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The Automotive Research Center at the University of Michigan’s Annual Program Review: The Driving Force Behind Autonomous Vehicles

Pipe: Advanced tech - Tue, 2015-06-30 07:00

by James Garay, ARC

In the fall of 1994, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command (TACOM) awarded MEAM [Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics] a three-year, $7.5-million research grant to establish an Automotive Research Center (ARC) at the U-M.1

Twenty-one years later, the ARC, which operates as a consortium of six universities[2] collaborating with partners from both industrial and government sectors, gathered once again on the University of Michigan’s North Campus for its 21st Annual Program Review. Professionals representing each of the three aforementioned domains (academia, government, industry) comprised the event’s nearly 300 attendees.

This year’s event was concentrated around the theme of shared-control and autonomous vehicles, building off of the main emphasis of the ARC, which lies in the simulation and modeling of ground vehicles.

The opening case study, “No Driver? No Problem: Mobility Across the Autonomy Spectrum in Unmanned Ground Vehicles,” is presented. Click to enlarge.

The Annual Program Review brings the ARC’s research community together with Army researchers and engineers from industry. This contingent works side by side to review the year’s work, deliberate on the timeline of ongoing projects, and give a weather eye to tomorrow’s automotive challenges. The event’s atmosphere is a dynamic balance between a network of friendships and a professional exchange of information and ideas. It carries the air of a family reunion in bringing all of the ARC’s university partners together, but remains focused on the goal of sharing the latest research developments.

In any case, the environment was one of excitement, as the University of Michigan’s 234- seat Chesebrough Auditorium was packed to standing room only capacity by the conclusion of the opening remarks.

ARC Director Dr. Anna Stefanopoulou looks on during the poster viewing session. Click to enlarge.

Dr. David Gorsich, Chief Scientist at TARDEC3, kicked off the presentations with his discussion titled, “The Future of Army Mobility,” wherein he explained the brutal, rugged realities that Army vehicles must be able to conquer. While overcoming these terrain-oriented challenges requires a focus on vehicle mobility, no compromises can be made in other important vehicle components such as passenger safety and protection, as well as payload and cargo requirements. With that in mind, the Army’s push toward fully autonomous vehicles is driven by the potential of autonomy to bring improvements to vehicle safety and mobility, while still meeting the necessary payload requirements.

This movement, which has inspired much of the recent research done with autonomous vehicles, was stark motivation for the detailed case study that followed, “No Driver? No Problem: Mobility Across the Autonomy Spectrum in Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs),” which evaluated the mobility performance of UGVs between different levels of autonomous operation.

The study itself was multi-leveled, looking at three degrees of autonomy4 in three different types of vehicles5. In assessing the trade-offs associated with each degree of autonomy, the study concentrated on the analysis of communication-response lags in teleoperation, negotiating control priorities between humans and controllers in shared control systems, and the response of fully autonomous operation in new, unknown settings, among others. Currently, we are operating in the realm of semi-autonomous, human-robot interactive vehicles, and still have a long way before full autonomy is operational, says Dr. Paramsothy Jayakumar, Senior Research Scientist at TARDEC and case study contributor. This accentuates the importance of the control priority characteristic in shared control systems; namely, when is it alright for the robot to take over control from the human, and vice-versa? This question affects vehicle operators and passengers at all levels, from the soldier navigating the ever changing landscapes of war to the nervous sixteen-year old behind the wheel for the first time.

While many people are understandably wary of the idea of submitting their own control (especially that of a moving vehicle) to a robot, would their concerns be quelled if these robots could prevent accidents? If they could take the wheel at times of distress and create close calls out of situations that previously would’ve ended in disaster? If they could sense its human operator falling asleep and seamlessly continue driving while trying to awaken whomever is behind the wheel? If they could detect a land mine and communicate its position to surrounding vehicles, so that those vehicles would, without hesitation or second guessing, reroute to a safer path?

