Gary S. Vasilash

Gary S. Vasilash is the founding editor of Automotive Design & Production (AD&P) magazine, a publication established in 1997 by Gardner Publications with the cooperation of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He is responsible for the editorial management and direction of the monthly magazine. Vasilash continues to write a monthly column for AD&P and contributes several stories to each issue.

Vasilash has more than 20 years of experience writing about the automotive industry, best practices and new technologies. His work has appeared in a variety of venues, ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Lightworks, a journal of contemporary art. He has made numerous presentations at a variety of venues ranging from the annual meeting of the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) to the Center for Constructive alternatives at Hillsdale College.

Prior to his present position, Vasilash was editor-in-chief of both Automotive Production and Production magazines—predecessors to AD&P. He joined Cincinnati, Ohio-based Gardner Publications in 1987 as executive editor of Production magazine.

Prior to that, Vasilash had editorial positions with the Rockford Institute and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and a Master of Arts degree from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He is a member of the Automotive Press Association.

FCA Opens the Door to The Future
3. January 2017

FCA introduced a high-tech concept vehicle today, the Chrysler Portal, at the event previously known as the “Consumer Electronics Show,” now simply CES. The Portal concept is the FCA future vision of a vehicle that combines semi-autonomy (for now; it is engineered so that it can evolve with the technology) and electricity (with the electricity, of course, not simply being used as a means by which to power the sensors and the processors to permit the autonomy, but to drive the wheels of this minivan-like (it has sliding doors and if there is one feature that is considered to be characteristic of a minivan, it is the slider in the body side for easy ingress and egress) vehicle).

Chrysler Portal Concept exterior, side-view

In fact, according to Matt Dunford, who worked on the exterior design for the Portal, “The distinctive design started with the shape of the side doors.”

We’ll let that one sink in for a minute.

“Here, the doors are the theme,” he added.

Chrysler Portal Concept exterior, side-view and LED interactive portal lighting

When did you ever hear an automotive exterior designer say that the shape of the doors helped drive the design—no, are fundamental to the overall design of the car?

But the Portal is different. The company is emphasizing that this is a vehicle developed by Millennials for Millennials.

Chrysler Portal Concept portal-shaped side-openings, with articulating front and rear doors

Ashley Edgar, who worked on the engineering for the vehicle, points out that her generation, which is becoming an increasingly important segment of the automotive market, is one that will, yes, be having babies and starting businesses and will be needing to carry family and friends and stuff.

So yes, one could argue, that the Portal is a minivan-like vehicle, one configured to carry six people in seats that move along the flat floor on rails, seats that are slim and hammock-like in configuration.

But this is a vehicle with a number of differences. While not a fully autonomous vehicle, it does have autonomous capabilities. Cindy Juette, who worked on the interior design (“Instead of looking at this as a car interior, we wanted to design a ‘third place,’ a beautiful place to be”) notes that there is a “steering wheel,” but this control device is more of a melding of the steering wheel of an F1 car and a business jet yoke. When the car does go into autonomous mode, it retracts into the instrument panel, and instrument panel that is dominated by a large screen with carefully curated information for the driver and the passengers (there is a high level of sharing in this Millennial automotive future; Emilio Feliciano, user experience designer, describes the Portal as “a next-generation vehicle that serves as a hub for your life”--and he means a digital hub, as well as one where family members congregate to go from point A to point B).

Chrysler Portal Concept high-mount display and instrument panel

As mentioned, this is an all-electric vehicle, with a single electric motor, powered by a ~100 kWh lithium ion battery pack (cleverly engineered into the floor to enhance structural rigidity of a vehicle that (1) has no conventional B-pillars and (2) has a full-length polycarbonate roof), that drives the front wheels. It will have an estimated range of 250 miles on a single charge. With DC fast charging at 350-kW, the battery pack can be recharged for 150 miles of range within 20 minutes.

Yes, this is a concept and not a production-intent vehicle, as many concepts have become. But that said, it is clear that the people at FCA—Boomers, Xers and Millennials alike—recognize that there are technological and demographic shifts occurring in a way that the industry has never had to grapple with before.

And the Portal is at the very least a fairly realistic execution of what could be in Chrysler dealerships somewhat sooner than later.

Chrysler Portal Concept exterior and LED interactive portal lighting

ZF in the Oasis
30. December 2016

ZF

What you’re looking at is the “Intelligent Rolling Chassis” ZF has developed for the Rinspeed Oasis, a concept vehicle. It is an electric vehicle. It is an autonomous vehicle. Like all concept vehicles to come from Rinspeed (this is the twenty-third), it is an imaginative vehicle—but one that has input from serious engineering companies like ZF, Harman, GF Automotive, and others.

The IRC is making its world debut in the Oasis. It has ZF’s Electric Twist Beam (eTB) rear axle. At the rear there are electric motors that are integrated with a single-speed transmission.

There is a ZF electro-mechanical steering system that works with a dual control arm independent suspension on the front axle, which provides the vehicle with a 75-degree turning radius, which means that the vehicle is highly maneuverable in tight spaces.

Also enhancing maneuverability is the electronic control unit that’s housed within the IRC. It receives signals from various control systems on the car that are then used to make the necessary adjustments.

