As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Technical

The Top Seven Things Autonomous Cars Can’t Handle

 

My  last post had some rather grim news to do with autonomous cars (aka driverless cars) not quite doing what they are supposed to do.  That was an example of things going badly wrong with the sensor systems that are supposed to make driverless cars so much safer and better than real live humans.  However, on a slightly lighter note, there are quite a few things that most of us drivers handle sometimes daily without much fuss that send autonomous cars into a full-on wobbly.

 

#1. Kangaroos

OK, so the design teams working with Volvo’s autonomous cars in Sweden had it all sorted for the sort of large animals that are likely to hang around on roads in Scandinavia.  The sensors can handle moose, elk and deer, detecting the beasties and stopping the car in time. However, it’s a different story down here in Australia.  The system just can’t cope with kangaroos, which are large animals that we’re likely to get on country roads – they’re certainly the large animals involved in most animal-related crashes.  You see, the system doesn’t see an animal, recognise it and estimate the distance and take appropriate action the way a human does.  The system uses the ground as a reference point to estimate the distance between the animal and the machine… and roos don’t stay on the ground when they’re on the move.  The sensors also have trouble recognizing a kangaroo as a kangaroo because from the perspective of a computer, a kangaroo in motion and a roo resting quietly beside the road are completely different shapes and look like totally different things.  Then you’ve got the problem with roos that human drivers have to cope with: the fact that they can get a top speed of 70 km/h and can seemingly explode out of nowhere right into your path.  If the roo has been behind a bush or something, then the sensors can’t see it and you can’t see it, so you’d better have roo bars fitted.

#2 Car Washes

Some people get a little bit phobic about those automated car washes, although others enjoy them.  There’s always that little moment when you see the big whirling brushes descend and you hope like mad that the sensors telling them when to stop aren’t going to fail, crushing the top of your vehicle, shattering your windscreen and thrashing you with hundreds of little rubber whips.  But what happens when an automatic car wash meets an autonomous car?

Well, an autonomous car can get into the car wash without any problems.  However, the vigorous action of the washer plus all the soapy foam don’t agree well with the sensors, so getting out of the car wash and driving on may be another story.  You see, the sensors have to be clear of any grime or debris to work properly and if there’s soap left on them, they can’t see.  And there is soap left on them afterwards.  At worst, the car wash knocks the sensors off or damages them, which makes for a very, very expensive fix.

You have to take your pick: is washing your car by hand every time worth the convenience of a car that drives itself?

#3 Bad Weather

Self-driving tech works nicely in fine, sunny weather.  However, put it in heavy rain, snow or ice and it throws a very, very big wobbly.  Humans know – or ought to know – that when it’s raining, you take it nice and slow around the corners, watch out for pools of water that could get you aquaplaning and to keep the speed down.  Now, you’d think that because we have rain-sensing wipers, an autonomous car should be able to recognise that it’s raining and adjust itself accordingly.  Unfortunately, it can’t.  It probably can’t tell the difference between a light shower and a tropical monsoon.  Google hasn’t even put its self-driving cars through tests in heavy rains yet, but they already know that snow is a big problem for autonomous cars because they can’t see the road markings that help them stay in their lanes and get around corners.  As for ice, they have problems detecting this as well.  Even if humans have trouble spotting black ice and frost on the road, we know that on a nippy day when you have to put on a nice woolly jersey, there’s likely to be a bit of ice on that corner there where the trees cast a shadow on the road all day.

#4 Potholes

Apparently, the only holes in the road that a self-driving car can detect are the big ones made by your local road repair crew that have cones around them.  The little blips that are hard on your tyres and suspension aren’t picked up – they are below the surface of the road and they’re not on any of the mapping systems that these cars use.  So an autonomous car won’t dodge potholes.  Ouch.

#5 Newly Altered Road Layouts

Self-driving cars, especially the ones being worked on by Google, rely on really good maps to know (a) where in the world they are and (b) what the road is supposed to look like.  Don’t underestimate the latter bit – this is one way that driverless cars can pick obstacles: some systems scan the area around them and compare this with an image of what the road and its surroundings usually look like (letterboxes, lamp posts, etc.) and reacts accordingly.  However, if they don’t have these detailed maps, then things get a bit fun.  As happened recently in Arizona, if the local supermarket has decided to change the layout of the carpark with its entrances and exits, a driverless car might still think that the best way to get out is via what is now a new set of stairs.  Self-drive vehicles also go to pieces with new subdivisions and places where massive road works and new road layouts are going on: drivers from Christchurch, New Zealand, report that your common or garden GPS throws a wobbly about all the new roads and other bits resulting from the post-earthquake reconstruction.

#6 Shared Areas

Shared areas – places where pedestrians can go on the road at the same time as cars – are touted as being a way forward for cities of the future.  The trouble is that driverless cars are very rule-based, and when it comes to shared areas, there are no set rules.  Each interaction between driver and pedestrian, or between driver and driver, is a new situation.  Nobody’s got official right of way, so we use our social knowledge to ensure that everyone gets where they want to go without anyone getting hurt.  A human driver can see that the pair of pedestrians chatting with coffee in hand staring at each other aren’t about to try crossing the road.  A robot/computer/self-driving car just sees human shapes and can’t see what they’re doing or predict what they’re about to do.  Similarly, there are tons and tons of ways that drivers and pedestrians go through the whole “After you” “No, after you,” exchange.  How we conduct these wordless conversations can be anything from a large Italian-style gesticulation to a simple jerk of the head or a raised eyebrow.  It involves hands, arms, heads, facial expressions and mouthing words on the part of both parties – or just the driver, if he/she spots a mum struggling with a pram and a cantankerous toddler plus a bunch of shopping bags.  Our gestures and our decisions depend on how we’re feeling, our stress levels, the other party involved (the puzzled looking tourist versus the businessperson talking on the phone while striding forward in a rush versus the bunch of teenage girls fooling around).  And in some places, a human driver can recognise a familiar face, stop, wind down the window and have a wee chat.  And all these variables are simply too complex, too individual and too unpredictable to be programmed into a machine.