Before these questions could be answered, Dr. Robert Ambrose, Division Chief of the Software, Robotics and Simulation Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and the opening keynote speaker, took to the podium with a related and pertinent topic. His invigorating presentation of “NASA’s Human-Robotic Systems” had attendees passing around a sign-up sheet titled “Wants to Work for NASA.” The project, as Dr. Ambrose described, has roots that extend back to 1969, with limited human mobility being an issue from the outset of our very first moon landing. The Human Robotic Systems (HRS) project is working to implement advanced6 robotics in space to handle various tasks that will alleviate the human operational workload.

Dr. Hubertus Tummescheit, CEO of Modelon Inc.7, the second keynote speaker, spoke from the perspective of a small, extremely successful software company. He unveiled Modelon’s work with vehicle simulations, which respond in real time and do not compromise the model’s fidelity. This is only possible, Dr. Tummescheit described, with the use of a high level language like Modelica8 in conjunction with the Functional Mockup Interface (FMI), which is a standardized, tool independent medium used for the exchange and co-simulation of models on both system and component levels9,10.

The groundbreaking nature of this work compelled one audience member to share that this specific branch of technology was discussed as a distant dream at this same event ten years ago, and thought to not even be possible at the event fifteen years ago.

Attendees interact with the shared-control mini Baja car that illustrates ARC research on haptic feedback for improved teleoperation. Click to enlarge.

With the opening keynote presentations focusing on the innovative works of today, Dr. Chris Atkinson, Program Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the third and final keynote speaker, urged the ARC researchers to think past even the limits that we have already set for the future. In discussing ARPA-E’s newest program area, which targets engine and powertrain technologies, Dr. Atkinson stressed that autonomy enables us to push the limits of engine fuel efficiency, even beyond the 54.5 mile per gallon fleet average fuel economy requirement set for automotive companies to be met by 2025.

In addition to the speakers mentioned, the two-day event included other presentations from TARDEC representatives, ARC Researchers (from the University of Michigan and elsewhere), and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, as well as project poster viewing sessions, a teleoperated vehicle demonstration (see right), the presentation of a second case study, and laboratory tours.

The 22nd Annual ARC Program Review is scheduled for May 25-26, 2016, and will be held on The University of Michigan’s North Campus in Ann Arbor.


  • [1] Gilbert, D., and M. Hostetler. “Automotive Research Center.” 1994-95 Annual Report, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Michigan 1995: 16-17. Print.

  • [2] The University of Michigan, The University of Iowa, Wayne State University, Clemson University, Oakland University, and Virginia Tech

  • [3] U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center

  • [4] teleoperation, shared control, and full autonomy

  • [5] superdroid, mini Baja, HMMWV

  • [6] advanced in their individualized capabilities as well as the human-robot interaction

  • [7] Since being founded in 2005, the startup with humble beginnings has grown into an accomplished international company.

  • [8] an equation-based language used to model heterogeneous systems

  • [9] Tummescheit, H. Multi-core Real-time Simulation of High-Fidelity Vehicle Models using Open Standards: Modelica and the Functional Mockup Interface (FMI) (Abstract). Presented at the 21st Annual Automotive Research Center Program Review, May 20, 2015, Ann Arbor, MI.

  • [10] Functional Mock-up Interface.

Do greener cars lead consumers to hit the road more often?

Pipe: Passenger vehicles - Tue, 2015-06-30 06:30
In contrast, while corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards also remained largely unchanged over the prior 30 years, since 2010 they have ...

New operando technique shows atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real-time; applications for batteries and fuel cells

Pipe: Advanced tech - Tue, 2015-06-30 06:00

A new technique developed by a team of researchers led by Eric Stach at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Anatoly Frenkel at Yeshiva University reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real time and under real operating conditions. An open access paper on the work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The team used a new microfabricated catalytic reactor to combine synchrotron X-ray absorption spectroscopy and scanning transmission electron microscopy for an unprecedented portrait of a common chemical reaction. The results demonstrate a powerful operando—i.e., in a working state—technique that is generalizable to quantitative operando studies of complex systems using a wide variety of X-ray and electron-based experimental probes. This may have a tremendous impact on research on catalysts, batteries, fuel cells, and other major energy technologies.

