10-automotive-startups-to-watch-in-2020

Predicting human movement, five-minute EV charging, and enhanced sensing all all a part of this latest crop of automotive startups reshaping the industry.

  • While the timeline for deploying fully autonomous vehicles keeps getting readjusted, that hasn’t slowed growth in the automotive startup ecosystem. While companies are still working toward the goal of level 5 autonomy many others are tackling challenges around electric vehicles, cybersecurity, processor hardware, and other pain points in the automotive industry.

    Meet 10 of the newest automotive startups who are already having an impact on the auto industry that are likely to continue there momentum well into 2020 and beyond.

  • Acerta

    Canadian startup Acerta’s mission is to provide automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers with data-driven insights to improve product quality at every stage of the design and manufacturing lifecycle. The company’s Acerta Cortex is a data solution specifically designed for the automotive industry.

    Cortex transforms any existing storage structure into a smart data hub that allows for a wide range of machine learning solutions to be implemented in a single framework. The company says, Cortex “ eliminates data silos, increases data discoverability, and reduces data management overhead” without the need for labor intensive data engineering.

    (Image source: Acerta)

  • Chanje

    California-based Chanje is a new addition to the electric trucking space. The company manufactures vehicles dedicated to the “last mile” of delivery – where packages and goods go from the distribution center to their final destination.

    Chanje’s V8100 (shown above) is a fully-electric, medium-duty, panel van with a 150-mile-per-charge range and 675 cubic feet of storage, capable of carrying up to a 6,000-lb payload.

    (Image source: Chanje)

  • GBatteries

    Canada’s GBatteries is working on major obstacle for electric vehicles – charging times. Gas engine vehicles are way less green, but it certainly doesn’t take hours to fill your gas tank.

    GBatteries is using a combination of software and hardware to drastically reduce vehicle charging times down to as fast as five minutes. Using hardware, along with AI that generates complex charging pulse profiles based on real-time monitoring and analysis of a battery’s internal state, GBatteries is developing a means of charging off-the-shelf lithium-ion batteries as quickly as filling up a tank of gas.

    (Image source: GBatteries)

  • GuardKnox

    Israel has become notorious for producing companies with a novel approach to cybersecurity, and GuardKnox is no exception. The automotive cybersecurity company has taken technology used to secure Israeli fighter jets and ported it over to automotive. GuardKnox produces an electronic control unit (ECU) it calls the Secure Network Orchestrator (SNO) that protects each layer of a vehicle, from its keyless entry to infotainment system, and more, from cyberattacks. GuardKnox says its SNO can be implemented by OEMS, Tier 1’s, and even in the aftermarket.

    (Image source: GuardKnox)

  • Humanising Autonomy

    The challenge with pedestrians is they don’t ever behave the way you want or expect. UK and Detroit-based startup, Humanising Autonomy is leveraging AI to go one step beyond detecting pedestrians to actually predicting their behavior. The company says it has trained AI

    to make culture and context specific predictions. Someday autonomous cars will not just recognize pedestrians at a crosswalk, but also anticipate whether they may dart out into the street unexpectedly or aren’t paying attention to traffic.

    Humanising Autonomy was the winner of the Automobility LA’s 2019 Top Ten Automotive Startups Competition

    (Image source: Humanising Autonomy)

  • Silicon Mobility

    Silicon Mobility is a French startup that creates semiconductors targeted at the automotive industry – specifically for energy efficiency and reducing emissions. The company’s OLEA field programmable control unit (FPCU) is designed for next-generation electric and hybrid electric vehicles. Combined with the company’s own software stack, Silicon Mobility’s FPCU’s can control vehicle’s motors, battery charging, and power conversion systems. The company says its products can help auto manufacturers increase the range of electric vehicles and also reduce pollutant emissions of hybrids.

    (Image source: Silicon Mobility)

  • StreetScooter

    Given it’s name you might think that StreetScooter was out to compete with the likes of Bird and Lime. In reality the German startup produces electric delivery vehicles ranging from vans to small trucks for various commercial and municipal applications. The company’s Work L truck (shown) features a 43 KwH lithium-ion battery and a 68 kW motor capable of up to 92 horsepower. The truck’s box can also be customized and configured depending on its type of cargo. The company says it currently has more than 12,000 vehicles in daily use throughout Germany.

    (Image source: StreetScooter)

  • TriEye

    Israeli startup TriEye is a semiconductor company tackling the challenge of low visibility for autonomous vehicles and ADAS. The company’s Raven camera is a CMOS sensor based, shortwave infrared (SWIR) camera that can capture HD images under all weather and lighting conditions while still remaining cost effective. TriEye says its camera technology is algorithm agnostic and can be implemented into exists ADAS and autonomous vehicle architectures.

    (Image source: TriEye)

  • TuSimple

    San Diego-based TuSimple has had a very big year. In 2019 both the USPS and UPS signed on to conduct pilot programs using the company’s technology. TuSimple uses a combination of cameras and computer vision to convert long-haul trucks into level 4 autonomous vehicles. If the company’s momentum continues through 2020 it’s trucks could find their way into a variety of industries.

    (Image source: TuSimple)

  • Wunder Mobility

    Germany-based Wunder Mobility is all about mobility software. The company produces app-based platforms that help businesses and cities build and scale their mobility services. Essentially, rather than having to create a mobility platform from scratch, a vehicle maker can use Wunder Mobility’s app to create their own custom solution. Think of it as an app builder or template – but for automotive fleets, e-scooters, bikes, or other vehicles. The company says its platform is deployed in more than 100 cities across five continents.

    (Image source: Wunder Mobility)

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at   Design News  covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

ford-unveils-battery-electric-mustang-mach-e-crossover-suv
(Image source: Ford Motor Co.)

Recognizing the convergence of traditional cars and crossover SUVs, Ford took the controversial step of introducing the Mustang Mach-E, a battery electric crossover wearing the Mustang badget and a name derived from the Mach 1 high-performance edition of the Mustang.

Purists expressed outrage, but as consumers increasingly view crossovers as indistinguishable from other automotive body styles, the move could be considered a preemptive bid to keep the Mustang name relevant for decades to come. Ford has contemplated leveraging the Mustang’s popularity with a family of more practical variants since the car’s very beginning, but this will mark the first time such a proposal will actually reach production.

(Image source: Ford Motor Co.)

In keeping with Mustang tradition, the Mach-E will be available with a variety of powertrains and trim levels, providing affordability for the price-conscious and maximum performance for customers willing to spend more.

