10 Best Vehicle and Technology Innovations of 2018
Rolls-Royce’s Privacy Suite Ensures That Nobody Bothers You When You’re Inside the EW Phantom
Rolls-Royce has revealed its new Privacy Suite feature for the new extended-wheelbase version of the Phantom luxury limousine. The Privacy Suite is a new feature that lets occupants of the extended-wheelbase Phantom prevent the driver and the front passenger from seeing what is happening in the rear of the car, ensuring that occupants can enjoy moments of privacy and luxury all to themselves. The unveiling of the Privacy Suite took place at the Chengdu Motor Show.
The Forgotten Inline Engine: GM’s 4.2-liter Atlas I-6
General Motors has a long history with making innovative strides in engine development. The Chevrolet small-block V-8, for example, began life in the 1950s and soon became the standard for high horsepower in a small package – a legacy that continues into today’s fifth-generation GM V-8s. Even GM’s lineup of V-6 engines is impressive, ranging from the 60-degree V-6 that powered nearly every GM car from 1980 through 2010, up to the twin-turbocharged V-6 powering the Cadillac ATS-V. However, GM has a lesser-known engine family that deserves admiration for its outside-the-box thinking and outstanding technological advancements: the Atlas inline family.
That Atlas family had three main members, the front-running 4.2-liter inline-six, the 3.5-liter five-cylinder, and the 2.8-liter four-cylinder. All three shared the same basic architecture and a wide range of parts, though it was the 4.2-liter that led the Atlas program.
The 4.2-liter called the GMT360 platform home. This included the Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Buick Rainier, Oldsmobile Bravada, Isuzu Ascender, and Saab 9-7X. Each of these mid-sized SUVs shared the same architecture, including the industry’s first fully hydroformed frame in a mid-size SUV. Introduced for the 2002 model year, the GMT360 platform sold a couple million examples worldwide before ending production after 2009.
The 4.2-liter Atlas LL8, otherwise called the Vortec 4200, was a groundbreaking engine for GM. It featured an all-aluminum construction, dual overhead cams with variable valve timing on the exhaust side, four valves per cylinder, a coil-on-plug ignition system, a high compression ratio of 10:1, and its cylinder heads featured GM’s then-prevalent “Vortec” engineering designed to maximize airflow.
This combination allowed for the production of 1.06 horsepower per cubic inch – a total of 270 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Torque was rated at 275 pound-feet at 3,600 rpm, but 90 percent of peak torque was available between 1,600 and 5,600 rpm. These stats far exceeded every comparable V-6 on the market at the time, including GM’s own 4.3-liter Vortec V-6.
We decided to take a closer look at the Vortec 4200 and its forward-thinking design. We reached out to GM and found Tom Sutter, the Assistant Chief Engineer for the Atlas. Sutter has been involved with engine programs for the last 30 years, ranging from Oldsmobile’s Quad Four to Cadillac’s current V-Series mills. Sutter was able to give us a deeper insight into the Atlas program, so keep reading for more.
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3M Trizact Kit Proves Stuff Does Buff Out
You know the old saying, “That’ll buff out.” It’s usually found in the comment section, said in jest when talking about caved in body panels or the smoldering shell of a crispy Italian exotic. Well the idiom can return to its roots of honest paint repair thanks to an easy, do-it-yourself kit found at most automotive parts shops and big-box retailers. It’s the Trizact Precision Scratch Kit from 3M.
It involves a three-step process that uses a household power drill and water to remove light scratches and paint imperfections. It’s designed to be simple enough to use for everyday people with little to no experience of paint repair.
Like most folks, my daily driver’s paint has seen better days. Small scuffs and scratches can be found on several body panels, making my 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer look like, well, a 12-year-old SUV. So you can imagine my excitement when 3M reached out about trying the new Trizact kit. I gladly let them send me a few samples. Here’s my experience using 3M’s newest system.
Continue reading for the full 3M Trizact review.
There are a lot of action cameras around these days, and someone in the market for one could quickly be overwhelmed by the variety of choices. But in reality, it all boils down to just one option for really high-quality action videos, the GoPro Hero4. It’s an expensive camera, and you might be thinking that you could find something else that does the same thing without having to pay for the GoPro name. And if you’re looking to do your shooting in 720p at 60fps, then yes, you can find something for a lot less money.