We tracked the dynamic transformations of a working catalyst, including single atoms and larger structures, during an active reaction at room temperature. This gives us unparalleled insight into nanoparticle structure and would be impossible to achieve without combining two complementary operando techniques.—Eric Stach, BNL, co-author
Schematic of experimental cell. The catalyst is confined between two silicon nitride windows with the reacting gas mixture flowing through the system. Arrows show the direction of the electron beam and incident X-ray beam. In the X-ray absorption experiment, all types of Pt species are probed (shown by a green cone). In the STEM experiment, only particles larger than ~1 nm are detectable (shown by a dark blue cone). Li et al. Click to enlarge.

To prove the efficacy of their micro-reactor, the scientists tracked the performance of a platinum catalyst during the conversion of ethylene to ethane, a model reaction relevant to many industrial synthesis processes. They conducted X-ray studies at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) and electron microscopy at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), both DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

The size, shape, and distribution of catalysts affect their efficiency and durability. Now that we can track those parameters throughout the reaction sequence, we can better determine the ideal design of future catalysts—especially those that drive energy-efficient reactions without using expensive and rare materials like platinum.—Ralph Nuzzo, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, co-author

In transmission electron microscopy (TEM), a focused electron beam passes through the sample and captures images of the nanoparticles within. This is usually performed in a pristine environment—often an inactive, low-pressure vacuum—but the micro-reactor allowed the TEM to operate in the presence of an atmosphere of reactive gases.

With TEM, we take high-resolution pictures of the particles to directly see their size and distribution. But with the micro-reactor, some signals were too small to detect. Particles smaller than a single nanometer were hidden behind what we call the resolution curtain of the technique.—Eric Stach

Another technique was needed to peer behind the curtain and reveal the full reaction story: X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS).

In XAS, a beam of X-rays bombards the catalyst sample and deposits energy as it passes through the micro-reactor. The sample then emits secondary X-rays, which are measured to identify its chemical composition—in this instance, the distribution of platinum particles.

The XAS and TEM data, analyzed together, let us calculate the numbers and average sizes of not one, but several different types of catalysts. Running the tests in an operando condition lets us track broad changes over time, and only the combination of techniques could reveal all catalytic particles. Everything was exquisitely controlled at both NSLS and CFN, including precise measurements of the progress of the catalytic reaction. For the first time, the operando approach was used to correlate data obtained by different techniques at the same stages of the reaction.—Anatoly Frenkel, Yeshiva University, co-author

A relatively straightforward mathematical approach allowed them to deduce the total number of ultra-small particles missing in the TEM data. The researchers took the full XAS data, which incorporates particles of all sizes, and removed the TEM results covering particles larger than one nanometer—the remainder fills in that crucial sub-nanometer gap in our knowledge of catalyst size and distribution during each step of the reaction, Frenkel said.

In the past, scientists would look at data before and after the reaction under model conditions, especially with TEM, and make educated guesses. Now we can make definitive statements.—Eric Stach
Series of scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) images of platinum nanoparticles, tracking their changes under different atmospheric pressure reaction conditions. Source: BNL. Click to enlarge.

The collaboration has already extended this operando micro-reactor approach to incorporate two additional techniques—infrared and Raman spectroscopy—and plans to introduce other complex and complementary X-ray and electron probe techniques over time.

NSLS ended its 32-year experimental run in the fall of 2014, but its successor—the just-opened National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—is 10,000 times brighter and promises to rapidly advance operando science.