In the case of the Mach-E, that means a car that will be available in both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations. There is also a standard 75.7 kWh lithium-ion battery pack with 288 battery cells and a long-range 98.8 kWh battery pack with 376 cells.

(Image source: Ford Motor Co.)

Ford predicts that the extended-range battery will yield 300 miles of driving range on the EPA test when configured with rear-wheel drive. The extended-range all-wheel-drive configurations, Mach-E is targeting 332 horsepower and 417 lb-ft of torque.

Ford hopes to placate gearheads with promises of impressive performance for this new kind of Mustang. “The Mustang Mach-E wholeheartedly rejects the notion that electric vehicles are only good at reducing gas consumption,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product development and purchasing officer.  

Thai-Tang has credibility with Mustang enthusiasts because he was chief engineer for the fifth-generation car. “People want a car that’s thrilling to drive, that looks gorgeous and that can easily adapt to their lifestyle, and the Mustang Mach-E delivers all of this in unmatched style,” he promised.

Image source: Ford Motor Co.

There will be two high-performance versions, the GT and the GT Performance Edition. The GT is targeting 0-60 mph in less than 4 seconds, while the GT Performance Edition, is forecast to achieve 0-60 mph in the mid-3-second range. Both cars are estimated to produce 459 horsepower (342 kW) and 612 lb.-ft. (830 Nm) of torque.

Brembo’s all-new performance Flexira aluminum brake calipers, which maintain the functionality of a fixed caliper with the dimensions of a floating caliper, are available on the Mach-E. The GT Performance Edition is equipped with a MagneRide magnetically adjustable damping system that continuously varies shock absorber settings in response to driving conditions.

An all-wheel drive system will be available that can apply torque independently to the front and rear axles for improved acceleration and handling compared the rear-wheel drive model.  Interestingly, this was tuned by the Ford Performance team using Ford’s racing simulator in North Carolina.

Ford says that the Mach-E’s battery pack was designed for ease of manufacturing. It sits on the floor between the vehicle’s two axles and is tested to survive temperatures of -40 degrees F.

Image source: Ford Motor Co.

The cells are contained inside a waterproof battery case surrounded by crash protection. Liquid-cooling preserves optimal performance in hot weather and reduces charging times by keeping the cells from overheating while the charge pour in the electrons.

When DC fast charging is available, the Mach-E has a peak charging rate of 150 kW, which with an extended battery and rear-wheel drive can add an estimated average of 47 miles of range in approximately 10 minutes. With the regular battery, expect the Mach-E to charge from 10 percent to 80 percent in about 38 minutes.

The base car is scheduled for delivery to customers in late 2020, while the GT versions won’t come until spring of 2021.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

bmw's-ultimate-electric-driving-machines-are-on-the-way
BMW’s i8 Roadster plug-in hybrid sports car converts fans to electric drive. (Image source: BMW)

Jan Freimann is BMW’s manager of connected e-mobility and Design News had the recent opportunity to ask him about BMW’s electric vehicle road map as the brand migrates away from its gasoline-fueled heritage.

DN: BMW is known for building the Ultimate Driving Machine, so the company’s electrification effort might not be as well known. Can you recap BMW’s current EV efforts?

JF: To get a little bit back in the past, we started with i3 here in the US in 2014. Back in the day, we also had like pilot projects like the Mini E and the Active E on the 1-Series. But the real story started with i3; it was on the biggest scale. And the i8 of course, as a plug-in hybrid. Since 2014, when we started, we were first to market, together with Tesla, I guess, as one of the first OEMs in the market with electric cars.

Now in 2019, we have the 7-Series 745e plug-in hybrid with a six-cylinder engine combined with the third-generation BMW electric motor. We have the 530e, which has for the 5-Series plug-in hybrid combines a four-cylinder engine, the B48, with an e-machine integrated into the transmission. This one just got recently an update and battery capacity to 11 kilowatt-hours, gross capacity.

Jan Freimann, BMW manager of connected mobility. (Image source: BMW)

We have the i3 of course which our CEO just announced is continuing to be produced, with no end of production determined right now because we still think that’s a very good car. There was a recent battery upgrade to 120 amp-hour batteries and the i3S which is now a more sportive dynamic version of the regular i3 with a slightly increased power to 135 kilowatts and 270 newton meters.

So the i3 is even more fun to drive now, and the i8 and the i8 roadster sports cars we have in our portfolio right now.

DN: What can you tell us about upcoming EVs from BMW?

JF:  Next year, coming in spring, in Q1 or the beginning of Q2, we have the X3 PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). The X3 PHEV is similar to the 530e, so we have a B48 [combustion] engine SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) combined with also the 8HP75 hybrid transmission from ZF.

It has an integrated e-motor with a maximum output of 82 kilowatts and a continuous power of 50 kilowatts and we have a battery pack around 12 kilowatt-hours gross energy content. 

This car is not rated by EPA yet. In Europe it achieved a range of 46 to 41 kilometers. Its acceleration will be 6.1 second 0 to 60 mph and it has a maximum speed of 210 kilometers per hour. The four-cylinder, the B48 twin-turbo, has 135 kilowatts, and is then boosted and assisted by the 80-kilowatt e-motor, which equals into 215 kilowatts maximum power.

Then also beginning of next year, in Q1, we will have the X5 plug-in hybrid, the X545e. This car has the B58M1 six-cylinder engine with our 8HP75 hybrid transmission and a third-generation BMW e-machine. That’s a permanent synchro e-motor of 250 newton-meters additional torque and has an efficiency of 93 percent. It’s an oil-cooled e-motor and the total power output of the car, combined combustion and e-machine, is 600 newton-meters torque and 290 kilowatts of power.

The 2020 BMW X5e Plug-In Hybrid. (Image source: BMW)

The car has a battery capacity of 33 amp-hours, which is provided by 12 battery modules, each containing 16 cells. That would be around 24 kilowatt-hours, gross. So, if you can imagine the first i3 had 22 kilowatt hours, in a full battery electric car. Now we integrate this into a hybrid. You see the improvement here? 

DN: What are the effects on the BMW driving experience of this electrification of the combustion models?

JF: The advantage we have with the e-machine is that we have the possibility to do regenerative braking, and boost and assist the combustion engine. What this means is we have active torque support, so while shifting, you don’t feel the shifting anymore. It’s very smooth.

If you have energy in your battery, it will go in hybrid driving mode to 110 kilometers per hour [on battery power alone], or in full electric driving mode, up to 135 kilometers per hour, when the combustion engine kicks in. Or of course, you can choose the Sport mode, which is a combination of combustion and e-motor right from the start. Zero-to-60 mph acceleration is 5.6 seconds and the range [on the European test cycle] is 67 to 87 kilometers.

