end of the year.

“But we still have plans for future versions with Ford” of the Sync system, Mr. Thall said. “It’s an ongoing relationship.”

It also brings the company full circle. Before Microsoft was founded, one of Bill Gates’s early endeavors was Traf-O-Data, a company that computerized traffic counters in the early ’70s.

GT-R Can’t Hide Its Horses

IT seems as though the only time you hear about car companies fudging horsepower numbers, it’s when they’re busted advertising more beans than are actually present in the under-hood burrito. Mazda got in trouble for exaggerating the 2001 Miata’s power output. Ford had to recall the 1999 SVT Mustang Cobra when owners realized its motor fell about 20 horsepower short of its official numbers.

I have a theory on where all those phantom ponies went: They’re under the hood of the new Nissan GT-R.

Like those other cars, the GT-R’s stated power — 480 horsepower — is a long way from reality. But in the case of the Nissan, the car seems to have more power than they’re letting on. The question is, how much more?

Thanks to the principle of substitution, we can look at several aspects of the GT-R’s performance and deduce roughly what kind of firepower would be required to accomplish such feats.

The Nissan GT-R laps Germany’s N?rgring Nordschleife in 7 minutes 29 seconds. For reference, the Corvette Z06, which has 505 horsepower and weighs a whopping 700 pounds less than the GT-R, is 13 seconds slower, with a time of 7 minutes 42 seconds.

A clearer picture emerges at the drag strip. Basically, your quarter-mile time is influenced by a host of factors, most importantly the success of your launch off the line. But trap speed — the speed at which you finish the quarter-mile — is closely tied to horsepower and a car’s power-to-weight ratio.

It’s algebra: If you know your car’s weight, and you know the speed it reached in a quarter-mile, you can pretty much predict the amount of power required to produce that trap speed.

The GT-R can hit 122 or 123 miles an hour in the quarter-mile. It weighs about 4,000 pounds, with driver. There are many calculators and equations devoted to divining horsepower numbers, and given this weight and trap speed, most of them peg the GT-R’s output from 550 horsepower on the conservative end to 580 horsepower on the ”maybe-on-a-cool-day-with-a-tailwind” side. But I would eat my time slips if this car doesn’t have at least 550 horsepower.

So why won’t Nissan just ‘fess up? Maybe it’s for insurance reasons. Or maybe it’s because it’s just more fun not to know. It adds to the legend.

A Black Box for Car Crashes

When Timothy P. Murray crashed his government-issued Ford Crown Victoria in 2011, he was fortunate, as car accidents go. Mr. Murray, then the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, was not seriously hurt, and he told the police he was wearing a seat belt and was not speeding.

But a different story soon emerged. Mr. Murray was driving over 100 miles an hour and was not wearing a seat belt, according to the computer in his car that tracks certain actions. He was given a $555 ticket; he later said he had fallen asleep.

The case put Mr. Murray at the center of a growing debate over a little-known but increasingly important piece of equipment buried deep inside a car: the event data recorder, more commonly known as the black box.

About 96 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States have the boxes, and in September 2014, if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has its way, all will have them.

The boxes have long been used by car companies to assess the performance of their vehicles. But data stored in the devices is increasingly being used to identify safety problems in cars and as evidence in traffic accidents and criminal cases. And the trove of data inside the boxes has raised privacy concerns, including questions about who owns the information, and what it can be used for, even as critics have raised questions about its reliability.

To federal regulators, law enforcement authorities and insurance companies, the data is an indispensable tool to investigate crashes.

The black boxes “provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to N.H.T.S.A. to evaluate what happened during a crash — and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” David L. Strickland, the safety agency’s administrator, said in a statement.

But to consumer advocates, the data is only the latest example of governments and companies having too much access to private information. Once gathered, they say, the data can be used against car owners, to find fault in accidents or in criminal investigations.

“These cars are equipped with computers that collect massive amounts of data,” said Khaliah Barnes of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based consumer group. “Without protections, it can lead to all kinds of abuse.”

What’s more, consumer advocates say, government officials have yet to provide consistent guidelines on how the data should be used.

“There are no clear standards that say, this is a permissible use of the data and this is not,” Ms. Barnes said.

Fourteen states, including New York, have passed laws that say that, even though the data belongs to the vehicle’s owner, law enforcement officials and those involved in civil litigation can gain access to the black boxes with a court order.