Each round of data collection took six hours at NSLS, but will take just minutes at NSLS-II. Through Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding, we will be part of the initial experiments at the Submicron Resolution X-ray (SRX) Spectroscopy beamline this summer, dramatically increasing the time resolution of the experiments and letting us track changes in a more dynamic fashion. And that’s just one of the NSLS-II beamlines where we plan to deploy this technique.—Eric Stach

The ethylene to ethane reaction happens at room temperature, but other new micro-reactors can operate at up to 800 ˚C—more than hot enough for most catalytic reactions—and will increase the versatility and applicability of the approach.

The protocol reported here is general and can be applied to a broad class of mechanistic studies of catalytic reactions mediated by functional nanomaterials. This correlated, operando approach provides insights into the dynamic structural attributes of active catalytic materials over a range of characteristic sizes extending from single atoms to clusters of several nanometres in size.—Li et al.

In the near future, this same micro-reactor approach will be used to explore other crucial energy frontiers, including batteries and fuel cells.


  • Y. Li, D. Zakharov, S. Zhao, R. Tappero, U. Jung, A. Elsen, Ph. Baumann, R.G. Nuzzo, E.A. Stach & A.I. Frenkel (2015) “Complex structural dynamics of nanocatalysts revealed in Operando conditions by correlated imaging and spectroscopy probes” Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7583 doi: 10.1038/ncomms8583

The cars we'd take on the ultimate cross-Canada road trip

Pipe: Passenger vehicles - Tue, 2015-06-30 05:56
If you want more power and better fuel economy, opt for the XC90 T8. ... the while managing to returned a claimed average fuel economy equivalent of ...

Fleets challenged to go green

Pipe: Europe - Tue, 2015-06-30 04:21
Fleets were challenged to go ‘green’ by choosing ultra-low emission vehicles during a debate at CCIA hosted by television presenter Quentin Willson.

Tire-integrated triboelectric generator harvests electricity from rolling tire friction; est. up to +10% fuel econ

Pipe: Advanced tech - Tue, 2015-06-30 04:00

A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers and a collaborator from China have developed a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) that harvests energy from a car’s rolling tire friction. An innovative method of reusing energy, the nanogenerator ultimately could provide automobile manufacturers a new way to squeeze greater efficiency out of their vehicles.

The TENG is a novel energy harvesting device to convert mechanical energy into electricity based on the universally known triboelectric principle—i.e., the generation of an electric charge resulting from the contact or rubbing together of two dissimilar objects. Specifically, the nanogenerator relies on the triboelectric effect to harness energy from the changing electric potential between the pavement and a vehicle’s wheels.

The researchers reported their development in a paper in the journal Nano Energy.

The friction between the tire and the ground consumes about 10 percent of a vehicle’s fuel. That energy is wasted. So if we can convert that energy, it could give us very good improvement in fuel efficiency.—Xudong Wang, corresponding author

The nanogenerator relies on an electrode integrated into a segment of the tire—a single-electrode TENG (S-TENG). When this part of the tire surface comes into contact with the ground, the friction between those two surfaces ultimately produces an electrical charge.

During initial trials, Wang and his colleagues used a toy car with LED lights to demonstrate the concept. They attached an electrode to the wheels of the car, and as it rolled across the ground, the LED lights flashed on and off. The movement of electrons caused by friction was able to generate enough energy to power the lights, supporting the idea that energy lost to friction can actually be collected and reused.

The electric output of the S-TENG-on-wheel monotonically increased with the increase of the moving speed and weight load of the wheel. The maximum instantaneous power was obtained to be 1.79 mW at a load resistance of 10 MΩ, corresponding to the highest energy conversion efficiency of 10.4%. Multiple S-TENGs were implemented to the tires of a toy vehicle and instantaneously powered 6 commercial green light emitting diodes (LEDs) while the vehicle was moving on the ground. This successful demonstration provides a promising solution to scavenge the wasted friction energy from rolling tires, which may improve the fuel efficiency or the cruising ability of electric vehicles.—Mao et al.

Wang estimates about a 10% increase in the average vehicle’s gas mileage given 50% friction energy conversion efficiency.


