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Automobile Innovation

The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789 for his "Amphibious Digger". It was a harbor dredge scow designed to be powered by a steam engine and he built wheels to attach to the bow.

The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789 for his "Amphibious Digger". It was a harbor dredge scow designed to be powered by a steam engine and he built wheels to attach to the bow. In 1804 Evans demonstrated his first successful self-propelled vehicle, which not only was the first automobile in the US but was also the first amphibious vehicle, as his steam-powered vehicle was able to travel on wheels on land as he demonstrated once, and via a paddle wheel in the water. It was not successful and eventually was sold as spare parts.

The Benz Motorwagen, built in 1885, was patented on 29 January 1886 by Karl Benz as the first automobile powered by an internal combustion engine. In 1888, a major breakthrough came with the historic drive of Bertha Benz. She drove an automobile that her husband had built for a distance of more than 106 km (i.e. - approximately 65 miles). This event demonstrated the practical usefulness of the automobile and gained wide publicity, which was the promotion she thought was needed to advance the invention. The Benz vehicle was the first automobile put into production and sold commercially. Bertha Benz's historic drive is celebrated as an annual holiday in Germany with rallies of antique automobiles.

In 1892 Rudolf Diesel gets a patent for a "New Rational Combustion Engine" by modifying the Carnot Process. And in 1897 he builds the first Diesel Engine.
On 5 November 1895, George B. Selden was granted a United States patent for a two-stroke automobile engine (U.S. Patent 549160). This patent did more to hinder than encourage development of autos in the USA. Steam, electric, and gasoline powered autos competed for decades, with gasoline internal combustion engines achieving dominance in the 1910s.

The large-scale, production-line manufacturing of affordable automobiles was debuted by Ransom Eli Olds at his Oldsmobile factory in 1902. This assembly line concept was then greatly expanded by Henry Ford in the 1910s. Development of automotive technology was rapid, due in part to the hundreds of small manufacturers competing to gain the world's attention. Key developments included electric ignition and the electric self-starter (both by Charles Kettering, for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910-1911), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes.

Felix Wankel invented the Wankel engine in 1954, which had a very unconventional structure that would reduce the wear the engine effected upon itself as it worked.

Alternative Fuels and Batteries

Diesel-powered cars can run with little or no modification on 100% pure biodiesel, a fuel that can be made from vegetable oils but require modifications if you drive in cold weather countries. The main plus of Diesel combustion engines is its 50% fuel burn advantage over 23% in the best gasoline engines. This makes Diesel engines capable of achieving an average of 17km per liter fuel efficiency. Many cars that currently use gasoline can run on ethanol, a fuel made from plant sugars. Most cars that are designed to run on gasoline are capable of running with up to 15% ethanol mixed in. With a small amount of redesign, gasoline-powered vehicles can run on ethanol concentrations as high as 85%. All petrol fuelled cars can run on LPG. There has been some concern that the ethanol-gasoline mixtures prematurely wear down seals and gaskets. Theoretically, the lower energy content of alcohol should lead to considerably reduced efficiency and range when compared with gasoline. However, EPA testing has actually shown only a 20-30% reduction in range. Therefore, if your vehicle is capable of doing 750 kilometers on a 50 liter tank (15 kilometers per liter), its range would be reduced to approximately 600 kilometers (12 kilometers per liter). Of course, certain measures are available to increase this efficiency, such as different camshaft configurations, altering the timing/spark output of the ignition, increasing compression, or simply using a larger fuel tank.

In the United States, alcohol fuel was produced in corn-alcohol stills until Prohibition criminalized the production of alcohol in 1919. Interest in alcohol as an automotive fuel lapsed until the oil price shocks of the 1970s. Reacting to the high price of oil and its growing dependence on imports, in 1975 Brazil launched a huge government-subsidized effort to manufacture ethanol fuel (from its sugar cane crop) and ethanol-powered automobiles. These ethanol-only vehicles were very popular in the 1980's, but became economically impractical when oil prices fell - and sugar prices rose - late in that decade. In recent years Brazil has encouraged the development of flex-fuel automobiles, where the owner can use any mixture of ethanol and gasoline based on their individual cost and performance goals. In 2005, 70% of the cars sold in Brazil were flex-fuel.

Attempts at building viable, modern battery-powered electric vehicle began in the 1950s with the introduction of the first modern (transistor based) electric car - the Henney Kilowatt. Despite the poor sales of the early battery-powered vehicles, development of various battery-powered vehicles continued through the 1990s (notably General Motors with the EV1), but cost, speed and inadequate driving range continued to make them impractical. Battery powered cars have primarily used lead-acid batteries and NiMH batteries. Lead-acid batteries' recharge capacity is considerably reduced if they're discharged beyond 75% on a regular basis, making them a less-than-ideal solution. NiMH batteries are a better choice, but are considerably more expensive than lead-acid. Lithium-ion battery powered vehicles such as the Venturi Fetish have recently demonstated excellent performance and range, but they remain very expensive.

Safety With Automobile

Automobile accidents are almost as old as automobiles themselves. Joseph Cugnot crashed his steam-powered "Fardier" against a wall in 1771. One of the earliest recorded automobile fatalities was Mary Ward, on 1869-08-31 in Parsonstown, Ireland, an early victim in the United States was Henry Bliss on 1899-09-13 in New York City, NY.

