Next-Gen Vehicles – Beyond the Fuel Debate
Few topics are as socially charged these days as the debate between electric versus fossil fuel vehicles. Regardless of where you land on the matter, one point is crystal clear, which is that next generation vehicles of any type will increasingly rely on advanced instrumentation, electronic, and integrated circuit technologies to meet both environmental and consumer experience demands.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the role of instrumentation in emerging vehicle technologies beyond just fuel types. To give away the ending: all vehicle platforms of the future will use increasing levels of instrumentation, and the more we embrace sophisticated controls that promote efficiency, integrity, reliability, and safety, the less we'll have to debate fuel types as the sole path to a sustainable future.
Also, we're talking about all vehicle applications and uses - industrial equipment, material handling vehicles, automobiles, freight trucks, heavy-duty construction equipment, recreational vehicles, and so on. When it comes to next-gen advancements in engine-powered transportation and work performance, all vehicles are affected.
Vehicle Technologies of the Future
Thanks to the world of consumer vehicle marketing, some may believe that electric autos are the only possible next step in the evolution of vehicle fuel types. In reality, multiple fuel platforms are all being pursued by different cohorts in the industry and for different reasons, including high efficiency internal combustion, hybrid, electric, biodiesel, and hydrogen engine types.
While there is much work to be done towards calling any given vehicle fuel platform a clear winner, each option above currently offers a different balance of benefits and shortfalls that make them more or less appropriate to given applications. That is to say, it’s most likely that all of these technologies (and more) will continue to develop simultaneously in different market sectors into the foreseeable future. Industrial users will likely continue to prefer the power and maintainability of internal combustion engines. Commercial users will likely prefer the range and lower per-mile cost of emerging solid-state battery or hydrogen options. And consumer users will likely pursue whichever technology can afford the most competitive total cost of ownership (including low purchase price and low ongoing maintenance costs) while most directly proving their social and environmental claims.
Apart from fuel types, what other technological advancements might be in our future that call for next-gen instrumentation solutions? Here’s a brief glimpse of features currently in development:
- Autonomous Vehicle Piloting
- Onboard Solar Charging
- Infotainment (systems that provide entertainment and information while driving, such as internet connected digital guides, navigation, and passenger gaming and media interfaces)
- New Battery Power and Safety Tech
- Heads-Up Displays and Augmented Reality (real-time audio and visual displays presented on windshields, side windows, in mirrors, and even in projected holograms anywhere around the vehicle)
- Productivity Maximization Tech (work-related features such as voice-activated cloud computing, avatar-based video conferencing, and commercial fleet management tools)
The Role of Instrumentation in Next-Gen Vehicles
Of all the different next-gen vehicle types currently being developed, most share common internal systems that rely on advanced instrumentation, such as:
Cooling - all vehicle types create heat as they convert fuel energy to physical power, and this heat needs some level of passive or active cooling to dispel. Temperature and level sensors play a critical role in monitoring vehicle system temperatures, engaging cooling systems reliably, and activating protective responses in overheating situations to protect the vehicle and its passengers.
Heating - powertrains of all types have a minimum operating temperature, and require protection from damage that might occur if they're started below this temperature. Also, cabin heating is a universal feature across all vehicle types, both keeping passengers warm and helping to dispel engine waste heat in functional ways. Temperature sensors here again are crucial for providing low-temp protection as well as monitoring for unsafe cabin overheating.
Hydraulic Systems - power steering, power brakes, lift and reach systems (such as on forklifts and aerial platforms), accessory systems (such as outriggers on cranes), shock absorbers, pumps, and many other fluid power systems are integral to vehicles of all engine types. Pressure, temperature, and flow sensors keep these systems operating as intended, as well as mitigate safety concerns before they can turn into serious problems.
Electrical - no doubt about it, every vehicle of the future will take electrical power to some degree, whether it be for onboard vehicle control systems only or the complete powerplant. Electrical systems need sophisticated voltage, amperage, temperature, ground resistance, and power quality monitoring instrumentation, on top of all types of computational, circuit board, power distribution, short circuit protection, geo-positioning, and even communication (cellular, satellite, shortwave) systems.
Fluid Fuel Distribution - gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, propane, and other fluid fuel types typically consist of a storage vessel or tank, distribution piping to get fuel from this vessel to the engine, and injection piping or manifolds to inject fuel into a combustion chamber. Pressure, flow, and level sensors are paramount towards ensuring safe, consistent, contained fuel storage and delivery, as well as for immediate operator notification should an unsafe condition be detected.
Pneumatics and Vacuum - air ride suspension, lift assist, air brakes, power air horns, active cooling, engine vacuum, cabin pressurization, tire air, pneumatic vibrators, and many other pneumatic and vacuum systems can be found throughout all sorts of passenger and industrial vehicles. Pressure, vacuum, and flow sensors help control these systems within operating specifications, and for heavy-duty versions of these systems, temperature controls are often added to monitor for overheating.
Specialty and Safety Sensors - more and more, advanced vehicles utilize any number of specialized sensors. Fuel concentration, exhaust composition, engine knock and detonation, thermal and electrical regeneration, battery failure detection, fire detection, mechanical component position and rotation, finite directional tracking, cabin UV exposure, cabin oxygen content, and so many more application-specific sensors are integral to emerging vehicle technologies.
As a veteran-owned small business, Whitman Controls is dedicated to supplying premium quality, reliable, technologically advanced instrumentation for use in nearly any application. Our Bristol, CT manufacturing facility embodies over 40 years of engineering, fabrication, and customer service expertise, serving both end-user and manufacturing customers nationwide through direct and distribution channels. Our values drive us to provide the highest level of servant partnership that you can find.