In these states, lawyers may subpoena the data for criminal investigations and civil lawsuits, making the information accessible to third parties, including law enforcement or insurance companies that could cancel a driver’s policy or raise a driver’s premium based on the recorder’s data.

In Mr. Murray’s case, a court order was not required to release the data to investigators. Massachusetts is not among the states to pass a law governing access to the data. Asked about the case, Mr. Murray, who did not contest the ticket and who resigned as lieutenant governor in June to become head of the Chamber of Commerce in Worcester, Mass., declined to comment.

Current regulations require that the presence of the black box be disclosed in the owner’s manual. But the vast majority of drivers who do not read the manual thoroughly may not know that their vehicle can capture and record their speed, brake position, seat belt use and other data each time they get behind the wheel.

Unlike the black boxes on airplanes, which continually record data including audio and system performance, the cars’ recorders capture only the few seconds surrounding a crash or air bag deployment. A separate device extracts the data, which is then analyzed through computer software.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade association that represents 12 automakers including General Motors and Chrysler, said it supported the mandate because the recorders helped to monitor passenger safety.

“Event data recorders help our engineers and researchers understand how cars perform in the real world, and one of our priorities for E.D.R.’s continues to be preserving consumer privacy,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the trade association. “Automakers don’t access E.D.R. data without consumer permission, and we believe that any government requirements to install E.D.R.’s on all vehicles must include steps to protect consumer privacy.”

Beyond the privacy concerns, though, critics have questioned the data’s reliability.

In 2009, Anthony Niemeyer died after crashing a rented Ford Focus in Las Vegas. His widow, Kathryn, sued both Ford Motor and Hertz, contending that the air bag system failed to deploy.

The black box, however, derailed Ms. Niemeyer’s assertion that her husband had been traveling fast enough for the air bag to deploy.

Though Ms. Niemeyer lost the suit last year, her lawyer, Daniel T. Ryan of St. Louis, was successful in excluding the black box data as evidence on the grounds that the device is not fully reliable. The judge in the case ruled that because an engineer working on behalf of the defense retrieved the data, the plaintiffs, who maintained there were errors, had no way to independently verify it.

“It’s data that has not been shown to be absolutely reliable,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s not black and white.”

The origins of black boxes, which are the size of about two decks of cards and are situated under the center console, date to the 1990 model year, when General Motors introduced them to conduct quality studies. Since then, their use and the scope of the data they collect has expanded.

The lack of standardization among manufacturers has made it difficult to extract the data, most notably during the investigations into the crashes caused by sudden, unintended acceleration in some Toyota vehicles.

Until recently, crash investigators needed an automaker’s proprietary reader as well as the expertise to analyze the data. The safety administration’s regulations will help enable universal access to the data by using a commercially available tool. At the same time, police departments are receiving training on the new regulations. In Romulus, N.Y., last week, the Collision Safety Institute, a consultancy in San Diego, helped teach New York State Police investigators how to read the devices.

But privacy advocates have expressed concern that the data collected will only grow to include a wider time frame and other elements like GPS and location-based services.

“The rabbit hole goes very deep when talking about this stuff,” said Thomas Kowalick, an expert in event data recorders and a former co-chairman of the federal committee that set the standard for black boxes.

Today, the boxes have spawned a cottage industry for YouTube videos on how to expunge the data. And Mr. Kowalick, seeing an opportunity, invented a device that safeguards access to in-vehicle electronics networks. It is controlled by the vehicle’s owner with a key and is useful in the event of theft, he said.

“For most of the 100-year history of the car, it used to be ‘he said, she said,’ ” Mr. Kowalick said. “That’s no longer going to be the way.”

Truckers Insist on Keeping Computers in the Cab

Crisscrossing the country, hundreds of thousands of long-haul truckers use computers in their cabs to get directions and stay in close contact with dispatchers, saving precious minutes that might otherwise be spent at the side of the road.

The trucking industry says these devices can be used safely, posing less of a distraction than BlackBerrys, iPhones and similar gadgets, and therefore should be exempted from legislation that would ban texting while driving.

“We think that’s overkill,” Clayton Boyce, spokesman for the American Trucking Associations, said of a federal bill that would force states to ban texting while driving if they want to keep receiving federal highway money.

The legislation will be discussed at a conference on distracted driving in Washington, starting Wednesday, organized by the Transportation Department.

