The sparks that make land transport flow

All modes of land transport depend on electrical and electronic systems

By Morand Fachot

Public and personal road transport, as well as railways, rely to an ever greater extent on electrical and electronic systems for better safety and energy efficiency. IEC International Standards are central to the expansion of the sector, allowing more and more people and larger volumes of goods to be transported over short and long distances in superior conditions.

Well-designed EEA (electrical electronic architecture) plays a vital role in modern cars (Photo: Delphi Automotive PLC) Well-designed EEA (electrical electronic architecture) plays a vital role in modern cars (Photo: Delphi Automotive PLC)

Internal combustion engines rely increasingly on… electricity

As electricity in cars, buses and lorries is increasingly associated with electric vehicles, it is often overlooked that conventional motor vehicles powered by internal combustion engines rely more and more than ever on electrical and electronic systems. These once limited to essential functions, such as starter engines, and safety features like headlights, are taking over more and more roles and functions in motor vehicles.

To lure private customers away from the competition, manufacturers have gradually introduced a variety of devices often relying on electrical components to make driving easier and more comfortable. Initially these features, such as electric power steering and electro-mechanical transmission, electric windows, heated rear windscreens and air conditioning, were available on top of the range vehicles only or at extra cost; now many of these are standard equipment in most cars. More systems like light and rain sensors that automatically switch on lamps and wipers, cruise control allowing drivers to maintain a constant speed are being introduced all the time. They all contribute, along with a variety of other aids, to better driveability, increased comfort and reduced driver distraction.

Today electrical and electronic systems represent some 20-30% of the total cost for all categories of cars, and this share is expected to reach 40% or so by 2015. The figure is nearer 50% if all electrical systems are included. This growth is set to continue: a recent study by A.T. Kearney, a consulting firm, predicts that a car’s embedded software and electronics will account for up to 65% of its total value by 2025.

Safety first

Improving road safety has been another major factor in the growing electrical and electronic content of motor vehicles. Sensors play a crucial role – for example by setting off airbags and detecting critical situations so as to prevent a skid using ESC (electronic stabilisation control) or ABS (anti-lock braking system). Safety is likely to improve further with the introduction of many other devices that mitigate the seriousness of accidents or even prevent collisions.

Systems that use information transmitted from roadside infrastructure systems and rely on electronics to control engines and brakes are also being developed.

Safety is further enhanced by better lighting emanating from LED lamps that are more luminous than conventional lamps.

More fuel efficient and cleaner vehicles

A number of electronic systems now ensure cars and other vehicles powered by internal combustion engines are more fuel efficient and cleaner than ever whilst offering better performance.

Electronic fuel injection, has greatly improved the running of engines. It allows smoother driving, better operation throughout a wide range of temperatures and is more efficient, as less fuel is needed for the same power output. As a result exhaust emissions are cleaner, containing combustion by-products that are less toxic and relatively easy to eliminate using clean-up devices such as catalytic converters.

Other technologies help save fuel and cut emissions. They include Start/Stop in which double-layer capacitors shut down and restart engines automatically when vehicles wait at traffic lights or stop frequently, or braking recuperation that recycles the energy normally lost during braking by storing it and then using it for acceleration or re-starting.

Personal, rapid, clean and safe

In addition to private road vehicles another mode of transport is emerging in urban areas. Small self-driving electric powered vehicles running on dedicated guideways and designed for on-demand use by individuals or small groups, typically 4 to 6 passengers, often referred to as PRTs (personal rapid transit systems), are being introduced around the world.

They are intended to combine the convenience and privacy of cars with the environmental benefits of mass transit. Their primary aims are to achieve optimum door to door mobility, improve safety, reduce environmental impact and lower operational costs.

They are part of the advance towards a new era of "smart mobility" in which infrastructure, methods of short distance transport, passengers and goods will be increasingly interconnected, especially in urban areas.

Examples of operational PRT systems can be found at Heathrow Airport near London and Masdar City near Abu Dhabi, UAE (United Arab Emirates).

Towards autonomous vehicles

The wider significance of driverless PRT networks is that they are part of a long term trend in the car industry to develop autonomous vehicle control systems equipped with a combination of sensors and dedicated software for the personal mobility sector.

The US based market research and consulting firm Navigant Research forecast in August 2013 that sales of autonomous vehicles would rise from fewer than 8 000 annually in 2020 to 95,4 million in 2035, representing 75% of all light duty vehicle sales by that time.

The first features of such autonomous "will most likely be self-parking, traffic jam assistance, and freeway cruising – well-defined situations that lend themselves to control by upgraded versions of today’s on-board systems", according to David Alexander, senior research analyst at Navigant Research.

On the right track

In urban areas tramways metropolitan "light railways", and trolleybuses are a familiar sight. The first urban public transport systems powered by electricity was introduced in Berlin in 1879 in the form of the first electric suburban railway (S-Bahn), followed by electric trams in 1881 and electric trolleybuses a year later. As the percentage of the world's population living in cities is forecast to hit 60% by 2030, according to United Nations data, the growing use of such electric urban transport systems offers an environmentally friendly option to reduce local emission of pollutants significantly in the expanding cities of the future.

Besides urban areas rail transport is essential to domestic and global trade, ferrying billions of people and millions of tonnes of goods of all kinds across countries and continents. It is still one of the most energy efficient, rapid and safe modes of transportation.

Whether powered by internal combustion engines or electricity, whether running on roads or tracks all land transport systems depend on countless standardization work by dozens of IEC TCs (Technical Committees) and SCs (Subcommittees) to operate more efficiently, safely and rapidly.

Well-designed EEA (electrical electronic architecture) plays a vital role in modern cars (Photo: Delphi Automotive PLC) Well-designed EEA (electrical electronic architecture) plays a vital role in modern cars (Photo: Delphi Automotive PLC)
This camera-based alertness assistant detects the blink of the eyelid and calculates the blink frequency and blink duration (Photo: Hella KGaA) This camera-based alertness assistant detects the blink of the eyelid and calculates the blink frequency and blink duration (Photo: Hella KGaA)
Regional train (Bombardier) Regional train (Bombardier)