Worth noting is that because this is an autonomous vehicle, the ZF single-spoke steering wheel has 10 capacitive sensor fields within the circumference of its rim so that if the driver removes her hands from the wheel, the vehicle immediately is aware of it (and vice versa).

In addition to which, should the vehicle operate in autonomous mode, the steering wheel is foldable so that the area can be used for something else (like a table).

The driver’s side airbag? No, not in the steering wheel, but in the headliner above the driver.

As for the “Oasis”: there is actually a small garden area behind the windshield. Yes, garden.

Oasis

Silicon Valley Meets Detroit
30. December 2016

One of the things that the tech companies that are entering the automotive space as though they are like the prospectors who came rolling into California back in the mid-19th century (“Thar’s gold in them there cars!”) perhaps don’t understand clearly is that the auto companies are very, very, very cost sensitive.

Sure, they’re as interested as anyone else in getting the latest, greatest and coolest tech out there. But they’re also somewhat frugal when it comes to acquiring that tech to put it on something other than a prototype or pilot fleet of vehicles.

And there are those other factors, like reliability, durability, safety, etc. that they keenly focus on, too.

Which brings us to Magna’s recent announcement that it is partnering with Innoviz Technologies on LiDAR.

InnovizOne

LiDAR systems, by and large, are large. They are the sensors fitted onto the roofs of vehicles that resemble large rotating hat boxes or vent pipes. And they are costly.

Innoviz has developed a system that is compact (5 x 5 x 5 cm) and, according to the specs, quite capable (e.g., 200-m detection range for objects with 50 percent reflectivity, <10 cm accuracy, 100 x 25° field of view, 0.1 x 0.1° spatial resolution).

And on the Innoviz website they include a piece that appeared in TechCrunch this past August that includes the line: “Innoviz says it’s aiming for a price-point below $100.” Presumably were that not the case, they wouldn’t feature the item on the site.

According to Omer Keliaf, co-founder and CEO of Innoviz, “The integration of LiDAR into driving systems is pivotal in enabling full autonomy and in ensuring a comprehensive sensing solution that satisfies the highest safety standards.”

And Swamy Kotagiri, chief technology officer of Magna, said, “We are pleased for the opportunity to partner with Innoviz, as we have confidence in their multi-disciplinary team and this gives Magna a full suite of sensing systems—camera, radar and LiDAR—to complement our autonomous vehicle capability.”

Realize that autonomy is going to require more than one type of sensor, which goes to Kotagiri’s point about having a suite, not a single solution.

And because of the multiplicity of systems, that aforementioned affordability is all the more underscored.

Which is why it is undoubtedly important for tech companies to work with technologically savvy automotive suppliers like Magna.

(It should be noted that Innoviz isn’t based in Silicon Valley, but Kfar Saba, Israel. Still, the argument holds.)

Auto & Creative Destruction
29. December 2016

“Creative destruction,” or “schöpferische Zerstörung,” is an idea from Joseph Schumpeter, an Austrian-American economist, who had it that there are profound changes that occur when there are new product and process innovations.

The simple way to think about this in the context of the auto industry is the classic “what happened to the buggy whip manufacturers after the Model T rolled out?”

The industry is undoubtedly in the midst of a huge wave of creative destruction right now.

A non-trivial bit of evidence in this regard comes from Volkswagen Group, which announced that it is in the process of hiring more than 1,000 IT experts during the next three years—and this must be taken into context: last month the Group announced that it is cutting some 30,000 globally (through attrition).

Clearly, the 1,000, while a fraction of the 30,000 goes to the point that VW understands the importance of the changes it faces.

VWlogo

As Dr. Karlheinz Blessing, member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Group, Human Resources, put it, “We are tackling the major challenges of the future with the best people: digitalization, software development, e-mobility, autonomous driving, and mobility services.”

The company is hiring robotics experts, design thinking experts, AI researchers. It is staffing up its Virtual Engineering Lab, Data Lab and Smart Production Lab.

The people are being deployed in Wolfsburg, Berlin and Munich to address Big Data, Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, connectivity, mobility, and virtual reality.

It is even hiring gamers.

Who would have thought, even a few years ago, that an auto company would hire gamers?

Who would have thought that the auto industry would be undergoing such a radical transformation?

Autoliv’s Approach to Autonomy
28. December 2016

Autoliv, the Swedish safety systems supplier, is launching a Volvo-based “learning platform,” a learning platform that the company hopes will bring it to the development of autonomous driving capability.

Called “LIV”—which is Swedish for life—the vehicle combines currently existing sensor and safety technology and runs them through an artificial intelligence-based ECU. The system takes in information regarding the driver, the vehicle, other vehicles, and the environment and uses it, initially, to help the driver. Going forward, it will gain autonomous capability—but again, in a way that is supplemental to the driver.

Autoliv

Explains Ola Boström, Vice President Research at Autoliv, who is in charge of the LIV project, “The more advanced machine learning and AI technology becomes, the more important it is to have a human centric approach – understanding how we humans and smart machines collaborate as a joint cognitive system. As vehicles become safer, in a sense we become worse drivers. We no longer need to control the vehicle unless it needs or wants us to. With LIV, we have turned this table around, with a system that trusts you to drive and works together with you, and not the other way around.”




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