The issues raised by truckers show the challenges facing advocates for tougher distracted-driving laws, given that so many Americans have grown accustomed to talking and texting behind the wheel.

Mr. Boyce, who said the industry does not condone texting while driving, said computers used by truckers require less concentration than phones. The trucks “have a screen that has maybe two or four or six lines” of text, he said. “And they’re not reading the screen every second.”

Banning the use of such devices, he added, “won’t improve safety.”

But some safety advocates and researchers say the devices — which can include a small screen near the steering wheel and a keyboard on the dash or in the driver’s lap — present precisely the same risk as other devices. And the risk may be even greater, they note, given the size of 18-wheel tractor trailers and the longer time required for them to stop.

Some truckers say they feel pressure to use their computers even while driving in order to meet tight delivery schedules.

“We’re supposed to pull over, but nobody ever does,” said Kurt Long, 46, a veteran trucker based in Wagoner, Okla., who hauls flour, sugar and other dry goods.

“When you get that load,” he added, “you go and you go and you go until you get there.”

The trucking industry has invested heavily in technology to wire vehicles. Satellite systems mounted on trucks let companies track drivers, send new orders, distribute companywide messages and transmit training exercises. Drivers can also use them to send and receive e-mail and browse the Internet.

After videotaping truckers behind the wheel, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that those who used on-board computers faced a 10 times greater risk of crashing, nearly crashing or wandering from their lane than truckers who did not use those devices.

That figure is lower than the 23 times greater risk when truckers texted, compared with drivers simply focused on the road, according to the same study. However, the Virginia researchers said that truckers tend to use on-board computers more often than they text.

The study found that truckers using on-board computers take their eyes off the road for an average of four seconds, enough time at highway speeds to cover roughly the length of a football field.

Richard J. Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia institute, said videotape monitoring of 200 truckers driving about three million miles showed many of them using the devices, even bypassing messages on the screen warning them not to use the devices while driving.

“Is this any different than texting?” Mr. Hanowski said. “With either one, the risks are very high.”

In Mr. Long’s unkempt cab, the computer screen is mounted on the dashboard to the right of his steering wheel. He operates it both by touching the screen and by using a keyboard, which he often keeps in his lap (along with one of the two Chihuahuas that keep him company on his drives).

On the computer screen, there is a warning: do not use while vehicle is in motion.

“But it gives you a proceed button,” Mr. Long said with a laugh during an interview in August at a truck stop in Joplin, Mo.

Mr. Long pushes that button often. After all, pulling over to read and respond to a message, then start up again, would take 10 to 15 minutes, he said. If he’s late by even 15 minutes on a delivery, he said, his pay can be cut.

Mr. Long’s experience is typical, according to Michael H. Belzer, an economics professor at Wayne State University who studies the trucking industry. He said truckers had no choice but to use their computers while driving, given their deadline pressures.

Some makers of the on-board devices, like Qualcomm, sell versions of the systems that cannot be used while a vehicle is in motion or that can be used only in a limited way — for example, allowing drivers to only read messages or listen to a computerized voice reading them.

In recent years, fatalities which involved large trucks have fallen slowly, despite many safety advances like air bags and antilock brakes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2007, large trucks were involved in 4,808 deaths — or 12 percent of all driving-related fatalities.

Randy Mullett, vice president for government relations at Con-way, one of the nation’s biggest fleets, says safety is paramount for the industry, and for his company.

For instance, he said Con-way forbids the drivers of its roughly 8,000 trucks on regional routes to use a cellphone or to text while driving. Trucks on those routes tend not to have the computer systems.

For the company’s 4,000 longer-haul trucks, the company discourages drivers from texting and talking on cellphones, but does not have an official policy against it. Mr. Mullett said that such a policy would be difficult to enforce and that drivers rely on that technology to stay connected to both work and home.

Mr. Mullett also said drivers use the technology only to communicate with dispatchers, and infrequently at that.

He said drivers only have to press a button on the screen to acknowledge they received new instructions that appear on the screen. “It’s not much different than pressing a button on the radio,” he said.

Asking truckers to pull over for such a simple action is inefficient and expensive, Mr. Mullett said, given that the company loses about $1.50 a minute when a truck is idle.

“If it took a driver 15 minutes four times a day to pull over, you’d basically lose 10 percent of a driver’s time. You can’t take 10 percent of a truck fleet out of service to make them answer,” he said.