Cars have two basic safety problems: They have human drivers who make mistakes, and the wheels lose traction near a half gravity of deceleration. Automated control has been seriously proposed and successfully prototyped. Shoulder-belted passengers could tolerate a 32G emergency stop (reducing the safe intervehicle gap 64-fold) if high-speed roads incorporated a steel rail for emergency braking. Both safety modifications of the roadway are thought to be too expensive by most funding authorities, although these modifications could dramatically increase the number of vehicles that could safely use a high-speed highway.

Early safety research focused on increasing the reliability of brakes and reducing the flammability of fuel systems. For example, modern engine compartments are open at the bottom so that fuel vapors, which are heavier than air, vent to the open air. Brakes are hydraulic so that failures are slow leaks, rather than abrupt cable breaks. Systematic research on crash safety started in 1958 at Ford Motor Company. Since then, most research has focused on absorbing external crash energy with crushable panels and reducing the motion of human bodies in the passenger compartment.

There are standard tests for safety in new automobiles, like the EuroNCAP and the US NCAP tests. There are also tests run by organizations such as IIHS and backed by the insurance industry.

Despite technological advances, there is still significant loss of life from car accidents: About 40,000 people die every year in the U.S., with similar figures in Europe. This figure increases annually in step with rising population and increasing travel if no measures are taken, but the rate per capita and per mile travelled decreases steadily. The death toll is expected to nearly double worldwide by 2020. A much higher number of accidents result in injury or permanent disability. The highest accident figures are reported in China and India. The European Union has a rigid program to cut the death toll in the EU in half by 2010 and member states have started implementing measures.

Future Of The Car

Current invention is ESP by Bosch that is claimed to reduce deaths by about 30% and is recommended by many lawmakers and carmakers to be a standard feature in all cars sold in the EU. ESP recognizes dangerous situations and corrects the drivers input for a short moment to stabilize the car.

Relatively high transportation fuel prices do not completely stop car usage but makes it significantly more expensive. One environmental benefit of high fuel prices is that it incentivises the production of more efficient (and hence less polluting) car engines and designs and the development of alternative fuels. In the beginning of 2006, 1 liter of gas costs approximately $1.60 USD in Germany and other European countries, and one US gallon of gas costs nearly $3.00 USD. With fuel prices at these levels there is a strong incentive for consumers to purchase lighter, smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Nevertheless, individual mobility is highly prized in modern societies so the demand for automobiles is inelastic. Alternative individual modes of transport, such as Personal rapid transit, could make the automobile obsolete if they prove to be cheaper and more energy efficient.

Hydrogen cars, driven either by a combination of fuel cells and an electric motor, or alternatively, a conventional combustion engine, are widely mooted to replace fossil fuel powered cars in a few decades. Some obstacles to a mass market of hydrogen cars include: the cost of hydrogen production by electrolysis, which is inefficient and requires an inexpensive source of electrical energy to be economical, the difficulty of storing hydrogen either in its gaseous or liquid (cryogenic) form, and the lack of a hydrogen transport infrastructure such as pipelines and filling stations. Hydrogen has a much higher energy density than gasoline or diesel. It is thought to become cheaper with mass production, but because its production is overall energy inefficient and requires other sources of energy, including fossil, it is unlikely to be a cheaper fuel than gasoline or diesel today. Also, its combustion produces only water vapour (a greenhouse gas) and virtually no local pollutants such as NOx, SOx, benzene and soot. BMW's engineering team promises a high horsepower hydrogen fuel engine in it's 7?series sedan before the next generation of the car makes its debut.

The electric car in general appears to be a way forward in principle; electric motors are far more efficient than internal combustion engines and have a much greater power to weight ratio. They also operate efficiently across the full speed range of the vehicle and develop a lot of torque at zero speed, so are ideal for cars. A complex drivetrain and transmission would not be needed. However, despite this the electric car is held back by battery technology - so far a cell with comparable energy density to a tank of liquid fuel is a long way off, and there is no infrastructure in place to support it. A more practical approach may be to use a smaller internal combustion (IC) engine to drive a generator- this approach can be much more efficient since the IC engine can be run at a single speed, use cheaper fuel such as diesel, and drop the heavy, power wasting drivetrain. Such an approach has worked very well for railway locomotives, but so far has not been scaled down for car use.

Recently the automobile industry has determined that the biggest potential growth market (in terms of both revenue and profit), is software. Cars are now equipped with a stunning array of software; from voice recognition and vehicle navigation systems, vehicle tracking system like ESITrack to in-vehicle distributed entertainment systems (DVD/Games), to telematics systems such as GMs Onstar not to mention the control subsystems. Software now accounts for 35% of a cars value, and this percentage is only going to get larger. The theory behind this is that the mechanical systems of automobiles are now essentially a commodity, and the real product differentiation occurs in the software systems. Many cars are equipped with full blown 32bit real-time memory protected operating systems such as QNX.

A new invention by Carmelo Scuderi, the Scuderi Split Cycle Engine claims to improve the efficiency of an engine from 33.2% to 42.6%. In addition, toxic emissions are claimed to be reduced by as much as 80%.

Hypothetical driverless cars and flying cars have been proposed for decades, but for now the costs would outweigh the benefits (traffic overhaul and control, fuel and operating costs, the development of widely available driverless and flying cars itself, and the technology required for such vehicles which is currently out of reach). Thus driverless and especially flying cars still are an idea widely associated with science fiction.

All text of this article available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).

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