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Innovation for the automotive sector: new efficiency and confort solutions for electric cars

The Plastics Technology Centre (AIMPLAS), the Institute of Computer Technology (ITI) and the Biomechanical Institute (IBV) have collaborated during this year to face some of the main challenges that the introduction of electric vehicles represent.

innovación automóvil

The new generations of vehicles, including electric vehicles, incorporate and will continue to include more new technology innovations with users may be not so familiar which. Automobiles, which are more intelligent, will communicate to us states and events different from the usual ones in the current vehicles. Some of the new types of messages for the driver of the new automobiles are information such as the battery status of our electric vehicle and new types of breakdowns or information on the start and end of autonomous driving period.

On the other hand, one of the major challenges that the introduction of electric vehicles represent is the need of reducing the weight of vehicle components. Seats represent about 8 % of a conventional car weight, imposing the need of having lighter seats or with the same or even higher comfort performances than those offered in the current vehicles. Another relevant aspect is the thermal comfort that seats offer. Since it is an element in constant contact with the driver and the passengers, its capacity to refresh the contact surface during the summer and heat it or maintain it in a comfortable temperature in winter is essential to guarantee the comfort of passengers.

With the aim of studying and regulating the impact of these innovations on security of drivers and passengers, as well as finding solutions that minimize the energy consumption of electric vehicles, maintaining the comfort of passengers, the IBV, ITI and AIMPLAS have worked in the project DIVEO during 2016. During the first year, the Biomechanical Institute has updated the requirements and the evaluation methodologies in vehicles on different subjects related to the comfort and the state of the driver.

As José Solaz, head of Innovation in Automotive Sector and Means of Transport at IBV explains, “we assess postural comfort by means of virtual modelling of seats and passengers and seats thanks to users, from their physiological measures and subjective evaluation”. He also explains, “we can establish the degree of thermal comfort from thermal manikins, thus allowing the characterization of heated seats and assessing them with regard to the comfort offered to the user and the vehicle’s energy efficiency”.

Thanks to the tasks developed in this project, “we have also implemented the development of a methodology related to cognitive ergonomics, with the aim of testing the cognitive load that the new instrument panels will involve with the new information that they will provide to the driver, as well as an associated and perceived quality”. Finally, “by developing drowsiness-detection algorithms, we can monitor the driver’s state and predict it before an accident may happen”.

AIMPLAS has collaborated in the project DIVEO by developing an innovative heating system that will be installed in car seats.

This development consists of plastics with high electrical conductivity, which generate heat when an electric current is applied. These materials will be used in the whole seat surface, so they will represent a homogeneous heat source. The resistive heating of the current seats is based on cables that generate a not very homogeneous heat distribution on the driver’s body surface. From a medical point of view, this factor is not favourable for blood circulation, being more positive the homogeneous heating of the driver’s surface of back and legs.

During the second year of the project, the IBV will assess “whether the applications of this innovative heating system in seats are more comfortable for the user, besides being more efficient from the energy efficiency point of view”. With this kind of systems, the driver is warmed directly and we avoid heating the whole car cabin, as it is done in current combustion engine vehicles. Electric vehicles must optimize the energy consumption in order to increase the autonomy and this involves an energy consumption saving. Car heating systems can represent a 40 % of the energy consumption in very cold climates. Due to this reason, the industry and the scientific community are looking for more efficient-heating methods without setting aside ergonomics and the passenger’s comfort.

As regards ITI, it has worked in the optimization of last-mile delivery routes by using electric vehicles. This working line is aligned with the new paradigm “Green logistics”, in which the distribution cost is measured in terms of economic and environmental cost. If we keep in mind this approach, distribution models gain strength, which move vehicles with fossil fuels from cities and support the use of big hubs near big cities and distribution fleet of small vehicles of alternative fuels, which recharge at the hub different times throughout the day.

Since one of the possible purposes of use of electric vehicles is the distribution of goods, ITI has developed optimization algorithms that consider business restrictions, without which the distribution model would not make sense.

During the second year, ITI will continue to work in this line, considering the possibility of using recharging points for electric vehicles placed in the urban environment. It will also design a controlled interface for electric vehicles. In collaboration with the IBV different interfaces will be evaluated from the usability point of view and its positions in the driver’s compartment.

All these knowledges and developments, which represent a breakthrough for the design of the electric vehicle of the future from the energy efficiency point of view, which satisfy the expectations and guarantee its acceptance by the end user, will be available for companies. Therefore, the project DIVEO clearly contributes with significant developments on solutions, tools, methodologies and design criteria that allow the outstanding positioning of the companies of the automotive sector in the field of electric vehicles.

The project, carried out in collaboration with three technology centres (IBV, ITI and AIMPLAS) is entitled: “Electric vehicle user-centric design of advanced solutions for the optimization of the energy consumption” (DIVEO). It has been funded by IVACE within the framework of the aid programme aimed at technology centres for the 2016 exercise (Ref. IMDECB/2016/4).