The need for a GoPro comes when you’re looking to capture more complicated video, shooting at the drag strip at night will look brilliant with a GoPro, not so much with a lot of other cameras. In truth, though most automotive applications for an action camera would probably call for a GoPro, you might not need a top-end model like the Hero4 (a regular Hero model will shoot great 1080p video and will only cost you about $130), but your pilgrimage to the Nurburgring deserves better than one of the $35 knockoffs floating around.
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Disruptive innovation. Disruptive. Innovation. You know, I think that might be my favorite two-word phrase of all time. Better than “first car” or “first kiss,” better than “Buick Regal,” “I do” or even “Your place.” There’s just something about those words that sings true to everything right (or at least constructively anarchist) in my being.
An innovation is said to be “disruptive” when it forces a rapid enough change to an entire market that those involved will either be forced to adopt an entirely new business model, or shut doors forever. It creates entirely new markets and value systems by designing for a new set of consumers, and eventually drops prices for existing consumers. Some examples might include the Model T for automobiles, Wikipedia for traditional encyclopedias, LEDs for light bulbs, computer printing to movable type, and of course (here’s looking at you, kid), the internet. Disruptive innovation is like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs; it’s London burning and plague rats rolled into one – particularly if you happen to get caught on the wrong side of it.
Here in this century – nevermind electric cars or clean energy – self-driving cars will almost certainly prove to be the most disruptive innovation since the steam engine. Or at least the Model T. Not just to the automobile industry, either; to every industry with which automobiles are even tangentially connected, including mining, manufacturing and of course, energy. That might sound like hyperbole, but you can bet that the guys with the big wallets take this looming disruption very seriously indeed.
You have to wonder if the dinosaurs did the same – just before it was too late to matter.
In this two-part article, we’re first going to look at the surprisingly long timeline of the self-driving car, from the first radio control systems proposed all the way back at the 1939 World’s Fair, to the ultimate evolution of its visionary concept. We’re going to go way past the “Level 4” self-driving systems most people imagine when they hear the words “autonomous car,” and crank this disruptively technological dial all the way up to 11. You might be surprised at how close we already are to unbelievable things, how much closer we’re getting to the almost unimaginable, and how much we already owe to those who imagined those things first.
The second half of this article will be something like the second half of the “Future of Electric Cars," published last month. In the second part, we’re going to go into the social (and more importantly) economic aspects of the self-driving systems we’ll have soon. There’s a reason manufacturers and oil barons are terrified of these things; you’ll find out exactly why they fear this particular asteroid so much in the second half.
Then again, it’s not as though they didn’t have plenty of warning. Unlike the dinosaurs, auto manufacturers have seen this fireball coming for almost a century. And that’s where we start – with the first glimpse of one disruptive innovation, and a techno-punk vision that will shape our future.
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It’s been a long, dark road since the earliest days of car lighting, when the best you could hope for was a decent gas lamp that wouldn’t blow up when lit. Of course, back then, the weak glow of a flame in a jar was perfectly adequate for travel on dirt horse tracks at trotting speed. Since then, cars have gotten a lot faster, but human reaction time has remained about the same. That’s necessitated a whole new generation of lights to see further down the road and give us time to react to hyperspeed problems.
But more than that, headlights have become a kind of functional fashion statement — a "look at me" way of telling the world we’ve got the latest and greatest tech under the hood. It should come as no surprise then that the people who specialize in high-tech and high speed (the Germans) have provided us with the majority of headlight advances over the years; Bosch, specifically, has become a name brand in seeing where you’re going.
Yes, it seems like we’re forever coming up with new and better ways to cast photons down the road ahead of us. So which ones are best, which are pointless, and which are only around so you can tell people your car has frickin’ laser beams in its eyes?
In just the last week, we’ve seen three separate fuel economy records fall and go permanently to rest. Probably the biggest and most important, the record for non-hybrid fuel consumption on a long-distance trip. After trekking across 48 states and 8,233 miles, the driver of a certain bone stock 2015 VW Golf diesel managed a truly stunning 81.7 mpg — in a car rated for 32 city and 44 highway mpg. And who, might you ask, managed this incredible feat of skill and determination? Why, that would be Wayne Gerdes — the very man who coined the term "hypermiling" so many years ago.
