Universal Car Bus

Applying the Personal Computer Industry model to the Automobile Industry

The automobile industry is on the verge of rapidly moving from expensive vehicles powered by inefficient heat engines and complex mechanical transmissions to relatively inexpensive electric cars powered by fuel cells, Atkinson cycle engines, and diesel cycle engines. It may be too late, but maybe not. (See article on Chinese electric automobile referenced below.)

There is an opportunity to create an automobile industry based upon a model like the PC model having a standard bus and components having standard electrical and physical interfaces. However, I fear that, if someone outside the automobile industry does not step in, it will continue in its wasteful pattern of the past 50 years, specifically, multiple, incompatible components that perform the same function but providing absolutely no advantage to consumers in exchange for their incompatibility.

Consider how well an industry standard has served the personal computer business. A standard operating system would serve the automobile industry in the same fashion. An industry standard configuration concentrates available capital on solving problems. It encourages innovation because automobile producers could become car assemblers, buying most of their components and assembling cars, as most computer manufacturers do today ? not building multiple sets of infrastructure to produce parts that function in exactly the same way yet are physically incompatible. It allows for lower barriers to market entry because a manufacture can buy components and assemble the product rather than having to invest immense capital to create an entire, new, automobile also having parts incompatible with all the other automobile manufacturers.

If all automobile manufacturers used one mechanical and electrical interface like the PC industry, then a parts manufacturer or inventor could manufacture to one standard, not a multitude of different standards for different automobile manufacturers, thereby saving immense capital investment and increasing the likelihood that an assembler would accept an innovation as has been the case with personal computers. The assembler companies would be much more receptive to new technologies because they have zero capital invested in current technologies.

Throughout the past century, electric systems and controlling software have replaced mechanical systems. Electronics and software have replaced mechanical components in telephones, watches, tape recorders, record players, ovens, electric power generation (fuel cell), typewriters, etc. The automobile industry is on the verge of its own electric revolution.

The current automotive industry structure is a vestige of a once competitive transportation market. The existing automotive industry is one where each manufacturer creates cars with functionally identical but non-substitutable parts. Many hundreds if not thousands of different oil filters, fuel filters, starter motors, fuel pumps, transmissions, etc. operate in precisely the same way but producing no advantage over one another. It would be a shame if an entire new automobile industry grew into the same wasteful pattern as the old.

Properly designed electric automobiles will consist primarily of computer software and hardware. Electric cars will have, essentially, only four moving parts in the drive train. Each wheel will be driven by a motor armature. The rest of the powertrain will be solid state electronics and components after legacy heat engines disappear.

The vehicle will be powered by a solid-state fuel cell equipped with a reformer that will allow use of any hydrocarbon fuel. An ultra-capacitor would be used for short-term power storage and release. Four electric drive motors would power the wheels. Finally, a computer and software will provide power systems management and vehicle electrical systems management.

Limiting consideration to vehicle propulsion, the main computer and software would manage power production and distribution in the vehicle. It would control fuel supply to the fuel cell, control regenerative braking, control each of the four drive motors (monitoring, for example, for a wheel over-speed condition ? compensated for steering wheel position in turns ? which would indicate a skidding tire), control power among power consuming and producing components, and maintain an appropriate charge level in the ultra-capacitor and battery systems. Additionally, the computer would monitor components and alert the driver to any failing or failed components. Computer monitoring of components would completely eliminate expensive misdiagnosis of problems and the replacement of non-faulty parts that often happens with internal combustion engines.

This would be an ultra-clean, ultra-efficient, and a mechanically ultra-simple automobile. This is, I think, something this world sorely needs before we pollute ourselves into oblivion.

I recently came up with the above idea after mushing the concepts over in my mind for a considerable time. Apparently I am not the first. Those clever people at Toyota have been working on the idea for a while. Oh, what a feeling!