  • Yanchao Mao, Dalong Geng, Erjun Liang, Xudong Wang (2015) “Single-electrode triboelectric nanogenerator for scavenging friction energy from rolling tires,” Nano Energy, Volume 15, Pages 227-234, doi: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2015.04.026

4 more cities sign Global Clean Bus Declaration raising total to >40K ultra-low emission buses by 2020; London to trial BYD electric double-decker

Pipe: Advanced tech - Tue, 2015-06-30 03:26

Four additional cities—Amsterdam, Lima, Catalonia (Barcelona) and Rome—signed up to the Global Clean Bus Declaration at the 1st global Clean Bus Summit in London.

The Global Clean Bus Declaration, developed by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson in partnership with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, launched in Buenos Aires in March 2015 with 20 original signatories. Bus manufacturers including BYD, Volvo, Wright Bus, Optare, Mercedes, Evo Bus, and Alexander Dennis attended the London summit and committed to supporting cities in delivering fleets of new ultra-low emission buses. The World Bank and Green Investment Bank have also signed up to this commitment.

Cities of the Low Emission Vehicles Network collectively forged an international Declaration on Clean Buses, demonstrating a commitment by signatory C40 cities to reducing emissions and improving air quality by incorporating low- and zero-emission buses in their fleets. The Declaration is a call to global manufacturers, public transport operators, leasing companies, multilateral development banks, and other funding agencies to support city ambitions to decarbonize urban mass transport.

The Clean Bus Declaration is an open document and C40 welcomes additional signatory cities.

The graphic reflects figures for the first 20 signatory cities.

Mayor Johnson, the host of the London summit, also announced that the first purely electric double-decker bus, built by BYD, will enter passenger service in London this year. The Mayor confirmed that all new buses joining central London’s fleet are now ULEZ-compliant, delivering important air quality improvements now.

The new electric double-decker trial will see the zero-emission electric double-deck buses manufactured by BYD enter service on route 16 from October, running between Cricklewood and Victoria Station.

London will also shortly be welcoming two Irizar-manufactured electric single-deck buses. These new models join eight single-deck electric buses manufactured by Optare and BYD which have been used successfully in London’s fleet since 2013. The Capital’s first pure electric bus route, the 312—which runs between Norwood and South Croydon—will also be created later this year.

Since 2008, London has rolled out more than 1,300 hybrid electric buses, retrofitted more than 1,400 buses to reduce their emissions by up to 88% and developed the New Routemaster, one of the cleanest double deck buses of its type in the world. (Earlier post.) There will be 800 New Routemasters on London’s streets by 2016 and they will reduce CO2 emissions in the Capital by around 27,500 tonnes a year.

This is part of the Mayor’s plan to halve NOx emissions from the bus fleet by the end of his term in office in 2016, compared to 2008. Cleaner buses have contributed to important steps forward in air quality for Londoners, including halving the number of Londoners living in areas above nitrogen dioxide limits, and a reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions by 20% and emissions of particulate matter down by 15%.

As part of his Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) proposals, Mayor Johnson has committed that by 2020 all 300 single-deck buses in central London will be zero emission at tailpipe. Furthermore, all 3,300 double deck buses in central London will be Euro VI electric hybrid, with the exception of a small number of Euro V Routemasters which nearly meet the Euro VI standard thanks to their superior design.

In order for there to be enough buses in the fleet to meet these requirements by 2020, TfL has to start procuring these buses now. Accordingly, the Mayor confirmed at the summit that all new buses joining the central London fleet are now ULEZ-compliant delivering vital emissions benefits well before the 2020 introduction date. This means the buses operating in central London will have to be either zero emission at tailpipe (single deck) or hybrid-electric (double-deck), and will be amongst the cleanest buses in the world.

The capital has also pioneered new technologies such as hydrogen and electric buses. As part of these trials, TfL will be piloting inductive charging technology from October this year. This means buses will be able to wirelessly charge their batteries while they wait at bus stands. The technology will be trialled on three extended range diesel electric hybrid buses in east London on route 69—which runs between Canning Town and Walthamstow bus stations.