#7 Pesky Human Beings

As an old road safety campaign stated, humans are unpredictable (and so are some animals, like the idiot dogs who stand there all dopey in the middle of the road staring at you as you brake and yell at them).  A computer system relies on the situations and courses of appropriate action that have been programmed into it.  The trouble is that not everything that people do goes according to the rules – and don’t we just know it!

Here are a few examples of pesky human behaviours and situations – all of which a human driver can recognise and deal with – that would throw a driverless car:

  • A cop on point duty directing traffic because of an accident on the road ahead or similar – a person standing there waving arms is not something a computer system is used to
  • A ball bouncing out into the road: if a human sees this, he/she knows that some child might dash onto the road to retrieve it, but a computer sensor can’t tell a ball from a plastic bag flying loose and won’t react… it certainly won’t start keeping an extra look out for kids.
  • Kids coming out from school: they’re supposed to be sensible on the roads and not do anything silly, but there’s that occasional child who rushes across the road shouting “Mummy!” unexpectedly. Most of us should know that one should slow down and keep an extra lookout at certain times around schools.
  • Hitchhikers: We know what the backpack, the extended thumb and the cardboard sign reading “Gold Coast” means, and we can also make split-second decisions regarding how dodgy the hitchhiker looks, how much space we’ve got in the car, where we’re going and how urgent our journey is, and use all this to decide whether or not to pick up the hitchhiker.
  • Situational ethics: it doesn’t happen very often, but what about when you’ve got a choice between two evils?  This comes down to morals, ethics and the value of life.  Sometimes, for a human, the choice is comparatively easy: in a choice between hitting Granny and hitting the stray dog, most of us would swerve to take the dog out.  Similarly, if you have to negotiate a flock of sheep, the farmer and his/her sheepdog, we know that if things get really bad, you avoid the dog and the farmer at all costs but you can hit the sheep.  At the moment, sensors have trouble getting beyond “Obstacle A” versus “Obstacle B”.  Even if they can tell people from animals, can they go further?  Can they distinguish one human from another?  And if so, how do they decide who not to hit?

 

Jaguar Ups The Pace.

Get used to that word. Pace. It’s part of the Jaguar triple play. Grace, space, and pace. There’s the F-Pace, a sharp looking four door mid sized SUV, and now there’s the E-Pace and I-Pace. Both are SUVs and both showcase what modern Jaguar is all about.

I-Pace.
It’s power to the people with the I-Pace being Jaguar’s first foray into fully electric mainstream driveability. Priced from $119000 plus on roads it showcases Jaguar’s own innovative approach as well, and here how.

ELECTRIC
With a state-of-the-art 90kWh Lithium-ion battery using 432 pouch cells, the I-PACE delivers a range of 480km (WLTP cycle). Owners will be able to achieve a 0-80 per cent battery charge in just 40 minutes using DC rapid charging (100kW). Home charging with an AC wall box (7kW) will achieve the same state of charge in just over ten hours – ideal for overnight charging.

A suite of smart range-optimising technologies includes a battery pre-conditioning system: when plugged in the I-PACE will automatically raise (or lower) the temperature of its battery to maximise range ahead of driving away.

PERFORMANCE
Two Jaguar-designed electric motors – which feature driveshafts passing through the

motors themselves for compactness – are placed at each axle, producing exceptional combined performance of 294kW (400PS) and 696Nm, and all-wheel-drive, all-surface traction.

The high torque density and high-energy efficiency characteristics of the motors deliver sports car performance, launching the I-PACE from a standing start to 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds. The instantaneous performance is matched with exceptional ride comfort and engaging driving dynamics.

The bespoke EV aluminium architecture uses advanced riveting and bonding technology to deliver a light, stiff body structure. Together with the structural battery pack, it has a torsional rigidity of 36kNm/degree – the highest of any Jaguar.

The battery is placed centrally between the two axles, and as low down as possible with a seal between the housing and the underfloor. This location enables perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a low centre of gravity: together with the advanced double wishbone front and Integral Link rear axle with (optional) air suspension and configurable Adaptive Dynamics, this delivers agile handling and outstanding ride comfort.

DESIGN

There will be nothing else on the road that looks or drives like the Jaguar I-PACE. It is designed and engineered to take full advantage of its smart electric powertrain and maximise the potential of the packaging benefits it brings.
Its sleek, coupe-like silhouette is influenced by the Jaguar C-X75 supercar with a short, low bonnet, aero-enhanced roof design and curved rear screen. This cab-forward design contrasts with its squared-off rear, which helps reduce the drag co-efficient to just 0.29Cd. To optimise the balance between cooling and aerodynamics, Active Vanes in the grille open when cooling is required, but close when not needed to redirect air through the integral bonnet scoop, smoothing airflow.

Inside, the layout optimises space for passengers while sophisticated materials – including the option of a premium textile Kvadrat interior – and exquisite attention to detail identify this as a true Jaguar.

While a mid-sized SUV, I-PACE’s cab forward design and EV powertrain means interior sp

ace comparable to large SUVs. In the rear, legroom is 890mm while, with no transmission tunnel, there’s a useful 10.5-litre central storage compartment. In the rear, tablet and laptop stowage is found beneath the seats, while the rear luggage compartment offers a 656-litre capacity – and 1,453-litres with seats folded flat.

CONNECTED-CAR TECHNOLOGY

I-PACE introduces the Touch Pro Duo infotainment system to Jaguar. Utilising an innovative combination of touchscreens, capacitive sensors and tactile physical controls, Touch Pro Duo is intuitive to use.

A new EV navigation system assesses the topography of the route to destination and insights from previous journeys, including driving style, to calculate personalised range and charging status with exceptional accuracy for maximum driver confidence.

The advanced system uses ‘Smart Settings’ technology – driven by AI algorithms – to identify individual driver preferences, and then tailors the I-PACE’s driving and interior settings accordingly.

I-PACE will also launch an Amazon Alexa Skill. This means owners will be able to ask an Alexa enabled device for information held in the Jaguar InControl Remote app.