The idea of driving a car for maximum fuel economy isn’t entirely new, but it did catapult into notoriety some years back with the birth of hypermiling. As our newest extreme motorsport, hypermiling quickly (and quietly) found a home among engineers, scientists, and other people who enjoy talking about things like adiabetic efficiency and the First Law of Thermodynamics.
That might not sound like the most exciting company in the world — but there was a lot of science, a lot of technical stuff and a lot of trial and error in the beginning. All very science-y. But now, after many years and many records fallen, hypermiling’s anorak forefathers have finally cracked the code of how to regularly double the average car’s gas mileage with driving technique alone. In truth, the specifics are all still very technical, and techniques will still vary greatly from vehicle to vehicle, and road to road. But here’s a basic primer to get you started on doubling your fuel economy with nothing more than patience, brains and precision driving.
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The typical gearhead knows a thing or two about getting down and dirty under his vehicle. Oil changes, brake jobs, spark plug swaps, and water pump replacements – it’s all done in fun with a grand sense of accomplishment and ownership when the task is done and the tools are wiped clean.
It’s that sense of accomplishment after a job well done that Craftsman will be instilling in the participants of its annual MAKEcation event coming this September 24 through 27 in Brooklyn, New York. The event plays host to several skilled artisans and craftspeople who will guide and coach attendees through a weekend-long workshop where things will be made and spirits will be high. Craftsman’s MAKEcation is basically a DIYer’s chance to sharpen her existing skills and learn some new ones.
Best of all, you can win your trip for free!
Yep, Craftsman is giving away spots to its MAKEcation event. All you need to do is register as a Craftsman Club member, then enter to win. (Enter Here!) It’s that easy. What’s Craftsman Club, you ask? Think of it as a manly version of Pinterest combined with forums that cover a variety of topics, from home repair and woodworking to blacksmithing and of course, automotive interests. What’s more, Craftsman Club members get super-deep discounts and coupons on Craftsman gear through the “Deal of the Day” program.
The deadline to enter for the MAKEcation is fast approaching. All entries must be in by July 31, 2015.
Continue reading for a DIY tip
I talk a lot about towing numbers and payload capacity in this section. Both specifications are highly touted by truckmakers as consumers eat the hype. Of course, there’s plenty of merit to having a capable truck – there’s no disputing that. But residing just below the published “best-in-class” numbers and capacities that have somehow doubled in the last decade, lays a vast array of confusing acronyms, weight classifications, and exceptions for every rule.
Things in the automotive world usually move pretty slowly, and it’s rare that any one manufacturer will completely catch everyone else out on a particular technology. But when Skunkworks-silent engineering combines with excellent patent protection, the result can be either an industry-wide revolution, a comedy of errors as others attempt to catch up, or both.
Youngsters might take electronically adjustable dampers for granted today — but it wasn’t long ago when a set of Edelbrock IAS shocks represented the pinnacle of suspension control technology. Yes, back in that ancient era known as "the 1990s," the idea of electron-quick suspension response seemed the stuff of sci-fi pipe dreams. But somewhere between Sliders and X-Files, a little American company (previously known primarily for floaty, retiree-spec luxo barges) brought to the mass-market a revolution in handling equipment.
That left the public speechless; partly in shock, but mostly because nobody could figure out how to pronounce "magnetorheological dampers."
Meet “The Neverending Article.” It seems like a pretty straightforward proposition, right? Compare and contrast the major motivators out there today. No problem. And it probably wouldn’t have been, if we’d just stopped at Part I of this article, which focused almost exclusively on powertrain options available for the last 20 years or so. But here in The Future, the minute you think you’re done writing about one kind of powertrain, you’re right back to recycling the intro from the last article to open the next one.
But hasn’t that been the way of the automotive industry for the last century or so? Slightly modifying a product that was mediocre to begin with so it seems relevant compared to similarly mediocre products? The next iteration is rarely about net improvement so much as it is keeping up with the neighbors. It’s a Sisyphean task indeed, not recycling the same crap from last year; over-using the same tired approaches for decades, and pretending as though “new and improved” weren’t a suspiciously relative compliment at best.
In Part II of our Powertrain Showdown, we’re going to go over some of the “weirder” technologies out there. Though probably the weirdest thing about a lot of them is how recycled they actually are. Sure, taken out of context, some of these ideas seem a little bit out there in left field; but a lot of them have been around at least as long as today’s powertrains. It’s just that they, like hybrid and electric technologies, have languished in under-development from the century-long scourge of cheap gasoline.