“Let’s figure out a way to work with Congress that doesn’t make these technology advances obsolete or less efficient than they are,” Mr. Mullett said.

Tim Lynch, senior vice president at the American Trucking Associations, said a compromise might exempt devices mounted in places where drivers can keep their eyes straight ahead.

“That way a driver could still be focusing on the road but looking at a device as opposed to having a BlackBerry they’re looking down at,” he said.

At least one sponsor of the federal legislation, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said that he was not aware of the trucking industry’s concerns but that there was room to accommodate their devices without compromising safety.

“There are ways I think to preserve what the trucker actually needs in terms of doing his or her job,” he said. “I think the real danger occurs when you’re regularly texting, not when you’re looking at a machine and doing a quick answer.”

But Robert D. Foss, a senior researcher at the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina, said the dispatch computers and texting devices present the same potential for distraction.

“It’s hard to accept the assertion: ‘We’re just different,’ ” he said. “You know full well this is motivated by economic considerations.”

Beyond the dispatch computers, truckers said they relied heavily on an array of technologies to stay productive, entertained and connected on the road. Their cabs become like home offices, wired with CB radios, AM/FM and satellite radios, weather band radios, GPS devices, electrical outlets, laptops and even computer desks. And, of course, cellphones.

Mr. Long said he uses one or another of his devices 90 percent of the time he is on the road. He said doing so actually makes him a safer driver because it keeps him awake and alert.

And he said it was one reason he had not had any serious accidents in more than two decades as a trucker.

At least, until last Monday.

On a highway in Oklahoma, a dump truck pulled into his lane from a side road. Mr. Long slammed into it, lost control and drove into a lake.

His truck was totaled. Neither he nor the dump-truck driver was badly injured. (His dogs were hurt, one thrown from the cab, but neither badly.)

Mr. Long said he had not been using his phone or computer at the time, but he had taken his eyes off the road for an instant. “I reached down to grab a cup of coffee,” he said.

He said the lesson is that drivers need to be careful not to get distracted, particularly when they use electronic devices.

“I guarantee if you’re not an ace on that keyboard, you’ve got to look to find them letters,” he said. “Sometimes, it takes a lot longer to find a letter on that keyboard than it does to get a cup of coffee.”

New Audi A8 creates a brilliant tech and luxury

After months of teasers and information trickles, the all-new, fourth-generation Audi A8 has officially arrived. The high-tech sedan becomes the first production car to include Level 3 autonomous capabilities, and it also has an intelligent active suspension, heavily digitized cockpit with new MMI infotainment engine, and all-wheel steering. Buyers in this segment who weren’t thinking Audi before might just want to wait a few months and schedule an A8 test drive.

Audi revealed the all-new A8 at the Audi Summit in Barcelona on Tuesday, focusing in on the German version, which will launch in late 2017.

Autonomy reaches Level 3

There’s a lot of technology going on under the gently massaged skin of the new A8, the most newsworthy being the advanced piloted driving functions. Audi has been one of the world leaders in testing and demonstrating autonomous tech, and it’s now cashing in by making the A8 the first production car with Level 3 capabilities.

That means the driver will be able to take hands off the wheel completely, for extended periods of time, under specific conditions. It provides a “flipping through a magazine or reading email” level of disengagement, though naps are out since Level 3 requires that the driver be prepared to take over when conditions begin to exceed autonomous system capabilities.

Level 3 autonomous driving is achieved under the push-button Audi AI traffic jam pilot system, which operates in slow moving traffic up to 37 mph (60 km/h) on freeways with a barrier separating the two directions of traffic. Once the button is pushed, the car takes over all starting, accelerating, braking and steering functions, freeing the driver to do something else entirely.

“They can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the onboard TV,” Audi explains.

It might be tempting to catch some shut-eye, particularly if things are deep bumper-to-bumper with no signs of free-up, but the driver monitoring system is there to keep the driver awake. A camera does the monitoring, and the system issues alerts should it sense the driver becoming drowsy or sleeping, because the driver will have to take over when things start moving back up toward highway speed. When that time comes, the A8 will inform the driver with a multistage alert, and should he or she not get the memo, the car will brake itself to standstill.

The description of the system’s operation brings to forefront of mind the debate about Level 3 driving. Some automakers and industry leaders believe that Level 3 systems should be skipped all together due to the uncertainty surrounding the pass-off between car and driver.