Head to www.jaguar.com.au for information.Jaguar Cars Australia

2018 Kia Stinger Si V6 and GT-Line Turbo Four: Car Review

There’s been few cars released into the automotive market that have divided opinions as much as the new 2018 Kia Stinger. Available in three trim levels and with a choice of two engines mated to the single transmission offered, an eight speed auto, the Stinger spent a fortnight with me, in V6 twin turbo Si and top of the range GT-Line turbo four.The Si sits in the middle of the V6 range and is priced at $55990 plus on roads and options. The GT-Line with the turbo four is the same price and came clad in a gorgeous $695 option Snow White Pearl paint. There’s the standard seven year warranty and capped price servicing over the seven years, with the V6 being a total of $221 over the turbo 4.The V6 is the driver’s pick and backing up the four straight after sees it suffer in comparison. The 3.3L capacity V6 has a peak power figure of 272 kW at 6000 rpm and a monstrous 510 Nm of torque from 1300 to 4500. The four in comparison is 182 kW at 6200 rpm, and maxes out a torque figure of 353 Nm between 1400 to 4000 rpm. Although the V6 has a tare weight of 1780 kilos versus the four’s 1693 kg, it gets away cleaner and quicker, overtakes quicker, and will comfortably beat the four to the ton. Surprisingly, the required fuel is standard ULP and comes from a 60L tank.

Consumption is quoted for the V6 as 10.2L/14.9L/7.5L per hundred for the combined/urban/highway. The four isn’t much better, at 8.8L/12.7L/6.5L. AWT’s final figure for the six was 11.6L/100 km and for the four a slightly more reasonable 9.3L. These figures are slightly disturbing, in all honesty, as they’re more or less line-ball with the V8 engine seen in Holden’s VF Commodore and over the slightly bigger naturally aspirated 3.6L V6.There is a trade-off for that consumption and in the case of the V6 it’s the extraordinary driveability it offers. Off the line, and bear in mind it does offer Launch Control, it’ll see the 100 kmh mark in a quoted 4.9 seconds. There’s absolutely no doubt in that claim apart from a possibility it’s conservative. On a 48 hour trip to Dubbo in the central west of New South Wales, those 510 torques were so very useable in overtaking, with times to get up and pass and doing so safely compressed thanks to that torque.By having such an amount available through so many revs makes general, every day, driving unbelievably easy, with such a docile nature it’ll happily potter around the suburbs as easily as it will stretch its legs out in the country. The throttle setup is responsive to a thought, and there’s a real sense of urgency in how it all happens. There’s a bi-modal exhaust and this cracks a valve in the rear pipes allowing a genuine crackle and snarl from over 2500. Otherwise it’s a vacuum cleaner like woofle that can become wearying very quickly.The four, as mentioned, suffers in comparison, lacking the outright flexibility the bigger engine has. Note: “in comparison”. On its own the 2.0L turbo four, as found in the Optima GT and the sibling Sonata from Hyundai, is a belter. Paired against the big brother 330 it is slightly slower, slightly less able, slightly less quick to get going from a good prod of the go pedal as it waits for the turbo to spool up. Overseas markets do get a diesel and this is potentially the engine that Kia should replace the petrol four with. As long, as long, as it offers comparable performance to the V6.

The eight speed auto in both cars is a simple joy to use. All of the words that mean slick and smooth can be used here. Changes are largely unfelt, rarely does the backside feel anything other than forward motion as the ratios change. And naturally there’s different drive modes. Comfort is the default with Eco, Sports, Custom (GT-Line) and Smart the others and accessed via a dial in the console. However, somewhat confusingly, you can access a menu via the seven or eight inch (trim level dependent) touchscreen and set the steering to Sports, engine/transmission to Sport, and suspension to Sport yet have the driver’s display show Comfort from the dial setting.In Sport, the transmission doesn’t change any more cleanly but will hold revs longer and feels as if the shift points themselves change. There’s no manual shift mode as such; what this means is that the gear selector doesn’t have a side push or buttons to do a manual change. There are paddle shifts and once used doesn’t stay in manual mode but reverts quickly back to auto. What this means for the driver is simple piece of mind and not having to worry which mode the transmission is still in.Roadholding and handling from both was nigh on nearly impeccable. BUT, and it’s an odd one, the V6’s mechanical limited slip differential rear had more of a propensity for skipping sideways even on flat and relatively settled surfaces. A slight bump, a ripple, and the rear would move just enough to alert you of it. The Stinger has a big footprint though, with a 2905mm wheelbase inside the 4830mm overall length.Track front and rear also helps at over 1650mm minimum, as do the offset tyres of 225/40 & 255/35 on 19s for the Si and GT-Line six and GT-Line four. The others have 225/45/18s. And it’s McPherson struts front matching the Aussie tuned multilink rear that provide the superb roadholding the Stinger exhibits. The steering is precise, well weighted, en pointe, and tells you exactly how the road is feeling.There’s Launch Control on board as well and it’s a fairly simple matter to engage. Traction control gets turned off, the car must be in Sports mode, AND the computer must be happy with the engine temperature. It’ll also limit the amounts of attempts. Brakes in the V6 come courtesy of Brembo, however seats of the pants says the brakes in the four cylinder equipped Stinger are just as able.Design wise the Stinger foreshadows and continues a coupe like look for a five door sedan or four door hatchback. It’s a long, flat, E-Type-ish bonnet that has two faux vents. Apart from aesthetic reasons they’re pointless. Why? Because there’s vents in the front bumber into the wheelwell and from the rear of the wheelwell that exits from vents in the front doors. The roofline tapers back in a gentle curve before terminating in a rear that’s a cross between an Audi A5 and Maserati. The rear lights themselves are Maserati and LED lit front and rear in the GT-Line. Inside there’s plenty of legroom in the rear, a slightly compromised cargo space at 406L due to the hatchback style, a power gate for the GT-Line, and a stylishly trimmed interior. Plastics, for the most part, look high quality, and the overall presence echoes something from Europe, perhaps Jaguar, in this case. The central upper dash mounted seven inch touchscreen that looks as if it rises and falls, ala Audi, for example. It’s mostly intuitive, clean to read and use, but sensitivity needs to be upped as sometimes two or three taps were required to activate a menu. There’s DAB radio and here there’s a minor hiccup.With other brands tested with a DAB tuner, in comparison the one used in the Stinger also lacked the sensitivity found in others, with dropouts in more areas in comparison. There’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, plus voice recognition, with the middle and top range Stingers having nine or fifteen speakers with under front seat subwoofers. Harman Kardon is the feature brand in the GT-Line. As an overall presentation is pretty damned good, yet there’s still a sense of, in the top of the range GT-Line especially, that it lacks a knockout punch, and doesn’t seem to visually say this is a premium vehicle.The menu system on the touchscreen includes safety options such as voice warning for school zones, merging lanes and such like. Although an eminently worthwhile feature it became tiresome very quickly. Thankfully the voice presentation can be deactivated. Extra safety comes in the form of a forward camera and 360 degree camera depending on the model. The 360 degree version superimposes a Stinger top down view into the picture on one side of the screen and shows whichever camera view selected in the other. It’s super clear and immensely handy for parking. Another Euro feature is the rocker and Park button design for the gear selector. Foot on brake, press a tab on the selector, rock forward for Reverse or back for Drive. Inexplicably, the GT-Line had more issues correctly selecting Reverse or Drive.Only the driver’s seat is electrically powered however both front seats are vented but only in the GT-Line (for the Australian market, this is a must) and heated. A slight redesign has these operated via simple console mounted rocker switch that lights blue for venting, red for heating. Across the range they’re supportive, comfortable, and do the job well enough, along with the ride quality, that you can do a good country drive and feel reasonably good at the break. The GT-Line also features two position memory seating and a pad for smartphone wireless charging for compatible smartphones. It’s a leather clad tiller and the GT-Line gets a flat bottomed one but the material felt cheap, as did the buttons under the three central airvents in comparison to the good looking interior design.Even the base model is well equipped for safety; there’s seven airbags for all models, front seatbelt pretensioning, pedestrian friendly AHLS or Active Hood Lift System before moving to Lane Keeping Assist and Advanced Smart Cruise Control (with forward collision alert and autonomous braking) in the V6 Si. The GT-Line gets Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, High Beam Assist, and Dynamic Bending Headlights.Naturally there’s Kia’s class leading seven year warranty and the fixed priced servicing. The turbo four is cheaper from start to finish, with a gap of just three dollars for the first, two for the second, before the third service opens it to fifty. The final service sits at $785 for the V6 and $696 for the four.

