Thousands of feet above ground level, specially equipped airplanes are acquiring data that are used to create 3D road geometries, and those terrain profiles could become a viable tool for tailoring a vehicle's powertrain control strategies for better fuel efficiency.
"Along with Auburn University and Eaton Corp., we're investigating whether knowledge of the road grades ahead can present opportunities for fuel-economy gains in commercial trucks," said Steve Zaroukian, Director of Business Development for the Automotive Division of Denver, CO-headquartered Intermap Technologies Inc.
The research work looks promising. "It was found that a 2 to 3% fuel-economy savings could be realized by optimizing the vehicle velocity profile over the course of a long-haul truck run across interstate highways with variations in elevation," explained David Bevly, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering at Auburn University.
Wei Huang, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Auburn University, "developed a method to determine the optimal speed trajectory over a terrain and then in simulation compared the fuel usage using a standard (i.e., constant) cruise-control setting versus following the optimized velocity profile for the terrain," noted Bevly.
The next step is a real-world test with a Class 8 heavy-duty truck. "We are still preparing the vehicle and the control systems necessary to do this demonstration," noted Daniel Smedley, Manager of Advanced Controls for Eaton's Truck Group. "It is our intention to demonstrate and test such a system before the end of 2008. More development work is expected next year."
Smedley expects that fuel-economy benefits will be the near-term gain, but "we also hope to demonstrate how 3D data as well as other position-referenced data can improve the driving experience and make vehicle operation safer and more efficient."
Intermap's 3D road geometries might also find an application with future-generation adaptive headlamp technology. "We've built a couple of proof-of-concept vehicles that are fitted with a predictive headlamp system. It might be beneficial to have the adaptive headlight system know there is a curve ahead. For instance, a steering-wheel sensor could augment the system if the vehicle were to leave the known road and turn into a parking lot or driveway because then the two technologies could work in unison to determine which input is appropriate," said Zaroukian.
Another study project using Intermap's 3D road geometries involves hybrid vehicles. Intermap has commissioned Clemson University to determine if knowing the road ahead can be beneficial to state-of-charge battery management. "The simulation models are still being refined, so there are no results yet. We're just creating a starting point right now, but we'll seek out a partner if phase one shows promise," said Zaroukian. "I think there will be a phase two because we feel there is something to be gained from knowing the road ahead in terms of battery management as there are inefficiencies that occur in the charging and discharging process."