8/5/2019 | 4 MINUTE READ

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Talk, Speed Racer, Talk!


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Talk, Speed Racer, Talk!

The experiment at the University of Cambridge more than resembled a toy racetrack. A small fleet of about 16 miniature robotic cars drove seamlessly inside the lines of a two-lane track, marked out on carpet. Then one of the cars stopped cold in the passing lane. The traffic responded just as one would expect in a real road situation, with a line of slowing and eventually stopping vehicles queuing up behind the stalled car, as they negotiated a move to the outside lane to pass.

The research was designed to emulate our near future - when some cars will be communicating with each other, but most will remain off the grid. In the experiment, the cars were programmed with an algorithm to detect roadblocks, but the vehicles themselves weren’t communicating with one another. In another version, the vehicles connected over WiFi, and when one stalled out in the middle lane, it sent a signal to the others on the course. Vehicles in the outer lane near the stopped vehicle moderately slowed down so cars in the inner lane could pass without stopping.

Researchers also adapted a lane-changing algorithm for autonomous cars, closing the distance between them. They then tested the fleet in “egocentric” and “cooperative” driving modes, using both normal and aggressive driving moves, and observed how the fleet reacted to a stopped car. In the normal mode, cooperative driving of the connected vehicles improved traffic flow by 35 percent over egocentric driving.

This may (literally) be a small-scale test, but it has significant implications, according to researchers.

"Autonomous cars could fix a lot of different problems associated with driving in cities, but there needs to be a way for them to work together," said co-author Michael He, an undergraduate student at St John's College, who designed the algorithms for the experiment.

The research was presented at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) in Montréal.

"If different automotive manufacturers are all developing their own autonomous cars with their own software, those cars all need to communicate with each other effectively," said co-author Nicholas Hyldmar, an undergraduate student, who co-designed the experiment’s hardware.


Designing on the Fly, Testing in the Cloud

Product design and simulation, once largely bifurcated into two separate worlds, are blurring into one with the help of large-scale cloud computing.

Volkswagen, processor producer NVIDIA (nvidia.com), simulation firm Altair (altair.com) and Amazon Web Services got together to demonstrate how form and function are merging to design more fuel-efficient vehicles. Specifically, Altair developed a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) application using NVIDIA GPUs (graphic processing units) running on Amazon Web Services’ cloud. Those big interfaces enabled VW to test and predict the aerodynamics of a variety of Jetta designs in multiple simulations.

“We were able to run 200 car shape variants in a time frame that would normally correspond to only a few runs with our current operational tools,” said Henry Bensler, head of computer-aided engineering (CAE) at Volkswagen Group Research

With a GPU-based system, Volkswagen could save up to 70 percent of its hardware costs, according to Altair, while rapidly speeding up design cycles.


Taking Fewer Steps to Aluminum

Extruding parts from aluminum alloy powders can be a costly and time-intensive process, one that researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL; pnnl.gov) say could be on its way out. They recently demonstrated a single-step manufacturing process that “nano-structured” rods and tubes directly from high-performance aluminum alloy powder.

Scientists used PNNL's Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion technology (SHAPE), during which a powder, in this case, an Al-12.4TM aluminum alloy, is poured into an open container. A rotating extrusion die is forced into the powder, which generates heat between the powder and die. The material softens and easily extrudes, eliminating the need for the now-required canning, degassing, hot pressing, pre-heating, and decanning, researchers report. The innovation also resulted in a significant increase in material ductility—how far a material can stretch before it breaks.

It’s the first published case of an aluminum alloy powder being consolidated into nano-structured extrusions using a single-step process, said PNNL materials scientist Scott Whalen, who led the study.

"The elimination of both the processing steps and the need for pre-heating could dramatically reduce production time as well as lower the cost and overall embedded energy within the product, which could be beneficial for automotive manufacturers who want to make passenger vehicles more affordable, lighter, and fuel-efficient for the consumer," Whalen said.

They chronicle the research in the June 2019 issue of the journal, Materialia (actamaterialia.org/journals/materialia).


A Serial Production 3D Printing Alliance

“Today I can say that, together with our partners, we are set to become the world’s first to use fully automated 3D printing in automotive serial-production.”

That’s Ingo Ederer, CEO of voxeljet (voxeljet.com), a German 3D printing manufacturer who seems pretty bullish on its new alliance with Spanish tooling company Loramendi (loramendi.com) and ASK Chemicals (ask-chemicals.com) a material science firm in Germany. The reason for his enthusiasm is what the partners are calling a fully automated 3D printed core production solution. The technology, known as “Industrialization of Core Printing” (ICP) allows automated production of highly complex sand cores for casting processes.

Which means that they’re producing tooling, not printing end components.

Using additive manufacturing, ICP sidesteps several design limitations that go with traditional core tooling, the companies say. It also matches conventional core making in serial production.

ASK Chemicals developed the new inorganic binding materials and tailored them to the specific ICP requirements.

“3D sand printing has been used in the foundry industry for many years to produce prototypes and small series. However, with the development of ever faster printers, the technology now offers new opportunities for foundries,” said Frank Coenen, CEO of ASK Chemicals.



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