We have the X5 electric PHEV in the spring next year and we have the X3 electric PHEV spring next year. We get a 3-Series with a four-cylinder engine and the e-machine from the 530e. So, that means next year on the PHEV side we have the 3-Series PHEV, the X3 PHEV, the X5 PHEV, the 745e PHEV, the 530e PHEV.

BMW’s family of electrified vehicles. (Image source: BMW)

DN: Those are a lot of hybrids. What about pure EVs?

JF: On the full-electric side, we have the i3S of course, and i3 with 120 amp-hour battery and e-machine. It’s a third-generation e-motor, 135 kilowatts. It got 120 amp-hour or 42.6 kilowatt-hour energy content in the battery. 

We have talked about also about the i4, and also a 4-Series, fully electric car. And we talked about the i20, or i-Next concept car which was shown on the Los Angeles Auto Show [in 2018] as well. That’s a full electric car able to do over 300 miles electric and with the newest generation of our electric power train, so-called fifth generation. It has fifth-generation batteries and a fifth-generation power train.

Assembling battery packs at BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, S.C. (Image source: BMW)

DN: You’ve started building fourth-generation battery packs now to go in the upcoming X3 and X5 plug-in hybrids. How do they differ from the third-generation batteries that are in cars currently in showrooms?

JF:  They have higher energy density and slightly increased current limits so it means you get more power out of the same volume. 

DN: What are some of the main issues you’re working on for the future of EVs?

JF: I think one of them is that we have committed to a sustainable approach. Of course, that means the whole supply chain and gathering the materials, having supply agreements and contracts in place, long-term contracts to actually ensure that the supply chain has security. 

Not only in regards to actually gathering the materials and having the critical materials available, but also how. There was a lot of discussion in the media about like, how dirty gathering those materials is and that it does not always conform with humanity, I would say.  Not BMW! But of course, in certain areas, there are such cheats, right? 

BMW has committed to this officially and we say, “We have standards. We treat people fairly. We have work safety in place.” That’s our commitment here.

DN: How about in terms of the technology?

JF: We want to reduce complexity, and improve the packaging of our new electric power train, which in the fifth generation contains the power electronics, e-machine and the transmission all in one package, which BMW calls “HEAT,” a Highly Integrated Electrical Drivetrain, in German. 

BMW is supporting construction of crucial EV charging infrastructure in the U.S. and Europe. (Image source: BMW)

We have announced the strategy to be open to whatever demand is out there in terms of plug-in hybrids in the future, full electric cars or combustion engines, to deliver all this on the same production line. You have to have a modular and flexible approach. 

We have this flexible production approach, so on the same assembly line we can assemble, in the future, our fifth-generation cars, whether it is a plug-in hybrid, full electric car or a combustion engine. That’s an advantage in our eyes, because now, whatever demand is out there, we deliver because they only want.

Making the fifth generation, decreasing the complexity now and increasing the modular approach and making it more compact, I think that’s a big challenge.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

transformational-technologies-that-can-change-the-world

Lux Research (Boston) released on November 7 its Annual List of Transformational Technologies that are projected to have the greatest impact over the next 10 years.

Lux’s “20 for 2020” report identifies and ranks 20 technologies that will reshape the world, based on innovation interest scores from the Lux Intelligence Engine, along with input from Lux’s leading analysts.Lux-20-for-2020 Report Cover Square

While they are factored in, the report goes beyond megatrends, market demand and new innovations that can thrust many technologies into the spotlight by also providing a shortlist that is intended to provide “data-backed context for the ever-shifting technology landscape and insights into how companies can maximize the investment opportunities these data trends reveal.”

I mean, Lux really goes deep, poring through patents, papers, funding and more.

In short, it lists the emerging technologies that the firm is most bullish on near term and over the next decade. I thought it would be of interest to readers to pull out the ones of particular interest to the plastics community from this fascinating list—and we barely have to go into the list to find the first.

But we’ll begin with what Lux’s identifies as the top two broad transformational market drivers:

1. 5G Networks: From robotic surgery to self-driving cars, 5G will be critical to advances in the internet of things. 5G has officially left the realm of research and entered reality, with more than 2,200 patents being filed this year. 

2. Shared Mobility: With more than $10 billion in funding every year for the past three years, shared mobility—like car-sharing services—are reinventing urban transportation. This was a new entry to the leaderboard as is the next.Lux Top 20 List

And at #3, it’s…

That brings us to #3, which is the first in the list to point directly to plastics via a top-of-mind topic that’s of interest throughout the plastics community and beyond because it’s a subset, and perhaps a large one, of a circular value chain.

3. Advanced Plastic Recycling: Innovations that can convert plastic waste into a variety of valuable products, enabling a circular economy and avoiding pollution.

Mission-critical for companies from consumer-packaged goods companies to chemicals, China has invested in recycling technology in a big way, with 55% of all patents coming from that country. 

The report expands on the topic in the summary, noting…

Why it’s important: Regulations like single-use plastic bans and waste reduction commitments from brands are shaking up the plastics value chain. Plastic waste recycling is becoming mission-critical for companies from CPGs to chemicals.

What you should do: Companies need to develop waste collection and sorting and help scale up conversion technologies like pyrolysis and chemical recycling. Look for those collecting and converting to present new competition for oil, chemicals, and materials companies in the new circular value chain.

Lux-Chem-Recycling-Logos-Graphic

PlasticsToday had already identified this as a high-interest market when noting that reports on this topic, especially recently, appear at the top of our monthly metrics reports of the best-read content.

The Top 25 most-read articles from among approximately 900 published so far in 2019 at PlasticsToday are dominated by the overarching themes of recycling and sustainability, including also these three recent features on advanced recycling:

Dow to source pyrolysis oil feedstock made from recycled plastic waste, published August 2019;

Is plasma gasification the solution for plastics and all waste?, published August 2019;

Is an age-old chemical process the solution to today’s plastic waste problem?, published July 2019.

Some 78 articles appear using the search term chemical recycling, and there are 145 when the term is combined with pyrolysis.

Lux’s Top 5 rounds out with Solid State Batteries followed by Protein Production.

Next: Additional plastic references

what-it's-like-living-with-audi's-e-tron-mid-size-crossover-ev
The 2019 Audi e-tron has sporty styling that should appeal to even non-EV shoppers. (Image source: Audi)

As new cars emerge, and charging infrastructure improves, one obstacle to electric vehicle adoption will be getting drivers comfortable with new routines and habits for keeping their cars energized.

