AI behind smart car wheels

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth, UK, have developed an artificial intelligence system to build the world's first thinking car wheel. The steering wheels use microcomputers which perform 4,000 calculations per second and communicate with each other. Then the wheels use AI to learn as the car is being driven, making calculations and adjustments according to travelling speed and road conditions. These intelligent tires mark the first time AI has replaced fundamental mechanics within a motor vehicle. This means that we might some day ride safer and driver cars. But don't panic! If the system doesn't work properly, the driver remains in control of the car.

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth, UK, have developed an artificial intelligence system to build the world's first thinking car wheel. The steering wheels use microcomputers which perform 4,000 calculations per second and communicate with each other. Then the wheels use AI to learn as the car is being driven, making calculations and adjustments according to travelling speed and road conditions. These intelligent tires mark the first time AI has replaced fundamental mechanics within a motor vehicle. This means that we might some day ride safer and driver cars. But don't panic! If the system doesn't work properly, the driver remains in control of the car.

An intelligent car wheel

You can see above a car using this kind of smart wheels. This picture comes from an article published by CARkeys, "The Intelligent Wheel." But the original picture probably comes directly from PML Flightlink, a Hampshire-based company which is a working partner of the University of Portsmouth's Institute of Industrial Research (IIR).

David Brown, Reader at IIR, summarizes the concept of this smart wheel: "Conventional wisdom says you can't reinvent the wheel. We have done just that. We have taken the wheel, given it brains and the ability to think and learn. It's a huge breakthrough."

So how do this work?

Artificial Intelligence controls the suspension, steering and breaking systems, teaching it to adapt to bends in the road, potholes and other potential hazards, and compensating by adjusting the car's reactions. The information is retained in the computer's memory and used the next time the car encounters similar road conditions. The car is learning as it drives and adapting its performance accordingly.

As the system can adapt to the road conditions and other potential hazards, this means we'll have both safer and faster cars. And the user still will be in control, as points Brown: "The next generation of vehicles have the potential to be fully autonomous, but where’s the fun in that? People get pleasure from driving and they will always want the freedom to drive how and where they please."

These smart wheels will be used by the MINI QED, a standard MINI car from BMW converted into an electric vehicle by PML Flightlink. For more information about this MINI QED, you can read this list of Frequently Asked Questions, but here are some selected details provided by the University of of Portsmouth.

[PML Flightlink] has successfully converted a Mini into an electric vehicle (EV) with four direct-drive wheels, each with an electronic hub motor of 160 break-horse-power. This combined 640 bhp allows for an acceleration of 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 150 mph (240 kph). A small 250cc petrol engine charges the car's battery while the car is being driven. In this mode it will run for up to 900 miles before needing to re-fuel, while in pure EV mode it will run for 200 miles. Previous electric models barely managed 60 mph (100kph) and had a range of less than 100 miles.

Chris Newman, PML spokesman, delivers the conclusion. "Today's electronic technology means that the old idea of an electric car is simply blown out of the water. With a performance of 80-100 mile-per-gallon compared with 40mpg with today's average car it's cheap to run and with hardly any mechanical parts, it will also be cheaper to maintain. In EV mode there are zero emissions which means it's very eco-friendly. It's a car for the 21st Century."

Sources: University of of Portsmouth news release, June 8, 2007; and various websites

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