At The End Of The Drive.
The easiest way to consider this is that, as a first attempt, Kia have just about nailed it. Just about. It’s a big car, seats four beautifully, rides as good as one should expect, goes like a scared rabbit in the V6 and a not quite so scared rabbit in the turbo four, is well equipped, and is utterly competitive for the features on price. Its biggest sticking point is one that’s completely inescapable and has already caused derision and division. It’s this: KIA.

Far too many people have locked themselves into the thought process that says Korea can’t built a competitor for the outgoing Commodore or the fading from memory Falcon. Ironically, as many have pointed out, detractors will have typed their sneering comments on a Korean built phone or have a Korean built TV. It’s also not unexpected that those slinging arrows from afar wouldn’t avail themselves of the opportunity to test drive. More fool them.

However, for a first attempt, like any first attempt, there’s room for improvement. A lift in presence to say more how the car should be perceived is one, and fuel efficiency needing a VAST improvement is another. The last one is something both Kia’s marketing gurus and Australia’s luddites need to work on. That’s that a Kia CAN be this damned good. The 2018 Kia Stinger is that damned good car.

Hyundai Showcases Self Driving Fuel Cell Powered Cars.

Autonomous driving is one thing. Using an alternative fuel source is another. Hyundai has combined the two in a stunning display. A convoy of self driving vehicles powered by   technology has driven a 190 kilometre long route between Seoul and Pyeongchang in Korea.

At speeds between 100 to 110 kmh, five vehicles navigated themselves with the only human intervention being at the beginning and end of the journey. Three vehicles are the next generation of SUV called NEXO, with the other two vehicles being based on the Genesis.

Fitted with the current international standard for autonomous driving, Level 4, plus the latest 5G telecommunications tech, February 2 was the start date for the tour. After both the Cruise and Set buttons inside were pressed on the autonomous driving configured steering wheel, the cars immediately went into self drive mode. Lane changes, toll booth entry and exit, even overtaking moves, were executed solely by the on board systems.

The cars themselves aren’t that different from a “normal” street version but are fitted with cameras and LIDAR plus the embedded sensors in the cars themselves.

The fuel cell side sees the NEXO cars able to travel up to six hundred kilometres on a single charge, with a refuel taking under five minutes. An efficiency level of sixty percent is equivalent, currently, to normal fuel vehicles.

Hyundai itself is readying to have autonomous vehicles on road by 2021 for “smart cities“, along with announcing a partnership with American based autonomous driving startup Aurora Technologies, with a full release of autonomous driving capable vehicles by 2030.

Reinventing The Wheel – Several Times

They say that you shouldn’t try reinventing the wheel.  But why shouldn’t you try to reinvent the wheel?   After all, wheels have been reinvented several times over the course of history, and they’ve got better and better every time – something that most motorists of today should appreciate.  Let’s face it: there are more wheels in your car than the ones that actually touch the tarmac.

Let’s go back to when the wheel was first invented, which, according to archaeologists, was about 3800–3500 BC.  Before they had the wheel, the way that they hauled large loads about the place was to put it on a sled sort of thing.  You can try this for yourself some time: compare pulling a large rock across grass straight and then put it on a plank or a piece of tin or something and see how much easier it is.  They think that this is how they managed to build the Pyramids and Stonehenge, by the way.

During the sled years, they worked out that if you put rollers under a sled, it gets even easier to pull a load along.  The only trouble with rollers is that someone has to take the ones that have just popped out the back of the load to the front of the load, and if you’re not quick enough, then everything comes to a standstill.  Then some absolute genius had an idea: what if you could fix rollers permanently under a sled?  That gave us the axle.  Then another genius realised that if you have a larger round thing on the end of the roller, then the sled is off the ground completely and the load can be pulled much faster.  Hey presto: wheels.

Solid wheels on an ox cart from China.