To explore this further, Design News recently spent a weekend with Audi’s e-tron electric SUV and also experienced the 150-kilowatt DC fast charging available for the car on the Electrify America charging network.

The e-tron is a handsome, capable, and quick two-row, five-seat crossover SUV that provides the kind of practicality and style that is converting consumers away from sedans. This mid-size segment is the largest in the luxury car market. And our test car’s base price of $74,800 is solidly in premium car territory, but reasonable for a prestige brand like Audi, even when options run the bottom line to our car’s $86,840. Audi’s cars remain eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit as an offset.

The e-tron’s dashboad display shows charging progress. (Image source: Audi)

It is similar in size, appearance, and price to Audi’s own Q8 crossover SUV. Its electric rivals include the homelier Tesla Model X and the smaller Jaguar I-Pace. The e-tron features a 95 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, compared to a 100 kWh pack for the Model X and 90 kWh for the I-Pace.

The EPA says the Model X can go more than 300 miles on a charge, while the I-Pace is rated at 240 miles and the e-tron claims 204 miles. But all of these vehicles are incredibly sensitive to driving speed, ambient temperature, and other variables that can have a large effect on their actual driving range.

The (In)Convenience of Fast Charging

The e-tron’s charging port hides behind an electrically-operated panel in the driver’s side front fender, and the home charging adapter lies in the car’s front trunk. Charging at home using a 240-volt 9.6 kW Level 2 charger should bring a depleted battery up to 80 percent charge overnight. Achieving a full charge using the standard 120-volt 1.2 kW charger seems like it could take until shortly after the Sun balloons into a gas giant, as the tediously slow charging rate slows further as the battery starts to fill up.

Attempting to charge from 80 percent overnight on the 120-volt charger saw the charging rate slow to just half a mile of driving range added per hour of charging. Fortunately, we had nearby access to one of Electrify America’s 350 kW DC fast chargers. The e-tron can’t charge that fast, topping out at 150 kW, but the Porsche Taycan will be able to use the full power available for the speediest possible charges.

The e-tron carries its portable home charger in its front truck. (Image source: Audi)

Electrify America says it will have 500 charging locations nationwide by the end of this year, across 42 states and 17 metro areas. Charging isn’t free, but e-tron buyers get their first 1,000 kWh for no charge, which is enough to travel about 2,000 miles. At a 50 percent state of battery charge, the Electrify America stations pour electrons into the e-tron at the rate of 365 miles of driving range per hour of charging time!

The Electrify America “pump” features a big video screen that walks the customer through the process of using it. Unlike charging systems that require membership or use of a smartphone app, the Electrify America fast charger is just like a gas pump, so you need only swipe a credit card to get energy for your car.

While it is in progress, the charger’s screen shows the current state of charge in the battery. When you’re done, it displays a summary of the energy delivered, the time spent charging, the battery’s final state of charge, and the amount charged to the credit card.

In our case, the e-tron took 42.7 kWh of juice in 18 minutes, ending at 81 percent charge at a cost of $17.03. Fast charging regularly isn’t good for an EV’s battery, and it also isn’t good for the driver’s wallet. Charging EVs at home is much cheaper than buying gas.

Paying for the convenience of fast charging is more expensive though, as that 42.7 kWh yields about 100 miles of driving range in the e-tron. That is the equivalent of $3.40 gas in a 20-mpg crossover SUV at a time when gas in my neighborhood is a dollar cheaper than that.

The lesson here is to charge at home with a Level 2 charger whenever possible and save fast charges for highway trips. Audi reports that today’s EV owners do 80 percent of their charging at home.

The e-tron’s navigation system projects predicted driving range onto the car’s map display. (Image source: Audi)

Also, unfortunately, the Electrify America chargers and Audi’s cars are currently in some kind of a dispute in which the software can’t reliably agree on when it is safe to release the charging plug from the car. This left me cursing them both while going through the door-unlock-plug-release-button sequence for about 10 minutes until it miraculously finally disconnected and I wasn’t left to Uber home from an abandoned car. Audi says the two companies are working together to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

A Combustion Feel in Everything but the Shifter

Driving the e-tron is similar to driving combustion-powered luxury crossovers, with opulent cabin appointments, sure-footed all-wheel drive, and muscular acceleration. The electric powertrain is rated at 355 horsepower in normal driving modes, with 402 horsepower available in Boost Mode. Boost Mode lasts a maximum of 8 seconds, but the e-tron only needs 5.5 of those seconds to reach 60 mph.

Audi e-tron shifter is unusual, but functional. (Image source: Audi)

Our test car included the optional $650 towing package, which certifies the e-tron to pull a trailer weighing as much as 4,000 lbs. We’ll have to schedule another visit with the e-tron to learn what towing does to electric driving range. Driving range without a trailer, in normal around-town conditions, seemed to track right along with the EPA’s 204-mile range rating, though very hot or cold weather would be expected to take a bite out of that.

The e-tron features Audi’s innovative Traffic Light Information (TLI) system, which displays a countdown to the changes of upcoming traffic lights if they are instrumented to provide the data. The TLI system makes waiting for a light to change much more bearable, as we’re no longer waiting in ignorance of the duration.

The cabin climate control seemed underpowered, without ever blowing truly hot air in heat mode. The seat heaters were only adequate in cool fall weather, so neither inspires confidence for true winter cold conditions. Worse, there was no available heated steering wheel for our 2019 test car, but that’s an addition that could potentially arrive as early as the 2020 models.

EV makers often feel the need to distinguish their electric drive vehicles from combustion-powered ones with a unique shifter, and usually these shifters are distinctly inferior to conventional ones. The e-tron’s unusual shifter slides fore-and-aft to select Reverse or Drive, and is topped by an unmoving wrist rest for the lower of the two touchscreens mounted in the center of the dashboard. It looks odd, but works pretty well without obstructing access to that lower touchscreen. However, a conventional shifter that notches through the familiar PRNDL positions, and stays in place as an indication of the gear selected, remains more foolproof.

The e-tron, like the Electrify America charger, demonstrates the impressive current state-of-the-art in electric vehicle technology, as well as the room for continued improvement of this rapidly evolving paradigm. The driveways of upscale middle-class suburban America will be very well served by the e-tron, with less adaptation of expectations when moving from gas power than ever before.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

did-edison-really-lose-a-non-existent-'current-war?'

The Current War is the latest film to retell the major events of the decade-long battle between Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla to bring electricity to America of the late 1800’s. (Does anyone remember the 2006 movie, The Prestige in which David Bowie played Nikola Tesla?) This latest retelling focuses on the personality differences between these great inventors and entrepreneurs, but includes enough technical bits to ensure the film’s interest for electrical, mechanical, and manufacturing engineers. It is well worth the price of admission.

