Planes, trains and automobiles

The future of transport – from flying cars to electric trucks

New technologies will revolutionize the way we commute and transport goods over short and long distances, helped by a plethora of IEC International Standards.

Daimler e-truck
e-trucks help reduce pollution in cities (Photo: Daimler AG)

Driving to work can be the stuff of nightmares. Endless traffic jams, pollution, nowhere to park -all these inconveniences can combine to make the daily commute quite unbearable. Vehicle manufacturers, public transport companies, on-demand private transport services and local authorities are all working on different ways to alleviate the driver’s burden, some of which are more futuristic than others.

Off to a flying start

Several manufacturers are working to merge aircraft and automotive technologies in a bid to produce flying cars. Some of these strange hybrid objects were on show at the 2018 Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) which took place in March. A European aircraft manufacturer, a German automotive giant and an Italian design and engineering outfit have joined forces to produce a prototype. Pop.Up was launched at the 2017 show but since then, the latching and locking system coupling the ground capsule and the air module have been improved and the flying car is much lighter than the initial version. A clever eye tracking and facial recognition interface has been installed inside the capsule, reading the passenger’s moods and wishes. Once it has landed, Pop.Up’s ground capsule is intended to operate as an autonomous electric vehicle (EV), using sensors, cameras and radars as well as light detecting and ranging (LIDAR) technology.

A number of IEC technical committees (TCs) and their subcommittees (SCs) prepare International Standards relating to the components found in these technologies. IEC TC 47: Semiconductors, publishes IEC 62969, which specifies the general requirements of power interfaces for automotive vehicle sensors. IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, develops Standards on digital cameras. IEC TC 69 issues Standards pertaining to EV power charging.

Keep on trucking

The electrification of commercial vehicles is moving apace. Several major manufacturers have launched light-duty electric trucks and plans are afoot to bring heavy-duty electric vehicles to market within the next couple of years. One of the first light-duty trucks, the eCanter, has a permanent synchronous electric motor with an output of 185 kW and is powered by lithium–ion battery packs. According to its manufacturer, it can travel up to 120 km before needing to be recharged. The same company is also developing an all-electric heavy-duty truck capable of traveling 350 km on a single charge, while carrying an 11 ton payload. IEC TC 21 prepares Standards for all secondary cells and batteries. They cover the performance, dimensions, safety installation principles and labelling of batteries used for the propulsion of electric road vehicles.

The main types of all-electric propulsion options for long-range vehicles, in addition to batteries, are hydrogen fuel cells and overhead catenary systems. Wireless power transfer (WPT) systems are an alternative way of charging EVs, whether stationary or in motion. WPT is based on high-power inductive energy transfer. This technology has been used for some years to power electric city buses in countries such as Belgium and Germany. The IEC 69 Working Group (WG) 7 deals specifically with electric vehicle WPT systems. It is working on IEC 61980, a three‑part series of International Standards that applies to equipment used in WPT from supply network to electric road vehicles.

For fuel cell-powered vehicles to operate, hydrogen, which like other forms of fuel is pumped from a fuelling station into the car, is fused chemically with oxygen from the air to make water. In the process, which resembles what takes place in a battery, electricity is released and this is used to power an electric motor. IEC TC 105 prepares International Standards for fuel cell technologies, that are used increasingly in the commercial EV sector.

Trucks can also pick up power from overhead wires using pantographs, similar to those used by trolley buses. IEC TC 69: Electric road vehicles and electric industrial trucks, develops the IEC 61851 series of International Standards to ensure that conductive charging systems are safe and reliable.

Reap the harvest

Some energy harvesting techniques place photovoltaic (PV) modules on top of the road surface to capture solar power. These modules can either replace asphalt or be placed directly on top of existing roadways. The main challenge is to produce durable panels that can withstand heavy weights. The energy harvested by these modules is then used to power lights and signals on the road network.

Thermoelectric generators (TEGs) can also be used to harvest energy from roads. TEGs convert geothermal energy into electrical power. Piezoelectricity is the electric charge produced by certain crystals when a mechanical stress is applied. These crystals can be embedded beneath a layer of asphalt. As cars drive over the road, the wheels exert a force that causes the crystals to deform and generate electrical energy. This energy can then be used to power street lights or be stored in batteries for later use.

IEC 62830-1, prepared by IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices, defines the terms, definitions, symbols, configurations, and test methods that can be used to evaluate and determine the performance characteristics of vibration-based piezoelectric energy harvesting devices for practical use. This document is applicable to energy harvesting devices for consumer, general industrial, military and aerospace applications without any limitations on device technology and size. On a more global level, Standards for piezoelectric technology are developed by IEC TC 49 ,which deals with piezoelectric, dielectric and electrostatic devices.

Cyber security for railways

As the use of connected vehicles increases, so does the volume of cyber threats. Hackers can steal automobiles, but even worse, take control of a vehicle’s computer systems and manipulate the brakes, engine and transmission system remotely.

Railway networks are also vulnerable to cyber attacks. The move from electromechanical to digital-IP enabled technology is being encouraged by the European Union (EU). It is pushing for countries to adopt the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which aims to replace the different national train control and command systems in Europe. Railway systems are increasingly interconnected, enhancing the levels of risk. The Shift2Rail, an initiative that brings together key European railway stakeholders, is aiming to define how different aspects of cyber security should be applied to the railway sector. It has assessed applicable Standards and selected the IEC 62443 series, published by IEC TC 65: Industrial-process measurement, control and automation.

From human-driven to autonomous

As the use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in cities becomes more likely, stakeholders involved in urban transport are scratching their heads, trying to find answers to one question: how can autonomous vehicles be integrated into an environment where most people are still driving cars? During the Future Networked Car Symposium, organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) at GIMS, experts agreed that  in the initial stages most urban fleets of rented cars will have to offer a choice of human driven vehicles and autonomous ones, as well as different types of AVs. A similar mix will probably exist in public transport services – especially if local authorities offer rental systems themselves. Other questions were asked: what will AVs look like in a decade? Will people still own cars at all? While only time will tell, most analysts are putting their bets on a decrease in vehicle ownership.