The wheels on early carts and vehicles weren’t made out of stone, which you might be picturing if you’ve seen the Flintstones.  Stone wheels did exist, but these tended to be used for grinding grain rather than for transport.  The early wheels were wooden, and tended to be made of several pieces of wood carefully shaped (tree trunks aren’t always perfectly round) and clamped around the axle in the middle.  However, these wheels were really, really heavy.  With a pair of oxen hitched to the front, a cart could go at about 3 km per hour, which is fine if what you need to do is to carry a large load, but for getting yourself from A to B, it was quicker to walk.

Enter the first reinvention of the wheel.  Another unknown genius looked at the wheel and wondered how to reduce the weight to get better speed and greater efficiency (much like car designers do today).  This genius realised that what you need is the roundness of the outside of the wheel, the bit in the middle that hold the axle and something in between to hold the outer circle to the inner circle.  In other words, you need the rim, the hub and the spokes.  This reduced the weight of the wheel dramatically, meaning that vehicles could go faster.  The combination of hub, spoke and rim was also a lot more aesthetically pleasing, as anyone who has looked at the designs of alloy wheels knows.   This may be why it just feels right to have alloy wheels on a sports car: somewhere deep down in the human psyche, we know that spoked wheels go faster.

And they certainly did go faster.  After the spoked wheel was invented, it became more feasible to use horses to power the vehicle.  Horses were to oxen what turbocharged petrol is to diesel.  Diesel’s great at low speeds and for serious towing but for fast sporty stuff, you go for petrol.  Where you’ve got speed, you’ve got to consider handling as well, especially if you want to corner tightly.  This led to the development of the two-wheeled chariot – possibly the earliest example of a rear wheel drive?  Most recorded uses and images of chariots were used in a battle context and no, they weren’t usually used in head-on charges, despite what you might see in the movies.  That sort of manoeuvre would just lead to pile-ups.  If you’ve got something that fast and easy to turn, it’s better strategy to use the chariot to come in from the side and either drop off infantry or else shoot from the chariot itself before pelting away like mad.

This model comes fitted with classy six-spoke wheels for improved speed and better handling…

It probably didn’t take too long after the invention of chariots for people to try racing them.  It’s human nature when presented with something that moves fast to try to see who’s got the fastest.  Chariot racing was as popular back then as motorsport is today.  In Babylon, they enjoyed racing about on the asphalt – on the streets and on the top of the massive city walls (and yes, they did use actual real asphalt for road surfacing in Ancient Babylon).

There were two real problems with these lightweight chariot wheels.  Firstly, the chariot sat right on top of the axle and there was no suspension system to even out the bumps, which must have made a fast dash extremely uncomfortable for the charioteer and the archer riding up with him (or her, in the case of the Celts).  Leaf suspension is said to based on the technology of the bow and the Egyptians are said to have used it. The second problem was that round bits of wood chipped and broke really easily.  This led to reinvention number two: tyres (or “tires”, which is believed to be a shortened form of “attire”, suggesting that a wheel needed to be properly dressed).

Early tyres weren’t the rubber air-filled things we know today.  Instead, they were made of metal bands that contracted onto the rims as they cooled.  This protected the rim but increased road noise like mad.  It also made the jarring and jolting worse.  They made attempts to soften the steel with leather, but this only went so far and leather wore out pretty quickly with heavy use.

Metal tyres were the norm for millennia. Solid rubber tyres were tried once rubber had been made more widespread.  However, rubber was really, really bouncy, making the ride even worse (we don’t know how lucky we are with modern suspension and shock absorbers).  It wasn’t until the mid- to late 1800s that first a Scotsman called Robert Thompson and then another Scotsman called Charles Dunlop independently had the idea of making a hollow tube of rubber and fitting that around the rim of a tyre, which softened the ride without too much bounce.  Yes, that is Dunlop as in Dunlop tyres.  This was reinvention of the wheel Number Three.  Vulcanizing the rubber around the pneumatic tyre to make it tougher and more resistant to punctures was again invented independently by inventors on both sides of the Atlantic with more familiar names: Charles Goodyear and Thomas Hancock.  One hundred years after the invention of the pneumatic tyre, Michelin developed radial tyres and put these straight away onto the cars made by the company they had just bought out, Citroën.

The Virtruvian mill, one of the earliest gearing systems.

In the meantime across the ages, wheels weren’t just being used for transport.  Once the principle of the wheel and axle had been invented, it was used elsewhere.  One of the key ways that wheels were used in the hot conditions of the Near East and the Mediterranean was to lift water out of rivers up and into the irrigation channels of gardens and fields; the other was to grind grain into flour for daily bread.  The early versions, which needed something to turn the wheel vertically were a chore to turn – think treadmills.  Somebody realised that if you fit teeth near the rim of the solid wheel that’s turning in the vertical plane, you can make a second wheel being turned in the horizontal plane with similar teeth move the first wheel around.  In other words, they invented gears for irrigation systems and for grain mills, making this another reinvention of the wheel.  Before long, they were playing around with gearing ratios – this was one of the things that Archimedes (yes, the one who ran through the streets naked shouting “Eureka!”) tinkered around with and refined.

Gears got really sophisticated over the centuries, especially for things like clockwork, but it wasn’t until the development of the internal combustion engine that these toothed wheels could be used for transport.  You can’t have the wheels turning at a speed that would make the cart or coach run faster than the horses pulling it.  It was Bertha Benz after her historic drive in the first motor car who had the idea of adding gears to the mechanism so a car could go uphill better.  At long last, the two branches of wheel development had come together, giving us the vehicles we know today, more or less.

The Story Of Diesel

It’s something we hear about our think about just about every day, whether we drive a diesel-powered vehicle or a petrol-powered one.  There you are, pulling up at the local bowser and you have to stop and do a quick check to make sure that you get the right one, diesel rather than petrol or vice versa.  You probably don’t stop to think about the word diesel much or the history behind it.

Most of us think that diesel engines are called diesel engines because they run on diesel. After all, a petrol engine runs on petrol (which, for you word boffins out there, is short for petroleum, which is derived from the Latin petra oleum, translated “rock oil”).  However, this isn’t the case.  We call the fuel diesel because it was what went in a diesel engine, i.e. the sort of internal combustion engine invented by Herr Rudolf Diesel back in 1893.  If you want to be picky, what we use is “diesel fuel” which we put into a diesel.