Thomas Edison, play by Benedict Cumberbatch, stands among a field of incandescent bulbs at the beginning of the so-called Current War. (Courtesy of 101 Studio)

The movie concludes at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, which served as a visual representation of the early factory electrification in America. The exposition drew an audience of millions to witness the wonders of electricity that would soon light up the entire globe. Further, it marked the timeframe in which Westinghouse defeated Edison by winning a major contract to electrify America with alternating rather than direct current.

Westinghouse clearly won that battle, but did he really win the war? Or was there a war at all? History is nothing if not a continual re-evaluation of the past through the optics of the present. From today’s perspective, both Edison and Tesla – hardly friends at the time – may well be considered victors of the so-called battle between DC and AC power transmission.

New power distribution systems were required to bring electricity to early factories, buildings, and homes in America. Edison’s first power station was located on Pearl Street in Manhattan, New York. But when he tried to expand his electrical power reach over distances greater than a mile, the power cables lost too much power. Longer copper cables meant greater resistance, resulting in a decrease in voltage (V=IR). At that time, there was no efficient way to increase the DC voltage along the transmission line. In contrast, Westinghouse engineers and Tesla figured out how to build transformers that efficiently stepped-up the voltage, thus allowing for the transmission of power over longer distances. Step-down electrical transformers would then convert the AC signals to back to DC for factories and customers.

Interestingly. Edison knew that AC current could be converted to DC from an earlier observation, but he didn’t seem to act on this knowledge. Edison’s observation did lead British scientist John Ambrose Fleming to develop the “Fleming Diode” to convert an AC signal to a DC one. Years later, the diode vacuum tube was commonly used to convert AC into DC in power supplies for electronic equipment.

The advent of electronic motors and devices would drive renewed interest in the need for DC power. The discovery of semiconductor material in the early 1900’s would further accelerate the growth of DC-based devices. DC power is essential for modern digital devices, from PCs and cellphones to autonomous vehicles and even some alternative energy systems.

This December 1896 clip of Niagara Falls was among Edison’s earliest movie taken with his motion picture machine. (Imag source:Library of Congress)

DC networks have even found a way back into the power transmission platforms. The IEEE Spectrum recently reported on a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) system that could challenge existing AC power transmission for modern applications. One of the advantages of HVDC is its easy synchronization with other DC networks, thus greatly reducing cascading power outages, e.g., as experienced by many communities in California’s latest fire season.

The question remains if Edison lost the war of the currents. Some modern historians have questioned Edison’s perceived success at the Pearl Street Station. Others wonder if the current war itself was little more than a hoax or PR stunt by Edison in an effort to demonize the Westinghouse’s AC power system. It’s hard to know for sure.

What is a certainty is that Edison went on to invent technology beyond the DC power systems and the associated incandescent bulb. The Current War ends with one such invention, that of the motion picture camera. It seems fitting that one of his greatest inventions should serve to tell – or retell – his story.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier, and has worked as an affiliate professor at Portland State University and a lecturer at UC-Irvine. He currently serves as a standards editor for IEEE.

8-innovative-startups-that-will-be-enabled-by-5g

From VR that leverages 5G, to autonomous ships, and assistance for the blind – here are eight exciting new startups to keep on your radar as 5G connectivity rolls out.

  • 5G connectivity is already here and spreading. And a vibrant startup ecosystem has already sprouted up around the technology. Novel startups with innovative approaches to VR, AI, robotics, data analytics, and more are expecting 5G to push their technologies even further, making their innovative uses cases easier and more accessible for users.

    Here are eight startups who could become leaders in their space as 5G continues to roll out.

    (Image source: mohamed Hassan from Pixabay  )

  • BadVR

    Despite their name, California-based BadVR is actually leveraging VR for something very good in the enterprise space. The company is Bringing All your Data (BAD) into VR with its analytics platform that leverages machine learning to provide real-time data visualizations in virtual reality. BadVR’s solution is hardware agnostic and can be used with a variety of VR and AR headsets – including the Magic Leap headset. In the near future the company is looking to use 5G connectivity to provide real-time data to first responders, security professionals, and other smart city-related applications.

    (Image source: BadVR)

  • BroadBit

    Finland-based BroadBit is aiming to change the battery landscape. BroadBit is making batteries using novel, sodium-based chemistries that it says makes for greener and more efficient batteries. The main active ingredient in the company’s batteries is everyday table salt. BroadBit is currently working to commercialize its battery technology, which is says can enable increased range and use time, longer life, reduced cost, and improved environmental friendliness for IoT, mobile, and other devices, and even electric cars.

    (Image source: Broadbit)

  • Carfit

    Ever been concerned about a funny noise your car was making? Carfit is applying predictive maintenance to cars using a novel machine learning approach that monitors vibration and movement. The company says its noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) monitoring technology goes beyond existing sensors and diagnostic codes and can capture insights into mechanical issues that can be tracked over time to give automotive OEMs, sellers, and consumers better insight into how vehicles as a whole and individual parts are performing.

    (Image source: Carfit)

  • NaviLens

    Spanish startup NaviLens is using computer vision technology combined with specialized QR codes to make public spaces more accessible and easy to navigate for the visually impaired. Using a smartphone app users can scan NaviLens’ colorful QR codes to receive auditory information about their location as well as audio cues to guide them through a space. NaviLens says its computer vision technology allows for its QR codes to be read over long distances without sharp focus. The app can also recognize multiple QR codes at once.

    (Image source: NaviLens)

  • Nido Robotics

    We often think of drones as occupying land or air, but Murica, Spain-based Nido Robotics is developing drones for the sea. The company currently manufacturers two drone products. The Sibiu Nano comes ready-made or as a maker kit and can dive up to 100 meters deep. The Sibiu Pro (shown) is a heavier-duty model that can dive up to 300 meters. Both drones feature a 1080P camera and an array of sensors including humidity, temperature, and pressure. The company targets its products for underwater research and exploration as well as various aquatic maintenance and inspection applications.

    (Image source: Nido Robotics)

  • Seadronix

    South Korean startup Seadronix, is focusing on turning ships into autonomous vehicles. The company has developed an AI-based navigation solution that it says can be introduced into any vessel (from shipping and exploration, to luxury cruises) to enable unmanned operation. The company uses cameras for sensing velocity, sensors to provide a “smart around-view” of the ship, and its proprietary AI to allow ships to navigate routes and avoid obstacles.

