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How Small Parts Play A Big Role In Keeping Your Car Moving

  03 Mar 2017

The little things count when it comes to keeping a car
running. Items like fasteners, sleeving and grommets are the unsung heroes of
today’s cars, keeping them held together and on the road in all weathers. According
to AAA (American Automobile Association) the most common causes of breakdown
are down to faulty small parts: brake system failures, battery issues and fuel
problems… not to mention lost keys.

Here, we take a closer look at what it really takes to keep us moving.

Industry estimates suggest that it takes about 30,000 individual parts to make a modern car, with each tiny component vital to the final build. Some of these parts are made at the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), but suppliers play a critical role in providing many of the items that go into making a car – and keeping it on the move.

Japanese automaker Toyota has a global supply chain that forms part of a complex ecosystem of smaller manufacturers in its own right. Many smaller companies work together to provide the carmaker with the parts it needs to manufacture a vehicle. According to the US Motor and Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (MEMA), no less than 871,000 Americans were employed in the US automotive supply chain in 2015, up from 734,000 in 2012 – meaning motor parts manufacturing jobs have grown by nearly 19 per cent in the US in that time. The contribution to the US economy from all this activity is estimated at $435 billion. MEMA’s member companies, the organisation says, represent the largest sector of manufacturing jobs in North America.

“It takes about 30,000 individual parts to make a modern car”

The connected and autonomous car

Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will feature many unique small parts: radars, imaging sensors and computing systems all working together to enable features like platooning or en masse travel. Autonomous vehicles already require cameras, radars, ultrasound and digital maps to determine direction and speed, and to help avoid collisions. The Google Car, now dubbed Waymo, completed what the company claims is the world’s first fully self-driving trip on public roads on 20 October 2015. The vehicle did not have a steering wheel, foot pedal or test driver on board as it drove from a doctor’s office to a park through typical Texan neighborhoods in everyday traffic. There were no police escorts, and no closed courses. Waymo says: “While there have been many rides with self-driving cars before, including our own, this was the first time any car has completed a trip from start to finish on public roads without a test driver on board. Our software was fully responsible for all the driving”.

Waymo puts in the miles

This ride was the culmination of six years of development and testing, which at the time included over a million miles of autonomous driving on public roads, three million miles a day of simulated driving, and testing the Google car’s performance in thousands of unique and rare scenarios on a private test track.

Waymo points out: “At the most basic level, driving is about processing information around you and making decisions based on those signals. The same is true for our self-driving cars.” Waymo says its self-driving software can recognize drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and cars, and can anticipate how others may behave. “Our cars are programmed to drive conservatively,” the company explains. “For example, they will slow down near a construction zone, wait 1.5 seconds after a red light turns green before moving through an intersection, and nudge towards the center of the lane to give nearby cyclists extra room.”

Platooning: travelling together for the environment – and for each other

On the smart highway of the future, grouping autonomous vehicles together into ‘platoons’ will increase road capacity, because platoons decrease the distances between cars or trucks. The European Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project has already developed technologies to allow vehicle platoons to operate on normal public highways, with significant environmental, safety and comfort benefits. The project was led by British automotive consultancy Ricardo. Funded by the European Commission, the SARTRE project aimed to encourage a “step change in personal transport usage” through the development of “safe environmental road trains”, or platoons. Platooning could have numerous benefits, such as a 20 per cent reduction in emissions and numerous safety benefits that arise from cutting all accidents caused by driver action. Platooning also promises a reduction in congestion.

It is not just cars that are the subject of platooning experiments. During its presidency of the European Union in 2016, the Netherlands initiated a European Truck Platooning Challenge that saw six brands of automated trucks – DAF Trucks, Daimler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Truck & Bus, Scania and Volvo Group – driving in columns on public roads from several European cities to the Netherlands.

Making driving safer

But what about the safety issue? With more than 1.25 million people dying globally on roadways every year, new technologies are aiming to make road accidents a thing of the past. What’s more, with so many people around the world unable to drive because of disabilities, autonomous vehicles look set to change the lives of millions. And just think about all the time we waste in traffic jams? The average commuter spends up to 42 hours a year stuck behind the wheel, which is something else the cars of the future could help eliminate.

Working with the latest technologies that make up the CAV, Waymo – and its peers in the global automotive industry – are aiming to change these statistics for the better.

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