Several topics seem to describe the state of the automotive industry at the moment: technology (AI), autonomous, electric and additive manufacturing. Let’s look at what’s happening in each of these areas.
In order to achieve advancements such as autonomous vehicles, wireless technology needs to improve. The fifth generation (5G) of wireless technology will allow us to take great advantage of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Internet speeds will be 100 times faster than 4G, which will be necessary to usher in autonomous vehicles.
Along these lines, Hyundai Motors recently announced that it would be spending $40 billion in the next five years to develop new models and technologies for electrified and autonomous vehicles in addition to transportation services. The latter is in response to demand shifts due to ride-hailing services.
Technology is also being used by Toyota and other manufacturers to make practical improvements such as maximizing efficiency. Toyota’s “Dynamic Force Engines” incorporate advanced technologies (e.g., laser-clad valve seats). Initially released in the 2018 Camry, nine new high-tech engines will roll out by 2021.
We have discussed this technology several times because it is not going away. Self-driving cars use hundreds of sensors to give the car the ability to take over for humans. This creates great volumes of data that require the faster 5G network speeds.
I attended a recent webinar on autonomous-vehicle (AV) technology, and here are a few things that were discussed.
- Station-to-station people movers are likely the first adoption of AV.
- A survey indicated that people are more likely to trust a technology company (versus automotive) with AVs.
- So many things need to be addressed, including factors as simple as temperature. AV sensors need to be able to live in very hot and very cold environments.
- High performance with low power is a must.
- Unless the costs of systems go down, personal vehicles are unlikely to adopt the highest levels of AV technology.
- Algorithms need to be developed through learning. In addition to actual miles driven (10 million), simulations are helping to accelerate the learning process. It was said that 7 billion miles were in simulation.
- As a start, we may want to restrict AVs to certain areas, special lanes, etc.
Clearly, there is a lot of movement in the electric vehicle (EV) category. A number of these vehicles are manufactured by smaller and startup companies while others are a part of the lineup for the likes of Toyota. Checking out two comprehensive lists showed a total of 46-65 EV models with the higher number including large trucks. With brands like Sono Motors, Tazzari, Thunder Power, Weima and Lucid, many are not household names.
A concern addressed in The Economist is whether the world can produce enough cobalt for all of these EVs. The primary source is the unstable Democratic Republic of Congo. First Cobalt is working toward developing a source of battery-grade cobalt in North America at its Iron Creek Project in Idaho. If we can’t find enough in the ground to meet the need, the floor of the Pacific Ocean is known to be lined with nodules rich in cobalt.
Much is happening here, but one example is Bugatti Automobiles S.A.S. They are using AM to optimize design, thereby saving weight and enhancing performance. AM parts include a titanium brake caliper, active spoiler bracket, motor bracket with integrated water cooling, front-axle differential housing and cylinder-head cam covers.
It is an interesting if not unsettling time to be in the automotive business. Keep an eye on our twice-monthly magEzine newsletter for up-to-date reporting on this dynamic industry.