    (Image source: Seadronix)

  • WasteHero

    Danish company WasteHero is applying IoT solutions to city waste management. The company has developed an all-in-one solution that includes sensor hardware and an app-based platform designed to optimize waste collection in cities. WasteHero says its sensor can be mounted to any trashcan, bin, or dumpster and uses optical and ultrasound sensing to monitor fill levels. WasteHero’s platform then collects the sensor data and can be used to monitor areas of high waste traffic and to create more efficient routes for garbage collectors. The company says its solution can prevent a number of issues – including overflowing dumpsters like the one seen above.

    (Image source: NeONBRAND on Unsplash )

  • Wificoin

    San Francisco-based Wificoin is betting that you’d be willing to share your WiFi connection in exchange for cryptocurrency. The company is developing an app that, once installed on a router, allows outside users to buy time on your router using Ethereum, Bitcoin, or the company’s own cryptocurrency (Wificoin). Those who allow their routers to be used for hotspots earn cryptocurrency that can then use to buy time on other routers. The goal is make WiFi access more readily available (and profitable) for the masses).

    (Image source: Wificoin)

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at   Design News  covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

linear-labs-promises-a-moonshot-for-electric-motor-technology

Remember Astronaut Farmer? It was a 2006 Billy Bob Thornton film with the preposterous premise that a retired astronaut Texas rancher could assemble an Atlas rocket from spare parts and launch himself into space.

CEO Brad Hunstable shows off Linear Labs breakthrough electric motor. (Image source: Linear Labs)

There is something almost as absurd afoot in Texas now; an electric motor startup making amazing performance claims that arose from a father/son project to improve upon the traditional Aeromotor windmill (a San Angelo, Texas product) for pumping water from wells.

Linear Labs CEO Brad Hunstable makes claims about the effectiveness of what the company dubs the Hunstable Electric Turbine, an electric motor (or generator) that would seem improbable if not for the fact that he says products employing motors from Linear Labs will hit stores early next year.

Consider this, the HET produces 2-3 times more torque than a conventional motor of the same size and specifications, it can be manufactured with no specialized tools or processes at comparable cost to traditional motors, it runs at lower voltage and uses simpler control electronics and it does all of this using iron ferrite magnets rather than the expensive rare earth Neodymium magnets that rely on Chinese suppliers.

It was developed while U.S. Military Academy alum Brad Hunstable and his father, nuclear power engineer Fred Hunstable collaborated on development of a old-fashioned many-vane-style water-pumping windmill, with the notion that it could be upgraded for use in the developing world to also produce small amounts of electricity.

The generator needed to work using the back-and-forth motion of the water pumping shaft that descends from the windmill to the well, so their generator was linear rather than rotary in motion. Hence “Linear Labs.”

The Linear Labs Hunstable Electric Turbine. (Image source: Linear Labs)

A breakthrough in designing that motor led to the idea of applying their new configuration to electric motors. “Linear Labs has been in R&D mode for the last four years trying to understand a discovery my father made,” Hunstable explained. “The next phase it to commercialize it.”

To do that, Linear Labs has contracted with a variety of manufacturers to start making the motors, and with products headed to consumers early next year, these are not just proof of concept motors. “We have built what we believe are the electric motors and generators of the next wave of electrifications,” he said.

Hunstable addresses the litany of questions that arise head-on. “We raised money, we hired PhDs; it’s very real. We’ve built these motors. We understand how it works. We understand manufacturing them. We understand their thermal characteristics.”

He draws a parallel to LED lighting, with a new technology producing more from less. “For the same size weight and input energy, our motors will always produce 2-3x the torque of any electric motor in the world.”

The HET’s magnets produce a single polarity on the outside. (Image source: Linear Labs)

Regular electric motors waste energy that is lost through magnetic flux leakage, he said. Linear’s breakthrough is what Hunstable calls a magnetic tunnel to contain that leakage. “We completely encapsulate the stator in magnets. All the magnetic flux is in the same polarity, which focuses all that magnetic flux right in the middle of the stator, providing high flux density.”

Without motors to test or third-party verification, of course skepticism is warranted. But we’ll know soon enough, because Hunstable says that an electric scooter company will bring the motors to market early next year. Those scooters will provide stronger acceleration with heavier passengers and travel 10 percent farther on a charge, the company says.

The small motors needed by scooters are a natural starting point because it allows Linear Labs to scale up its production volume, but electric cars are in the plan. The HET’s strong torque will eliminate the need for gear reduction, and its greater efficiency will permit use of smaller, lighter, cheaper battery packs to deliver the same driving range, creating a virtuous cycle of improvement.

Linear Labs’ planned scooter motor. (Image source: Linear Labs)

The automotive market, of course, has very long product development cycles, and cars using Linear Labs’ motors won’t appear before 2021 or 2022, Hunstable said. Linear Labs’ next step is another short lead time product, home air conditioners and heat pumps, which should be available by the end of 2020.

Hunstable emphasizes that the electric motor design is suitable for anything using electric motors, big or small. The upcoming scooters, and all products using the HET motors will feature Linear Labs branding on the outside in a bid to establish an “Intel Inside” like brand affinity among consumers, according to Hunstable.

The company is following a rational strategy of launching with less expensive, shorter lead time products while simultaneously working toward costlier, longer-lead products such as cars, and later, vertical take-off and landing electric aircraft, he said.

Those VTOL aircraft target the emerging possibility of an air taxi industry. That’s not exactly the same as building your own Atlas rocket and flying to space, but it seems close enough for now.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

8-great-concept-cars-from-the-tokyo-motor-show

The Tokyo show always includes adventuresome technology demonstrations.

  • The biennial Tokyo Motor Show is always a source of impressive technological experiments, both in terms of the advanced new production models and the adventuresome concepts the Japanese automakers love to exhibit at their home auto show.

    There are always oddities; Honda’s robots, Toyota’s rolling phone booth-looking contraptions, or even motorcycle-maker Yamaha’s previous forays into carbuilding with exciting sports cars. This year’s edition of the show was unsurprisingly highlighted by a variety of electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles. These are our eight favorites.

