11/7/2017 | 3 MINUTE READ

Tech Watch 11/2018

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Regular, even casual, readers of this space, or any space dedicated to technology underpinning self-driving vehicles, know one thing: LiDAR is hot right now.  

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Upping the Ante on LiDAR
Regular, even casual, readers of this space, or any space dedicated to technology underpinning self-driving vehicles, know one thing: LiDAR is hot right now. 

Quebec-based LeddarTech Inc. is the latest to secure another investment, but nine figures would seem to rank as one of the highest we’ve seen. A combined investment of U.S. $101 million was led by Osram (osram.com) and included Delphi Automotive (delphi.com), Fiat subsidiary Magneti Marelli (magnetimarelli.com) and Integrated Device Technology (idt.com) as strategic investors. Also getting in is Fonds de solidarité FTQ. LeddarTech says the investment will boost ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) work, help grow its R&D team and quicken the pace of its trial projects with Tier 1 supplier customers—including, presumably, the aforementioned companies. 

Osram, which makes sensor lights for use in autonomous vehicles, sees an advantage in teaming up with LeddarTech’s optical sensing technology, which harnesses solid-state LiDAR. Meanwhile, Delphi sees solid-state LiDAR, at relatively low cost, as a key to fully autonomous systems with OEMs. 

The system is packaged into what the firm calls LeddarCore integrated circuits and standard microcontrollers. The company’s light wave digital signal processing and software algorithms generate higher sensitivity than other LiDAR methods the company claims. It has the ability to map the environment over 360 degrees around the vehicle at a distance of 300 meters, with a field of view up to 120 degrees.

LeddarTech sensors are used in automotive applications as well as drones and industrial vehicles.



Magnesium’s Big Break?
Automotive components made out of magnesium account for only about 1 percent, or 33 pounds, of a typical vehicle’s weight, according to a report from the Department of Energy (DOE). That’s a shame, because magnesium is 75 percent lighter than steel, 33 percent lighter than aluminum and is the fourth most-prevalent element on earth. Only iron, silicon and oxygen beat it, according to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (pnnl.gov), part of the DOE. In addition to its volatile pricing, several scientific factors inhibit raw material refiners from flattening magnesium into sheets at low temperatures, including difficulty blending it with other elements to form strong alloys.

PNNL, however, reports that it has developed a new process that could make it far easier for the auto industry to utilize the plentiful mineral. 

The new extrusion approach improves the energy absorption of magnesium by creating microstructures, which are not possible with traditional extrusion methods. This extrusion method also helps in ductility, or just how much the metal can be stretched without snapping, according to researchers. 

The PNNL team commissioned a custom-built machine, called Shear Assisted Processing and Extrusion (ShAPE), to test the theory. By spinning magnesium at the same time it’s being forced through a tool, researchers say enough friction-based heat is generated to press the material into a die. No additional heating systems are needed to make this happen. 
"Right now, manufacturers opt for low-cost aluminum in components such as bumper beams and crush tips. Using our process, we have enhanced the mechanical properties of magnesium to the point where it can now be considered instead of aluminum for these applications—without the added cost of rare-earth elements," says principal investigator and mechanical engineer Scott Whalen. 

In a DOE-funded project, Magna (magna.com) is collaborating with PNNL to create and test magnesium parts at one of its facilities near Detroit.
 


The Very Active Additive Industry 

Considering the tools of the century-old auto manufacturing trade, 3D printing has come a very long way in a short time. But there’s plenty more growth to come. In fact, the Global Automotive 3D Printing Market 2017-2021 study from HTF Market Research (htfmarketreport.com) looks at the competitive landscape in the years to come and predicts that growth could be as much as 45.5 percent globally by 2021. 

One interesting finding: some researchers think the process is still in its infancy. 

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