Reductions in capital costs for new technologies such as electric and hydrogen buses will be key in achieving their wider deployment. The clear commitment embodied in the Declaration by more than 24 cities and 10 non-C40 supporting cities to introducing ultra-low emission buses into their fleets will help demonstrate the demand needed to boost supply and affordability.

Waste key to global climate protection, German study says

Pipe: Europe - Tue, 2015-06-30 01:58

Growing amounts of waste put an increasing burden on the climate, particularly in newly industrialising countries, where greenhouse gas emissions are rising, according to a new study for the German environment agency. reports


WHO re-classifies Agent Orange herbicide as 'carcinogenic'

Pipe: Europe - Tue, 2015-06-30 01:52

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified the common herbicide 2.4-Dichlorophenoxyacet acid as "possibly carcinogenic to humans". EurActiv France reports. 


PHOTOS: Tearing apart a Detroit Diesel DD15 engine to see how well it holds up with the new PC <b>...</b>

Pipe: Passenger vehicles - Tue, 2015-06-30 01:03
This particular engine typically pulled about 76,000 pounds with a fuel economy of six to seven miles per gallon and registered about 20 percent idle ...

Senate committee calls for transport energy plan

Pipe: Passenger vehicles - Tue, 2015-06-30 00:18
A Senate committee has called for a national transport energy plan and transport fuel supply risk assessment following hearings into the country's ...

Crossbreeding Could Help Coral Survive Warming Waters

Pipe: Climate and Health - Tue, 2015-06-30 00:00
Mixing and matching corals of the same species from different latitudes could help reefs survive despite warming ocean temperatures, a new study suggests.

Dark Region of Ocean May Shed Light on Climate Change and Other Issues

Pipe: Climate and Health - Tue, 2015-06-30 00:00
The area from just below the surface to 3,300 feet also may become more of a food source and a way to monitor ocean health.

Autogramm Chevrolet Corvette Z06: Dampfansage

Pipe: Europe - Mon, 2015-06-29 23:20
Das Klischee vom röhrenden Rotlicht-Renner klebt hartnäckig an der Corvette, doch es stimmt längst nicht mehr. Die jüngste Generation ist ein Vollblut-Sportwagen - zum Schnäppchenpreis.

CCC calls for early action on climate change from new Parliament to keep UK 'on track'

Pipe: Europe - Mon, 2015-06-29 20:00

The Committee on Climate Change has published its first report in the new Parliament about progress towards meeting targets to mitigate climate change. The Committee says that urgent action needed now to avoid increasing costs and impacts of climate change in the UK


Sukhna pollution: Bombay HC takes Maharashtra, board to task

Pipe: India - Mon, 2015-06-29 19:39
In the case involving discharging of untreated chemical waste in farms, wells and open spaces, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court on Monday sent notices to the state government, additional chief secretary of the department of environment, pollution control board, executive directors of Radico NV Distilleries, district collector, tehsildar and in charge of Karmad and Chikalthana police stations.

Volkswagen Finishes Two-Year Renewable Diesel Evaluation

Pipe: Passenger vehicles - Mon, 2015-06-29 18:27
... offered by crude oil-based diesel fuel, along with similar or improved fuel economy, and no engine error codes or catastrophic mechanical failures.

newsclips -- ARB Newsclips for June 29, 2015.

Pipe: Advanced tech - Mon, 2015-06-29 17:09
ARB Newsclips for June 29, 2015.

energyaudits -- Energy Efficiency Assessment for Large Industrial Sources Presentation and Agenda Now Available for Public Report Workshop - June 30,

Pipe: Advanced tech - Mon, 2015-06-29 16:50
The Air Resources Board (ARB) invites you to participate in a public workshop to discuss the Energy Efficiency and Co-Benefits Assessment of Large Industrial Sources (EEA Regulation) sector public reports (public reports).