  • Lexus LF-30 Electrified concept

    The LF-30 Electrified concept’s enormous power-operated gullwing doors are not likely headed to production soon, but the car’s four in-wheel electric motors that combine for a total of 536 horsepower could be a preview of a future Lexus EV drivetrain, which boasts wireless charging, a 310-mile driving range and a 125 mph top speed. (Image source: Lexus)

  • Mazda MX-30

    Mazda’s first battery electric vehicle will be a sporty compact crossover. The MX-30 supports both the popular-in-Japan CHAdeMO and the COMBO direct current charging standards for quick charging. For conventional alternating current charging, the MX-30 has a 6.6 kW onboard charger for speedy 240-volt recharges. The rear-hinged rear doors, a staple of auto show concept cars, are apparently production intent. (Image source: Mazda)

  • Mitsubishi MI-TECH Concept

    Mitsubishi’s sporty dune buggy concept features a gas hybrid-electric drive system powering electric drive to all four wheels for surefooted off-roading. A key advantage of gas turbines is the ability to burn a wide variety of fuels, including gas, diesel, kerosene and alcohol. The electric motors provide for the ability to spin left and right side wheels in opposite directions, allowing the MI-TECH to spin in place. (Image source: Mitsubishi Motors)

  • Mitsubishi Super Height K-Wagon Concept

    Japan’s super-compact Kei car category specifies compact length and width, but just as Tokyo’s skyscrapers maximize precious land area, so does Mitsubishi’s Super Height K-Wagon Concept maximize available cabin space by expanding upward. Upright seating exploits the available interior height and sliding rear doors maximize access to the back seat, making the K-Wagon concept the limousine of kei cars. (Image source: Mitsubishi Motors)

  • Nissan Ariya Concept

    Nissan concedes that while it has labeled the Ariya as a concept, the electric crossover vehicle is nearly production ready. Specifications for a future production version are sparse, but Nissan does say it includes the second generation of the company’s ProPilot driver assistance system. The Ariya can quick charge its underfloor battery pack using the CHAdeMO charging standard. (Image source: Nissan)

  • Suzuki Hanare concept

    “Hanare” is the word for a detached cottage in Japanese, and that is the inspiration for Suzuki’s box-on-wheels concept car. Suzuki promises that Hanare’s use of artificial intelligence and robotics will prioritize personal connections, even though that seems contradictory. (Image source: Suzuki)

  • Suzuki Waku SPO concept

    Suzuki’s response to Japan’s national fascination with transforming robots is the Waku SPO, a shape-shifting compact car that can change its body shape, front fascia design and instrument panel display appearance at the touch of a button. (Image source: Suzuki)

  • Toyota LQ Concept

    Toyota promises that built-in artificial intelligence in the LQ concept will ensure safety and comfort, increase alertness and reduce stress by adjusting in-vehicle illumination, air conditioning, fragrances and human-machine interactions to best suit the driver.

    The LQ features SAE Level 4 automated driving capability, an automated valet parking system and an augmented reality head-up display system to aid when a person is driving. The dashboard includes Toyota’s first use of an organic LED (OLED) display, and the cabin air is purified by a catalyst that converts harmful ground-level ozone to oxygen. (Image source: Toyota)

  • Toyota E-Racer concept

    Toyota’s E-Racer concept looks fast just sitting there, and that’s a good thing because all it actually does is sit there. The E-Racer is a simulator built to look like an electric race car along the lines of a Formula E racer. Drivers slide into a customized seat and don virtual reality goggles to pilot the E-Racer on any of a variety of circuits while never leaving the confines of Tokyo’s Big Sight convention center.

    Toyota president Akio Toyoda says that a mobile version of the E-Racer could be a closed-course sports car in a future when most cars have become autonomous, and human-piloted cars are strictly for recreation, much as horses are mostly recreational today. (Image source: Toyota)

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

toyota's-fuel-cell-engineer-is-smashing-barriers,-technical-and-social
Jackie Birdsall demonstrating the fueling process for a Mirai. (Image source: Toyota)

Toyota senior engineer Jackie Birdsall sat down to talk with Design News during a recent briefing on the company’s upcoming 2021 Mirai fuel cell vehicle, and we asked her about the developing technology and her experience as a female engineer in a male-dominated industry.

Design News: Was fuel cell engineering your career target?

Jackie Birdsall: When I was in high school I fell in love with muscle cars and supercars. I think that’s high school. Our high school selves are, “Yeah, speed!”

So, I entered Kettering University and my focus was powertrain. I took a new class that was being offered on hybrid vehicles and the first lecture at the time was on Peak Oil. Global warming and climate change weren’t really a discussion yet, but Peak Oil was, and the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels was a huge part of this lecture.

It was funny, this professor who I adored was telling us that everything we cared about is destroying the planet. That awakened in me something that I didn’t really recognize prior to entering university, which is what I think university is for.

My very first co-op happened to be with DaimlerChrysler RTNA (Research and Technology North America) in Sacramento on their NECAR 4A, which was their prototype fuel cell vehicle. It was the two worlds at once: I get to work on powertrains, but zero emission automotive powertrains to solve this big issue that I’ve just been introduced to. This is it! This is what I want to do. That’s 2003, and I’ve been working on it since.

Daimler NECAR 4 fuel cell vehicle. (Image source: Daimler)

DN: How have you seen the fuel cell world change since then?

Birdsall: Dramatically. Things that were originally said to be impossible have been achieved. There’ve been these incremental steps that I think aren’t visible to the public, but as far as engineering achievement are really spectacular.

Such as cold start capability. Being able to start the vehicles and get any reasonable amount of power quickly was originally said to be near-impossible. We’ve demonstrated through our vehicle that we can accomplish that through just monitoring the ambient temperature and spooling up the compressor, blowing out the water and having a very specific start-up logic when you’re at freezing temperatures.

Even the current-generation Mirai, the chief engineer at the time wanted to remove the external humidification, because low-temperature fuel cells need to be humidified in order for the electric chemical reaction to take place. Typically, in fuel cells you have an external humidifier that is providing that water. Our charge with the current-generation Mirai was to remove the external humidification and use the water that is generated in the fuel cell itself to retain that humidification to have that process occur.

That was something that was [considered] not possible. By achieving that without an additional component, you are looking at a cost savings and simplification of the system. It is all through logic. Sometimes I wish I was a computer scientist, because so much of what we do now with vehicles is software and logic.

The 2019 Toyota Mirai features integrated fuel cell humification. (Image source: Toyota)

DN: What are you working on right now?

Birdsall: My focus is the compressed hydrogen storage system. So now I do get to employ a lot of mechanical engineering: thermodynamics, structural analysis and my personal favorite, testing.

DN: Like when you demonstrated a fuel cell’s hydrogen tank sustaining a puncture by a bullet without exploding or catching fire?

Birdsall: All the tanks are designed to do what is called “Leak Before Burst,” LBB. Which means it releases the hydrogen in a controlled way so that the tank doesn’t rupture. There are all these different tests that we have to undergo to prove that our tanks are capable of leak before burst. One of them is what we call the high strain rate impact test, but externally we just call it the gunfire test, which is meant to demonstrate that if you penetrate the side wall of the tank you can still maintain the integrity and safely relieve the pressure.

