This is #newtk: the mobile research platform of the future
Automotive-sector | future of production | mobility of the future | For the future of thyssenkrupp, our colleagues around the world are working to make our company more flexible, efficient, and powerful. Our new #newtk strategy focuses on this performance idea. For example, when good research ideas significantly enrich the work of customers and suppliers – the modular research platform (MRP) is on its way.
Today, the automotive industry faces major challenges: e-mobility and autonomous driving make new mobility concepts possible – from robot taxis to e-carsharing. New technologies and business models are forcing their way onto the market – but no one yet knows which will succeed. For suppliers, this means that they must be able to develop a large number of technical solutions and make them available at short notice. Traditional development methods are often too time-consuming for this. Faster and more agile processes are needed.
Kristof Polmans is head of the technology and innovation department in the steering systems business of thyssenkrupp in Liechtenstein. In his role, he is responsible for driving innovation forward. “I enjoy having the opportunity to try out new technologies,” says Polmans. “We go through all the steps of a project, from idea development to implementation. This gives us the chance to design and try out new things.”
Versatile development with only one vehicle
Polmans’ team has designed a modular research platform (MRP) to meet the growing development needs of the automotive industry. It enables thyssenkrupp to test components and systems under real conditions at a very early stage of development. This saves time: Previously, it was necessary to wait until a prototype could be integrated into an existing vehicle. The research platform can also be used to test interactions between integrated chassis functions as early as the development phase. In the next step, new functions can also be developed.
Steering systems are at the center of research in Liechtenstein. thyssenkrupp is one of the world’s largest suppliers of steering components and complete steering systems. With the new agile research platform, the company aims to demonstrate its systems expertise in chassis development over the long term.
MRP measures a variety of system-internal parameters while driving
“The MRP helps us develop new solutions faster and with more agility.” For the first investigations, the moving research platform was equipped with classic components: a mechanical steering gear, passive dampers, two electric motors for the single-wheel drive of the front wheels, and another for the rear axle.
While driving, dozens of sensors measure nonstop a variety of internal system parameters at the MRP, including speed, acceleration in different directions, yaw rate, wheel speed, and steering-wheel angle. All information is sent to a shoe-box-sized onboard computer, the Autobox, which is mounted on the center console. On the screen of the connected laptop, you can follow the ups and downs of the measurement curves live while driving.
Box with brains
The Autobox contains the intelligence of the MRP: Here the sensor data is processed by specially developed software. On the basis of these measured values, the system can calculate the optimum control commands for the actuators at any time – for example for brakes, steering, drive, and damping. This integrated function is called vehicle motion control (VMC).
The engineers like to compare VMC with the brain of an octopus: This is where the information collected by the arms as they move collects. Although each arm is independent in principle, coordination is controlled centrally. This control is extremely flexible: An octopus can easily compensate for the loss of an arm. The software in the MRP’s onboard computer is designed to do similar things by controlling the components in such a way that they complement and support each other.
MRP saves time and money
This is important, for example, in the development of driver assistance systems or new steering concepts for highly automated driving. These must be one hundred percent safe – even if a subsystem fails. The steer-by-wire technology developed by thyssenkrupp, in which the conventional mechanical connection between steering wheel and wheels is replaced by electric cables, requires intelligent back-up solutions, for example.
This is where the VMC software is to take over in the future by specifically controlling the drives and brakes of the wheels so that they take over the steering function. “Previously, a separate test vehicle was required for each chassis architecture. That was complex and expensive,” says Polmans. “With the new modular MRP test vehicle, we can now test such integrated functions for each chassis faster and more cost-effectively.”
Adaptation to customer requirements
The MRP will play a crucial role in the development of new technologies. Autonomous robotic taxis, for example, will only be successful if they bring their passengers safely and comfortably to their destination, explains Kristof Polmans: “The development and control of chassis components play a key role here – for example active suspension, which, together with the steering and drive system, is designed to optimize vehicle movements to prevent travel sickness, for example. With the modular research platform, we can not only record this, but also adapt it to the wishes of our customers.”
Customer feedback on the MRP is consistently positive. Further MRP concepts are already being planned. The team is also planning to lend the MRP to universities and research groups in order to further open up the research approach.