The story of the diesel engine starts back in the days of steam.  Steam power, though a major breakthrough that transformed the world and took us into the era of machines rather than relying on muscle power, was pretty inefficient.  You needed a lot of solid fuel to burn and you needed water that could be boiled to produce the steam, and you needed to build up a good head of steam to get the pressure needed to drive the locomotives, paddle steamers and machines.  Steam was really inefficient – up to 90% of the potential energy was wasted – and it was pretty bulky (think about steam trains, which need a caboose or a built-in tender to carry the fuel and water).  The hunt was on for something that could provide the same type of oomph and grunt but with less waste (and possibly less space).

In the 1890s, a young engineer named Rudolf Diesel came into the scene and started work on developing a more efficient engine. One of his earlier experiments involving a machine that used ammonia vapour caused a major explosion that nearly killed him and put him in hospital for several months. Nevertheless, in spite of the risks, Diesel carried on, and began investigating how best to use the Carnot Cycle. His interest was also sparked by the development of the internal combustion engine and the use of petroleum by fellow-German Karl Benz.

The Carnot Cycle is based on the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, which more or less state that heat is work and work is heat, and that heat won’t pass of its own accord from a cold object to a hotter object. This video gives a very catchy explanation of these laws:

The Carnot Cycle is a theoretical concept that involves heat energy coming from a furnace in one chamber to the working chamber, where the heat turns into work because heat causes gases and liquids to expand (it also causes solids to expand but not so dramatically). The remaining heat energy is soaked up by a cooling chamber.  The principle is also used in refrigerators to get the cooling effect.

Diesel’s engine was based on the work of a few other inventors before him, as is the case with a lot of handy inventions.  Diesel’s engine was the one that became most widespread and proved most popular, which is why we aren’t putting Niepce, Brayton, Stuart or Barton in our cars and trucks.  In fact, we came very close to putting Stuart in our engines, as Herbert Ackroyd Stuart patented a compression ignition engine using similar principles a couple of years before Rudolph Diesel did.

The general principle of a Diesel engine is that it uses compressed hot air (air gets hotter when it’s compressed, which is why a bicycle pump feels hot when you’ve been using it for a while) to get the fuel in the internal combustion engine going.  This is in contrast to a petrol engine (which we really ought to call an Otto engine, as it operates on the Otto Cycle rather than the Diesel Cycle), which used sparks of electricity to get the fuel and air mix going. Petrol engines compress the air-fuel mix a little bit – down to about 10% of its original size, but a diesel engine, the air is compressed a lot more tightly. More details of how it works would probably be better described in a post of its own, so we’ll save the complicated explanation for later.

Diesel fuel doesn’t need to be as refined as what goes into petrol engines, which is what makes diesel engines a bit more efficient than their equivalents that run on more refined petrol (makes you wonder why “petrolheads” are considered to be coarse and crude).  The fuel is more energy-dense and it burns more completely – and it needs less lubrication, which means less friction, which is also more efficient.

Herr Diesel’s original idea was to have his engine run on something that wasn’t this fancy petroleum stuff, which was mostly used medicinally to treat headlice at that stage.  The first prototype used petrol as we know it.  Later models used the cheap fraction that now bears his name.  Even later refinements ran on vegetable oil, with the grand idea that people could grow a source of fuel rather than mine or drill for it.  One of the great mysteries of the story of diesel is why they switched to fossil fuels when the peanut oil that Diesel raved about worked so well.  Now we’re all excited about biofuels and especially biodiesel once again…  Was there some conspiracy at work?

However, how diesel engines came to run on fossil fuels rather than plant oil is not the only mystery about Rudolf Diesel.  His death was also unexpected and mysterious.  In late 1913, this German inventor was on his way by ship to the UK for a conference.  One night, he headed off to his cabin and asked the stewards to wake him early in the morning.  However, he vanished during the night, leaving his coat neatly folded beneath a railing.  Ten days later, his body, recognisable only from the items in his pockets, was pulled from the sea.

How his body came to be found floating in the English Channel is a mystery.  Perhaps the problems with his eyesight left over from his accident with the ammonia vapour explosion and a rough sea led to an accident. Perhaps he committed suicide, as a lot of the fortune his invention had earned him had gone into shares that devalued.  Or perhaps foul play was at work. After all, in 1913, tensions were building between Diesel’s native Germany and the UK, where Diesel had planned to meet with engineers and designers for the Royal Navy.  This was the era of the Anglo-German Naval Race, where the German and British navies were in an all-out arms race to get control of the economically important North Sea.  When Diesel was making his ill-fated crossing, the Germans had the use of the more efficient diesel technology but the British had the formidable Dreadnought class of steam-powered battleships.  The arms race was officially over, as Germany had agreed to tone things down in order to placate the British – who had alliances with the two other political powers that were at loggerheads with Germany.  It’s perfectly possible that in spite of this and because of the political tension of the time, the idea of the firepower of the Dreadnought combined with the efficiency of the diesel engine was just too much for Kaiser Bill’s government…

Tesla Gets A Semi And Updated Roadster.

It’s been hinted at, guessed about, and now it’s for real. Tesla has given us a semi. 2019 is the year that is currently scheduled for first delivery and reservations are currently being taken in the US for just five thousand American dollars.Tesla has unveiled the new truck at a lavish event and simply stated, the design and specifications are stunning.

  • Zero to 60 mph in five seconds, unladen,
  • Zero to 60 mph in twenty seconds with an 80000 pound (over 36200 kilos) load,
  • Will climb a five degree slope at a steady 65 mph,
  • No shifting and clutching mechanism, regenerative braking recovers 98% of energy and no moving engine parts reduces maintenance, costs, and wear,
  • New megachargers add 400 miles range in thirty minutes,
  • Enhanced Autopilot, the Tesla Semi features Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic Lane Keeping, Lane Departure Warning, and event recording,
  • Has an autonomous convoy mode, where a lead truck can control following trucks. Tesla has also changed the way we view a semi, with the cabin designed to be driver-centric, and with stairs to allow better entry and exit from the cabin. The cabin itself will allow standing room and for the driver two touchscreens for ease of use and providing extra information at a glance.