But, you have to give antiquated piston-engine technology this: it did make writing about powertrains a pretty straightforward endeavor for a while. At least when you were done talking about gas and diesel, you were done talking. Unlike today, where our Neverending Article continues with Part II, and our boulder rolls right back down the hill again.
Car technology news this week ranged from the autonomous to the ridiculous: A self-driving car completed the first cross-country trip, and an aspect of an April Fools’ prank has a real technology counterpart in development.
News includes factory and aftermarket connected features from Nissan, BMW/Mini, AT&T, Apple, Kia, and Jaguar, as well as new car-buying apps, and more!
Continue reading for all the goodies.
Motorsport is often viewed as the crucible where the latest automotive technology is forged. Through great heat and pressure, the base metal of the everyday vehicle is transmuted into creations that are lighter, stronger, and above all, faster. The desire for the glory of the checkered flag drives not only the individual behind the wheel, but those who create the machine as well. Racing pushes the limits of engineering and scientific advancement to new and greater heights, and as a result, mere mortals like you and I reap the benefits.
Many regard Formula 1 as the highest form of motorsport. This is for many reasons. First, there’s the money. The average F1 team spends several hundred million dollars in its annual efforts. The best drivers in the world flock to F1, with the crème de la crème earning tens of millions per year.
Second, there’s the history. Since the fifties, F1 has been pushing the limits of what four wheels and an engine are capable of accomplishing. In that time, it’s seen enormous changes and huge evolutions, but the result is always the same: better automotive technology.
Which brings us to our third point: the speed. F1 cars hold lap records at pretty much every track they race on. The modern F1 car can accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in less than two seconds, reaching a top speed well over 200 mph. But the truly impressive thing about these vehicles is the way they take a bend, with up to 3.5 Gs of lateral grip possible thanks to outrageous aero. The faster these things go, the harder they grip.
F1 cars are essentially ground-bound rocket ships. The technology they use is as advanced as anything you’d find destined for orbit. That’s why in this week’s tech guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at what makes them tick.
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While the swoosh and whir of the electric vehicle, or EV, is usually associated with contemporary times, the first examples appeared almost two centuries ago, when the invention of the battery and electric motor in the first half of the 1800s prompted the creation of “electric carriages.” Scottish inventor Robert Anderson is often credited with pioneering this concept using non-rechargeable power cells around the year 1836. In 1890, William Morrison, a chemist living in Des Moines, Iowa, unveiled a six-passenger electrified wagon capable of 14 miles per hour. Then in 1898, Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the sports car company that bears his name, created the P1, an all-electric, three-horsepower carriage with a top speed of 21 mph.
By the turn of century, electricity powered a third of all cars on the road. The quiet, easy-to-use EV exemplified the perfect city commuter next to its noisy, polluting, gasoline-powered contemporary. But as the 20th century wore on, the internal combustion engine (ICE) improved dramatically. Electric starters, cheaper gas, the invention of the muffler, demand for higher range, and the introduction of the Model T all contributed to the decline of the EV, and by the mid-1930s, petrol power dominated.
Since then, the EV passenger car has made the occasional half-hearted comeback. However, in the last 15 years, its popularity has skyrocketed. The Nissan Leaf, for example, is the best-selling, highway-capable all-electric vehicle in history. EVs are also gaining ground in motorsport, invading starting grids traditionally ruled by the ICE, like Le Mans, as well as carving out their own niche series, like Formula E.
Why has it taken so long? How has this technology evolved? And is it finally here to stay?
Click past the jump to read about electric vehicles.
No matter where you stand on climate change — Al Gore, or loving doing burnouts with your six-wheeled Hummer — there are a few undeniable facts that I think everyone can agree upon. First, we like fossil fuels — a lot. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, North America (including the United States, Mexico, and Canada) consumed an average of nearly 23.5 million barrels of petroleum products a day in 2013, with the U.S. gobbling up about 19 million barrels all by itself. Then there are coal and natural gas, which combine with oil to create 67 percent of electricity generated stateside, with coal accounting for 39 percent of that.