Even if the driver tries to maintain full attentiveness, it will prove difficult when not actively driving. Will he or she be ready to take over when the time comes? How long will the car give the driver to take over? What happens if the driver does not respond?

Audi explains that the A8 will brake to standstill, but will it pull over safely to the shoulder? What happens if there isn’t a shoulder to pull onto?

These are questions that Audi and regulators within prospective launch markets will need to address before this Level 3 tech rolls out, which will happen gradually as the regulations catch up to the technology.

“The introduction of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot means the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual market, along with the country-specific definition of the application and testing of the system,” Audi recognizes. “Audi will therefore be adopting a step-by-step approach to the introduction of the traffic jam pilot in production models.”

The new A8 also marks the launch of the Audi AI remote parking pilot and remote garage pilot systems, which allow the car to park itself in a space or garage with the driver outside the car. The driver can step out, start the parking procedure from the accompanying myAudi app, and switch over to a live feed from the car’s 360-degree cameras. He or she can reverse the procedure from the smartphone app as well, and the car will maneuver out of the spot for pickup.

Audi intends to begin production of these advanced driving and parking pilot systems next year.

Supporting technological cast

The new A8 features a standard 48-volt electrical system for the first time. In addition to running the usual 12 V electrical equipment as a subsystem, the 48 V platform powers new features like the available Audi AI active suspension system. This electromechanical suspension takes adaptive air suspension to new heights, using data from the front-facing camera to detect changes in the road surface and adjust the suspension settings at each individual wheel to match.

Audi says that drivers can expect the system to virtually eliminate bumps and jolts while still delivering precise, dynamic handling. It can also enhance safety by working with the pre sense 360° monitoring system. The active suspension can lift the side of the car body by up to 3.1 in (18 mm) in the event of an impending lateral collision. The side sills and floor structure take on a greater portion of the collision force, helping to cut up to 50 percent of the loads on occupants.

The available dynamic all-wheel steering system helps the A8 find a balance of stability and quick-reacting handling. The system adjusts front-wheel steering ratios and manages rear-wheel steering, all according to speed. At medium to high speeds, the rear wheels turn up to 2 degrees in the direction of steering for enhanced stability. At low speeds, they turn up to 5 degrees against the steering direction, shortening the turning circle by 3.2 feet (1 m), down as low as 37.4 feet (11.4 m).

Situational awareness

Below all that autonomous rolling, ducking and weaving, the A8 relies on 12 ultrasonic sensors spread around the car, four 360-degree cameras, a front camera on the top edge of the windscreen, four mid-range radars at the corners, one front long-range radar, one front infrared camera and a front laser scanner.

The front bumper-integrated laser scanner is the new highlight of the package, sending pulses of near-infrared light out across multiple vertical planes. The light spreads about 145 degrees and travels out about 263 feet (80 m) deep, bouncing back off of objects in front of the car in less than a microsecond. The light is captured by photodiodes and used to create a contoured image that combines with data from other sensors into the detailed imagery that underpins the car’s autonomous features.

In place of multiple function-specific control units, the A8 has a central driver assistance controller (zFAS) that processes imagery and controls the car’s autonomous functions. This advanced controller is about the size of a tablet computer and includes Nvidia Tegra K1, Altera Cyclone V, Infineon Aurix and Mobileye EyeQ3 hardware.

Engines and hybrids for every taste and situation

Audi will offer a full lineup of V6, V8, W12 and hybrid powertrains with staggered launches. The first two options available to German buyers will be a 335-hp 3.0-liter V6 turbo and a 282-hp 3.0-liter turbo diesel, both reengineered for the new model. A pair of 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8s will follow, a 429-hp TDI (diesel) and a 453-hp TFSI (petrol).

In the future, Audi will add a 577-hp 6.0-liter twin-turbo W12 to the top of the line and an e-tron quattro hybrid, both for the long-wheelbase A8 L trim. The L e-tron will combine a 3.0-liter TFSI engine with a 14.1-kWh lithium ion-powered electric motor for up to 443 hp. It will offer about 31 miles (50 km) of all-electric driving and will debut the option of Audi Wireless Charging.

