A car that drives itself through traffic jams and does the parking for you was showcased alongside shape-shifting OLED headlights by German car brand Audi at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Above: banks of LED headlights and indicators
Audi also unveiled electronics systems to integrate the car with services such as Google Maps and Google Earth View as well as social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Piloted driving will soon allow drivers to let the car take control when stuck in a traffic jam, Audi engineers believe.
Above: OLED technology creates a continuous light surface
The self-driving technology will be able to stop and start the vehicle in slow-moving traffic, as well as manoeuvring it in and out of parking spaces.
Cars could also be networked to alert each other to hazards such as icy roads or heavy traffic, Audi suggests, while communication with traffic lights would enable the vehicle to drive itself through green lights.
LED headlights are already available in many car models, but at CES 2013Audi unveiled its Matrix LED system, which uses a camera to detect the road and vehicles ahead so that it can swivel its headlights or lower the intensity of the beam when needed.
Above: LED headlights that can bend and swivel
OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology would also turn the car's rear into a continuous light surface with many tiny points moving together like a shoal of fish. The lights would flow to the right when the car turns right or flow rapidly forwards when it brakes, for example.
Last month Dezeen filmed a movie that showed how glowing walls, windows and furniture made from OLEDs could replace light bulbs and LEDs in homes.
“Electronics trends over the next decade” will be the banner for Audi’s presence at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which will be held in Las Vegas from January 8 to 11, 2013. At the world’s most important electronics trade show, the brand is presenting its technologies of today and its solutions for tomorrow. The spotlight will be on networking the car with its environment – with a particular focus on future piloted driving and mobile communications.
Audi will be showcasing a wide range of assistance systems already on offer that make driving more comfortable and safer. These assistance systems are closely integrated, providing them with a high degree of intelligence and outstanding capabilities. Tomorrow’s systems will be even smarter – they will reduce the driver’s workload should the driver so wish.
Piloted driving will be technical feasible before the decade is out – Audi will be showcasing what being caught up in a traffic jam will entail in future. In congested traffic at speeds up to 60 km/h (37.28 mph), Audi’s piloted driving helps the driver to steer the car within certain limits. It also accelerates and brakes the vehicle autonomously. In future, piloted driving will also be able to maneuver the vehicle autonomously into and out of parking spaces – such as in tight roadside parking spaces, in garages, or even in parking garages.
“At Audi you’d be hard pushed to find an innovation that isn’t related to electronics nowadays,” explains Ricky Hudi, Head of Electrics/Electronics Development. “These enable us to implement full networking. A defining feature of the last decade was that we integrated all the functions in the car. This decade will see us network the car seamlessly with the environment, under the Audi connect banner – with the driver, the Internet, the infrastructure, and with other vehicles.” ￼ Audi connect services and technologies bring the Internet into the car and the car onto the Internet. For customers the new technology means greater comfort and greater driving pleasure. The new wireless communication standard Long Term Evolution (LTE) will soon support communications with the World Wide Web, opening up the possibility of high-speed transmission of large amounts of data.
Audi connect provides the driver with tailor-made services, ranging from navigation with Google Earth images and Google Maps Street View, through Audi online traffic information and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. In the new Audi A3 and in the Audi A3 Sportback the driver can have e-mails read aloud and dictate (SMS) text messages. Audi intends to expand this range of services further.
Audi is working flat out on new operating and display concepts – concepts like the freely programmable instrument cluster. The driver can switch around the virtual displays to suit their own requirements. Visually they are barely distinguishable from the physical instruments, but provide much more flexibility.
The brand also has new technology for hi-fi aficionados – 3-D sound brings a three-dimensional, large acoustic stage to in-car music playback. This inspirational technology can be experienced in the “Audi Q7 sound concept” directly in the vehicle and on the booth.
The architecture of the modular infotainment platform enables for the first time hardware components to be kept constantly up to date with minimal effort.
For many years Audi has been a leading brand in terms of lighting technology - at present LED headlights are available in many model series. Electrics/electronics also pave the way for major development advances in this technology area. The lighting on tomorrow’s Audi models will react actively to environmental conditions, thus increasing active safety further.
Audi has developed a broad spectrum of expertise in all areas of vehicle electronics, thus enabling it to explore new ways of co-operating with its suppliers. As part of the Progressive Semi Conductor Program (PSCP) seven semiconductor manufacturers have acquired the status of strategic partners and are therefore integrated into development.
“In all our technical areas the innovation cycles are short, and the competition is cut-throat,” says Ricky Hudi, Head of Electrics/Electronics Development. “At Audi we see that as an obligation to become even more progressive, more agile, and more innovative.”
The automaker is using technology from SolarFuel to make renewable methane for natural-gas vehicles.
Audi is building a plant that will use solar and wind power to make methane from water and carbon dioxide. The plant, which will use technology developed by Stuttgart, Germany-based SolarFuel, is scheduled to start operation later this year. It will produce enough methane to power 1,500 of Audi’s new natural-gas vehicles, which also go on sale this year.
SolarFuel’s process uses excess renewable energy generated as a result of Germany’s push to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. There’s now so much renewable energy in Germany that supply sometimes exceeds demand—such as when the wind is blowing late at night. That power could be cheap enough to make methane from water and carbon dioxide, even though the process for doing so is inefficient.
To make the methane, SolarFuel combines two existing technologies. One is electrolysis, which splits water to produce hydrogen and oxygen. The other is methanation, which combines hydrogen with carbon from carbon dioxide to make methane. The company says its innovation lies in the way it’s combined the two processes.
SolarFuel’s chief customer officer, Stephan Rieke, says that the amount of excess renewable energy in Germany grew, in two years, from 150 gigawatt-hours per year to 1,000 gigawatt-hours per year. “That’s electricity that we could use for nothing,” he says. The amount is expected to continue to grow as Germany pursues ambitious goals to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 using largely renewable energy (see “The Great German Energy Experiment”).
SolarFuel can’t compete directly with the wholesale price of natural gas. But it hopes to compete with biogas—methane produced from organic sources—a relatively large industry in Germany. It may also compete with retail natural-gas prices by building its plants close to consumers.
The uses of the technology outside of Germany—with its excess supply of cheap renewable energy—will be limited. The company is in talks with mining companies in Chile that currently get power from expensive diesel generation—its system could help such operations cut costs. The technology might also be attractive for rural communities without grid power (see “How Solar-Based Microgrids Could Bring Power to Millions”).
One major drawback of the process is its inefficiency. Its small-scale demonstration systems are only 40 percent efficient at converting electricity to methane. It hopes to improve that to 60 percent efficient in its commercial plants. Even then, when factoring in the losses from burning methane to generate electricity again, the overall process is at best 30 percent efficient. SolarFuel hopes to recoup much of that lost energy by using it for steam, but doing that is limited by the demand for steam and the infrastructure for distributing it.