DN: Can you talk about how you’ve improved the tank?

Birdsall: We’re still running at 70 megapascals or 10,000 pounds per square inch, but we have not announced the official capacity increase. They are all made internally at Toyota. We make the current generation at the Honsha plant in Toyota City. We’ve increased our production capabilities by tenfold, to 30,000 a year. The infrastructure will dictate the rate at which we roll the vehicles out. We’re already seeing California infrastructure being strained by current capacity. We have to be sure that capacity is being built out sufficiently to support our customers. Again, that 30,000 volume is globally, not just for California.

DN: Is it frustrating to be working on a product whose utility is dependent on a non-existent fueling network?

Birdsall: It is more exciting to see how far the technology has come and the potential for its real impact in the marketplace. What is frustrating for me is, I was working at Toyota City directly in Japan, and I did a lot of hydrogen station testing as well did the next-generation vehicle’s tank system. I was right there and seeing what happens when you have sufficient infrastructure and vehicles coming in one after another with less than five minutes filling time and taking off for another 300 miles, and it was so seamless and it made so much sense. That we haven’t been able to reproduce that in the U.S. yet is frustrating. Because we you do see it work correctly it just makes so much sense. We do see that in Los Angeles or San Francisco, certain stations, but not to the same degree to which we see it in Japan.

A Japanese hydrogen fuel station. (Image source: Toyota)

DN: What prevents it in the US from being as sensible as it is in Japan?

Birdsall: Just the amount of stations. They have more stations and less vehicles. So that’s the key to the infrastructure success in Japan for how. For us it is just more stations and redundancy. We’ve learned that it is really important to have multiple stations available to customers so that if for any reason one station is overloaded or something went wrong at the station, the nozzle is broken or something like that, then the customer has an alternative station to go to that is still within their comfortable range of their work or their home.

Now we are even starting to see the number of fueling positions. Originally when we were working with other automakers and the state of California to spec the stations, we were typically looking at one fueling island, one dispenser. Regardless of five-minute refueling, you can still get a lineup of customers waiting for that one dispenser. Now we are saying we want two dispensers at that station. That can have a huge impact because we can get through twice as many customers in the same amount of time.

DN: Did you study the most efficient layout of stations to ensure access to the dispenser?

Birdsall: Yes, we studied ingress, egress, access to the station, location of the dispenser, typically what the wait time is for customers that are filling back-to-back, we studied pretty much all of it. I got to know gas stations far better than I ever imagined I would, including everything down to the metrology and the codes that all the stations are built to and ensuring that we have similar codes for hydrogen.

Toyota’s Project Portal is developing heavy-duty fuel cell trucks for commercial use. (Image source: Toyota)

DN: Now that you’ve finished the Mirai, what is your next project?

Birdsall: I am now working on Project Portal, the heavy-duty truck.

DN: Is that similar to what Nikola is doing?

Birdsall: We’ve announced a partnership with have with them to develop a heavy-duty nozzle, receptacle, hose and break-away, what we call the fueling interface between the station and the vehicle, so that we have a common interface. So they can fill at our heavy-duty stations and we can fill at their heavy-duty stations.

DN: Is the hydrogen fuel cell doomed to perpetually be the energy source of the future?

Birdsall: I hope not. Building infrastructure is the only thing holding us up. People say a charging station compared to a hydrogen station is so much cheaper, but really once you see a hydrogen station in action, especially now the new ones with two fueling dispensers and you see the amount of throughput you can get and the range that these cars can get, it really fills this niche that battery electrics right now aren’t so able to fill, the quicker-filling, longer-range.

Particularly people who have street parking. I can’t really plug my car in. I think what’s going to happen as we move through hybridization to full electrification and full zero-emission vehicles we’re going to see this beautiful portfolio play out of both existing battery electrics and fuel cells, totally depending on what works for the customer.

DN: What has your experience been in the industry as a female engineer?

Birdsall: I’ve been really lucky in that I think the alternative fuel space is a little more progressive. And working for Toyota particularly, the two pillars of Toyota are continuous improvement and respect for people. I’ve felt that as a female engineer at the company even though I usually am the only woman in the room, I’ve never felt any different because of that.

I have worked in the manufacturing space, which is a bit…different. I’ve also worked in auto shops before, which is also different. There is a difference between academia and industry. Academia is such a fun, safe space to really learn your trade without feeling like an outsider all of a sudden, which coming into the industry, you are.

I get a lot of questions about women who started out in engineering and ended up dropping out of it. That makes me a little sad because I wish they stayed with it. I think typically, you’ve heard all the reports about diversity where men go for job that they think they may one day be qualified for, whereas women feel like they have to be 100 percent qualified for it before they go for it.

I know even in my undergrad there were a lot of times when I felt like I wasn’t as knowledgeable as the men I was going to school with, and like I had more to prove. I think that is a kind of self-imposed ideal. I don’t think that’s true at all, and I think that I’d like to see more women stick through with their engineering degree and realize that maybe they are more on the same level than they are giving themselves credit for. It is just that it may not be as confidently put out there.

DN: Do you still have male peers discouraging that, saying that you don’t belong?

Birdsall: It has been a long time since I’ve been told that. I think that’s more prevalent in the more entry-level positions, though I don’t if that is just based on when I was in an entry-level position or because I was in an entry-level position. I think it just comes down to knowing your stuff. If you know your stuff then you’ll gain the respect of your peers and if you don’t get respect, who cares about those people anyway?

I hope that is not the case anymore for entry-level women, but I still hear about it once in a while.

DN: While Toyota is regarded as a progressive place for women to work, what has your experience been while working in Japan, where society may be more conservative regarding gender roles?

Birdsall: I did work in Toyota City for 13 months, and by then I’d been out there enough that the team knew me really well, so I never experienced any of the kind of sexism that you hear about in Japan. It was pretty amazing.

That said, I also was one of two women engineers I met the whole time I was there, so there weren’t many of us. Or any of us!  It is a very interesting culture. I think it is starting to change, I think a lot of my Japanese female friends that I made there are all career women as well, where even a generation before they weren’t. So, I think that dynamic is really starting to change there as well. But personally, no, I never did experience it.

Except, you know we wear these steel toes (shoes) at the office? They didn’t make steel toes in a women’s size large enough for me, so I had to wear the men’s steel toes so it looked like were clown shoes. That would be one complaint about being an American woman in Japan! They didn’t make women-sized steel toes big enough for me.

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.