Tesla has also revealed a throwback to their origins, with a revamped Roadster. It’s also some numbers that, if proven, are truly startling. Consider a 0-100 kph time of 1.9 seconds, a standing 400 metre time of 8.8 seconds, 0 – 160 kph of just 4.2 seconds, over 250 miles per hour top speed and a range of over 600 miles. It’ll be all wheel drive, a four seater, have a removable glass roof, and will start at a current mooted price of US$200000.

More information can be found via The Tesla website

Information provided courtesy of Tesla.

 

Private Fleet Car Review: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander LS PHEV

PHEV. It’s short, sharp, sounds like an ex AFL player but with vastly more substance. It stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. In layman’s terms, it’s an electrically powered car that you can plug in to your home power system to charge a battery inside the car. What it doesn’t tell you is that the petrol engine that’s also fitted can be used as a generator and that the brakes can be used to harvest the kinetic energy generated and recharge the battery on the go. Private Fleet trundles the Mitsubishi Outlander LS PHEV from the lower Blue Mountains to Temora, in the central west of NSW, via Bathurst, and home via Yass and Goulburn. It’s readily identifiable as a PHEV thanks to the three subtle (ahem) badges on the rear door and front flanks.Oh, there’s a Tesla style fast charge port so you achieve approximately 80 percent full charge from empty in just half an hour, as long as you have the appropriate equipment, including the transformer the PHEV comes with for the everyday single phase household which is best left overnight to really give the “tank” a full charge. Hence the Plug-in part of the name.Mitsubishi currently only have the Outlander as a hybrid vehicle and it’s a kinda cool one with three distinct hybrid modes, EV, Series, and Parallel modes. When the EV Mode is chosen you’re driving purely on battery power alone. You can also drive with the 2.0L petrol engine as a charging unit or as a paired situation where the petrol engine kicks in as required. Transmission is a single or fixed speed transaxle unit.

There’s a big silver EV button in the centre console or two buttons either side of the jet fighter Drive selector (no gears as such) marked Save or CHRG. Save turns off the electric option and runs purely on the petrol powerplant, the other is self explanatory.When fully charged, the battery indicator shows a range of around fifty kilometres. If you accelerate ssssllllooooowwwwllllyyyyy it will stay on battery only but give it a reasonable prod and the petrol engine cuts in. On battery it’s an eerie almost silence, with a barely audible whir as the PHEV wafts away. The petrol engine is isolated, muted, and there’s hardly a vibration in the body to alert you to it being engaged. The computer programing is seamless, as is the actual switching between modes, and the whole system is intuitive.Fuel consumption is still…..well, a concern. Mitsubishi’s refinement to the overall system now rate consumption as 1.7L of 91RON per 100 kilometres. That’s certainly achievable on virtually purely electric runs that cover no more than maybe fifteen kilometres or so. A Wheel Thing finished, after a week and well over 1000 kilometres, closer to 9.5L/100 kilometres. That’s from a 45L tank. Overall power is rated at 120 kW and that’s for the two electric motors fitted, one for the rear and one for the front wheels, which out put a total of 120 kW and 332 Nm. Mitsubishi says 6.5 hours for a full charge to the battery using the charger on a standard household supply.

The petrol engine is rated for a fairly measley 87 kW, but a better torque figure is usable at 186 Nm @ 4500 rpm. It’s also worth noting that you can effectively have the PHEV as an AWD or All Wheel Drive vehicle by the simple expedient of pushing a clearly marked 4WD button in the centre console.The drive west from the lower Blue Mountains sees the westbound highway rise by some five hundred metres vertically over a horizontal distance of perhaps eighty kilometres, before dropping drastically at the western edge to the Hartley Valley from Mt Victoria via one of the most picturesque yet narrow roads around. It’s here that you can tip the drive selector into B3 or B5, two different braking modes to harvest the kinetic energy, and add extra range back into the battery system. The brake pedal itself is slightly numb also but not so enough to isolate feedback to your foot when generating energy on a downhill run where the braking modes don’t slow the car enough.

There’s a couple of steepish climbs before entering Lithgow, the home of famed Australian runner Marjorie Jackson, before a reasonably flat run to Bathurst, and from here to the WW2 prison town of Cowra, where a number of Japanese prisoners staged a breakout. The roads were flat, surprisingly smooth, allowing the PHEV to build up speed slowly in order to not punch a hole in the range availability. The PHEV was also predisposed to understeer, not uncontrollable, but easier where safe to allow the nose to run wide and follow its own path. The steering itself was numb to the point of disconnection on centre, with an artificial feel to the travel either side.

On the more rough tarmac surfaces in the central west of NSW there was noticeable road noise from the 225/55/18 Toyo A25 rubber, which also didn’t look as if they’d fit the wheel well, with plenty of room between the lining and the rubber. The suspension itself is tuned somewhere between taut and not quite so taut, with initial give before firming up rapidly. Adding to the ride query is an overly short front suspension travel, a trait found in some other cars where riding over a school lane speed hump at exactly the legal speed has a crash thump that sounds as if the struts are about to pull out from the body mounts. It’s disconcerting and at odds with the mooted soft road ability the Outlander is marketed with. On the upside directional changes are dealt with well, on smooth roads, with a centre of gravity well below the driver’s seat meaning body roll is minimal.Economy here varied between 4.0L/100 km where the Charge tab was engaged, as once underway the drain on the system isn’t aware as much (naturally) as accelerating constantly. There’s a centre of dash display, as is standard in all Outlanders, in this case showing the range from purely battery and both battery and fuel. In Temora itself, the car was charged up overnight. The purpose of visiting Temora was to watch their Remembrance Day airshow, as Temora is a former working WW2 airforce base and home to aircraft such as a Gloster Meteor, Spitfire, Hudson, and more. The show itself was a quickish 3.5 hours but wrapped with the tarmac being opened for visitors being able to meet the pilots including Red Bull Air Race and former RAAF pilot, Matt Hall.An overnight charge has the battery in the PHEV topped up and Sunday’s return trip via the township of Harden (seriously), via Yass and along the monumentally boring Hume Highway past Goulburn. The roads here were again most straight and corners rated between 75 to 95 kmh meaning that most of them were well within the abilities of the drivetrain to gently ease off and gently accelerate up.

