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New Electric Suspension System Smoothes Out the Ride

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One day, exhausting car rides over bumpy terrain, with all the dangers and damaging effects, may be part of the past.  The Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas in the city of Austin has developed a new electric suspension system that makes off-road rides almost as smooth as those over a paved highway.  Amy Katz narrates.

Some things go together, such as dirt roads and bumpy rides, especially if they are in a military vehicle like this one, with a traditional suspension system.

Now take a look at a new electric suspension system.  Same road, same speed. Even better, look at both vehicles riding together. 

For over a decade, the Center for Electromechanics at the University of Texas in Austin has researched and developed a new electric suspension system like the one active in a military Humvee being tested.

"This is the very first vehicle we did, so we still have it, says Joe Beno, associate director of the Center.  “The technology and the individual components have matured quite a bit to the point that it is about ready for production.  This is just the first prototype." 

He says a vehicle with the new electric suspension system has five times less vibration, gains stability, and is safer. It has a lower tendency to roll over, and it maneuvers and brakes better because it is more stable. 

Other benefits -- still to come -- may include more efficient gas use and less maintenance, thereby prolonging the life of the vehicle. 

Professor Beno showed us a traditional suspension system.

"The difference is by looking right down here.  Now right there is the spring system and through the middle is the shock absorber."

The new one looks more like…

"It has a spring also that supports the vehicle weight, but instead of the shock absorbers it has this actuator and that actuator will put out any force that we command it to put out."

The key components are an electric motor driving a rack and pinion at each wheel, accelerometers and a computerized control system.

The U.S. Department of Defense has funded most of the research for more than a decade.  While the electric suspension is almost ready for production for military vehicles, it is still being tested on others, like a cargo truck.  The same technology has also been installed in the transit bus service in Houston and could be installed in many ambulances, and other vehicles.

"It would have applications in any place where you have very poor road conditions, third world countries where you have very limited road infrastructure," says Beno.

Joe Beno and his team of over 60 research engineers are hopeful that one day they could see their system installed in most vehicles that travel poor roads, or places where there are no roads at all. 

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