Whatever engine the buyer chooses, a newly developed eight-speed Tiptronic transmission handles power and torque delivery. The standard quattro permanent with self-locking center differential routes torque at a standard 40:60 front/rear split. When needed for better traction, the system can direct up to 85 percent of torque to the rear or 70 percent to the front. A sports differential, available with the V6, V8 and W12 engines, adjusts torque delivery between the rear wheels to enhance cornering capabilities.

The 48-volt electrical system and its belt alternator starter bring another interesting advantage to all engine levels of A8. The mild hybrid technology allows the car to cruise engine-free at speeds between 34 to 99 mph (55 to 160 km/h) for about 40 seconds, helping improve efficiency and briefly cut emissions. The belt alternator starter ensures a quick, smooth engine restart.

A new wardrobe

The fourth-generation A8’s styling is more an evolutionary update than a complete makeover from the gen-three, but Audi stresses that it’s the start of a new brand-wide design era. Following the Prologue concept car, the A8 wears a sharper-cornered hexagonal grille set between a new set of glaring eyes, split down the middle by the daytime running lights. The HD Matrix LED headlights include Audi’s laser spot technology, putting plenty of light where it’s needed without dazzling oncoming drivers.

The front-end flows more seamlessly back into the fenders than the current A8, thanks to the loss of the creases outside the headlights. From there, Audi describes all measures of “fluid, muscular” proportions and quattro-hinting wheel arches, but the A8 really looks like a basic sedan profile, not all that far advanced from the outgoing version.

In back, the reshaped OLED taillights are joined by a thin lighting strip extending between their upper edges. This helps lend a wider, thinner look to the subtly tipped-forward rear-end.

A cozy tech cocoon

Audi didn’t assign all its tech geeks to the A8’s advanced sensor-backed intelligent drive systems; it also put some on the interior design and engineering. That team spent much of its time pulling out most of the A8’s physical buttons and dials, replacing them with a sleek, horizontal digital interface centered around a two-level, dual-screen control hub.

The upper 10.1-in screen controls infotainment, while the lower 8.6-in screen is dedicated to climate controls and text inputs. A 12.3-in TFT digital instrument panel shows key information in full HD, front and center, and the driver can cycle through menu options using controls on the steering wheel. An optional head-up display provides another digital information layer.

The cockpit design is definitely cleaner than the mix of touchscreens, pads, buttons, switches and dials on the outgoing A8, but we’re not sure every A8 driver will like having to rely so much on touch technology. Audi tries to address the issue with its new MMI touch response system, integrating tactile and acoustic feedback into the console touchscreens. An electromagnetic pulse serves as tactile feedback when the driver successfully pushes a touchscreen option, and a “click” sound played by a small speaker provides an auditory cue.

A new voice control system provides another control option, promising more natural, conversational speech. The system works with navigation, air conditioning, media, and some telephony and Audi Connect features.

Moving back from all that digital display glass up front, the interior gets a little roomier thanks to the new A8’s stretched dimensions. The standard A8 is 1.5 in (37 mm) longer than the outgoing model and the long-wheelbase A8 L is 5.1 in (130 mm) longer. Each model is roughly half an inch (13 mm) higher than its predecessor. Both long and standard wheelbase A8s add 1.3 in (32 mm) of interior length, and the A8 L has more head, leg and shoulder room.

Audi takes advantage of some of this space by offering an optional relaxation seat, Audi’s take on the Chinese market-influenced VIP rear-seat trend we’ve seen Volvo and Varsovia explore in recent years. The reclining relaxation seat comes with a footrest, an electric-adjustable head restraint, and a multi-mode foot massager/heater integrated into the back of the front seat … not a bad way to spend a road trip.

Audi also offers rear passengers an OLED touchscreen remote housed in the center armrest for controlling lighting, climate, media and other settings. A pair of seat back-mount 10.1-in Audi HD tablets are available in the rear seat entertainment package, and an available 1,920-watt, 23-speaker 3D Bang & Olufsen premium sound system brings serious audio. Other options include a rear wireless-charge phone box, digital audio and TV tuners, an LTE Advanced data transmission module with Wi-Fi, and a clean air fragrance/ionization package.

Bottom line

The German-market A8 will start rolling out in late 2017. Both the A8 and A8 L will be built at Audi’s Neckarsulm site and will start at €90,600 and €94,100 (approx. US$104K and $108K), respectively.

See what Level 3 life will look like in the first video below and jump to the second for more action-oriented footage.