Straight line stability in the Outlander is wonderful, lateral stability not so, with both front and rear, time and again, skipping left and right on rutted and broken surfaces. There’s an instant feeling of uncertainty before either corner cocks a leg and then there’s the sideways movement. A quick lift of the right foot, the chassis regathers its thoughts, and it’s business as usual. In the greater scheme of things it’s a minor annoyance but shows that underneath it’s not quite as settled compared to some of its rivals.Final consumption figures are a long way from the claimed 1.7L/100 km which would be spot on for short distance, flat road, driving. But along the way you can enjoy the decently velour covered comfortable seats, the DAB equipped sound system, with plenty of punch and clarity. Being a largish SUV (call it 4.8 metres in length) means plenty of head (1030 mm), leg (1039 mm for the front), shoulder (1437 mm), and cargo space, with the five seater allowing 477 litres. There’s a parcel shelf that covers the spare and has a small locker for the charge cable. However the dash and overall cabin presence is dating and needs a makeover to bring it up to the perceived level of quality as seen in the Korean and European rivals. Outside it’s no different, apart from the badging, to the currently design ethos of Mitsubishi, with the broad and chromed “Shield” nose, curvaceous body that would shame some super models, and a rounded in profile but square from the rear…rear.You’ll not want for safety in the form of airbags, hill start assist, and the basic traction control systems, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and something called an Ultrasonic Misacceleration Mitigation System….what you don’t get is satnav, as the seven inch touchscreen interface has apps for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, has GPS, but not a navigation facility.At The End Of The Drive.
At the time of writing Mitsubishi didn’t list a price for the PHEV on their website, stating it was “Price on application”. Given the standard Outlander range starts at $27990 and goes up to $47990 for the Exceed version (also available as a PHEV) it’d be fair to say somewhere in the mid $30K bracket for the LS. It’s different in that you get a petrol power generator and a back up driver unit at that, with the main focus being that it’s a plug in unit and less reliant on the petrol engine. The fact that it’s a SUV is also different, with very, very few other companies offering anything similar and bear in mind the Outlander isn’t aimed at the luxury car market.

Unfortunately that shows up mostly in the interior, and on road the unsettled feeling it exhibits just a little too often. Measured up, on these two standards, against the Santa Fe, Sorento, Fortuner, and the Euros such as the Tiguan, its lagging. Where it scores the brownie points is in the drive tech, so click here: 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV for specific information and contact your local dealer for pricing.

 

Nissan Leaf Wins Award.

Nissan‘s small electric car, Leaf, has won, at the hugely prestigious Consumer Electronics Show, CES Best of Innovation award winner for Vehicle Intelligence and Self-Driving Technology.
Each year, the Consumer Technology Association announces its CES Best of Innovation award winners as part of the buildup to the January CES in Las Vegas. Nissan and the association will put on a special display of the new Nissan LEAF at the 2018 show. As confirmation of Nissan’s leading investment in innovation, the Nissan LEAF 100 per cent electric vehicle with ProPILOT (and e-Pedal technologies also won the following honour: CES honoree for Tech for a Better World.

Daniele Schillaci, Nissan’s executive vice president for global marketing and sales, zero-emission vehicles and the battery business, and chairman of the management committee for the Japan/A&O region says: “It is a great honour to have this early and important recognition for the new Nissan LEAF. This award recognises products and technologies that benefit people and the planet, so it is fitting that the new LEAF has been honoured. It is more than just a car. It is the icon of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, our vision to move people to a better world.”

The new Nissan LEAF brings a compelling package of everyday-useful innovations and technologies to more people worldwide than any electric vehicle has done before. The car is helping make the world a better place not only through innovation, but also through accessibility to more people.
Additional capabilities such as vehicle-to-home and vehicle-to-grid integration (availability depending on market) help owners know they can waste less and give back more.

Head to The Nissan website for more information.

Tesla Powers Up Across Australia.

With the continued growth of the electric car segment, driven (no pun intended…well, maybe a little) by Tesla, the ability to travel further and further across the wide brown land has grown even more. Tesla has expanded its charging network further across Australia with the addition of five Superchargers across Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia and there’s rapid growth of Destination Chargers across the country.

The Supercharger link between Melbourne and Adelaide is complete with the opening of Horsham in Victoria, and South Australian locations Keith, Clare Valley and Adelaide city centre. These additions allow owners to drive from Adelaide to Brisbane emissions-free.

Western Australia’s first Supercharger is now open at Eaton Fair Shopping Centre. Located two hours from Perth and just a few kilometres north of one of W.A.s oldest seaside cities, Bunbury, Eaton is a convenient stop on the way to Margaret River’s picturesque wine region. Tesla owners can enjoy the centre’s retail, food and 24/7 amenities while charging up to 270km of range in 30 minutes.

Australia now has a total of 18 Supercharger stations, with another 17 planned for installation. In just the last four months more than 80 Destination Chargers have been installed bringing the total number of sites around Australia to 384. Recent additions include South Australia’s Barossa Pavilions, a 75-acre hillside retreat located in the , and Deep Blue Hotel and Hot Springs in Warrnambool offering luxurious accommodation and coastal views along Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road.

These Supercharger and Destination Charging locations are part of the largest electric vehicle infrastructure supply in Australia and Tesla’s continued effort to double the size of charging sites by the end of the year. Tesla Superchargers have a higher power output than the Destination Chargers, with up to 120 kilowatts of power providing up to 270 kilometres of range in just half an hour. Planning for the locations looks at easy to access sites that also provide food, beverage, facilities, shopping centres to allow for drivers to have a rest stop in a pleasant environment whilst recharging themselves and their cars.

Destination Chargers work on the same basis as the charger you’d have installed at home. These allow longer stops for drivers whilst they charge at 40 kilometres of range every hour on single phase or double that on three phase. Tesla provides a map of their Australian charger bases here: Tesla Australia charging locations.