Clearly, it’s important stuff. These three energy sources essentially created modern civilization. But there’s a problem. I’m talking about supplies. According to one study, world oil reserves are projected to run dry in just 35 years. Of course, this projection is based on myriad factors that will probably change; new reserves will be found and consumption will fluctuate. But the writing is on the wall – we’re going to need a new source of motive power eventually.
Now, I’m not here to frighten anyone or moralize on lifestyle choices (although you should probably find a secluded parking spot for your Hummer). I’m here to talk about the future of the automobile, one where gasoline has gone the way of the dinosaur. So, without petroleum, what do we have?
Hydrogen is looking like our best bet. Several automakers are developing not only the cars to use it, but the infrastructure to support it. But what is hydrogen power, and most importantly, how will it change the face of the automotive world?
Click past the jump to read more about hydrogen power.
Einstein is quoted as stating, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Is it possible that the man who proposed general relativity could have imagined the world we live in today? One where, 60 years after his death, humanity’s entire existence is supported by the passing of binary code through the ether? Perhaps. Either way, technology enables us to frame our day-to-day lives around a multitude of customized realities. Most of these, like television and video games, supplant what’s “real,” building something new from scratch. It could be argued that “virtual reality” represents the ultimate expression of this concept. However, there’s something else on the rise, and rather than replacing reality, it seeks to alter it. It’s called augmented reality, and it’s coming to a car near you.
Augmented reality, or “AR,” takes cues from a given real-time environment and puts a unique perspective on it. By combining digitally created forms with what already physically exists, AR-equipped devices overlay some form of computer-generated enhancement onto the world around us, be it video, still image, sound, or data, thus enriching the user’s own perception. Think of it as ”reality plus.”
AR has already found its way into a variety of industries. There are apps out there that can identify constellations in the sky, points of interest on a street, or merchandise in a store simply by pointing your smartphone at them. The military also uses AR extensively, replacing traditional heads-up displays for fighter pilots and creating simulated training exercises for soldiers.
Carmakers are chomping at the bit to apply this technology to consumer vehicles, with companies like Jaguar Land Rover providing numerous concepts outlining its vision for future applications. The aftermarket is equally as eager. Pioneer has plans to develop its own products.
It would appear as though the stage is set for AR to catalyze substantial advances in the way we use cars to interact with the world. But how does it all work, and more importantly, what should you expect when you find yourself sitting in an AR-equipped vehicle?
Click past the jump to read more about Augmented Reality.
Anyone who dares to take a quick survey of the press surrounding autonomous vehicles, alternatively called driver-less cars, will come away with a pleasant, gooey, hopeful sensation dripping down the back of their brain stem. That’s because most of the stories churned out by the major stakeholders revolve around some kind of utopian vision, one where all your problems are easily solved, cars cost nothing, the planet and everyone on it is saved, and your dog is taught Portuguese.
The flip side of this is the rally call of the luddites, which goes something like- “Look out! The machines are coming, and they’re gunning for your driver’s license! Probably your children, too!”
But as always, you can find the reality caught somewhere in the middle. The potential benefits of autonomous vehicles are many, and do include some truly transformative improvements to the way people get around. But there has yet to be a technology created that didn’t have some kind of negative repercussion.
At this very moment, there are production cars all around the world that sport some kind of autonomous feature, making them “partially” autonomous. Recently, this has included stuff like adaptive cruise control, which automatically adjusts your vehicle’s speed based on the distance to the car in front of you, or blind-spot monitoring, which signals the presence of a car the driver might not see when changing lanes. There’s also emergency braking, which applies maximum stopping power when an imminent collision is detected, saving precious fractions of a second over human reaction time.
But there are autonomous features even older than these. Electronic traction control, and even automatic transmissions could be considered forms of autonomous driving.
Of course, the Holy Grail for this tech would be a “fully” autonomous vehicle that requires zero human driver input, and there are currently a profusion of major automakers and technology companies racing toward that very goal.
Audi seems to be the most vocal when it comes to announcing progress updates. Most recently, the German marque sent a self-piloted A7 from Silicon Valley, California, to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, traversing a distance of 550 miles on public roads mostly driver-free. Other big names include Mercedes, Ford, and BMW, with tech giants Google, LG, and NVIDIA all getting in on the action as well.
Clearly, fully autonomous vehicles are just now peeking over the horizon. But the real question is: why should you care?
Click past the jump to learn about autonomous vehicles.