Designing a car that will keep on going

December 15, 2000

What will the car of the future look like? It is impossible to say for sure, but hopefully it will be cheaper, safer and more efficient.

A research project at Lancaster University began with a game of "what if". South Korean car manufacturer Daewoo imagined a future where the electronics in cars never failed. It came up with cheaper cars that had welded bonnets - parts that failed were simply thrown away and replaced.

"The problem is," said Andrew Richardson, director of Lancaster University's Centre for Microsystems Engineering, "you can't get electronics that never fail."

His researchers have secured £170,000 from the Foresight Vehicle Link Programme to investigate the dependability of silicon chips in cars.

"All electronic systems in cars - braking, steering, suspension, even security - if they go wrong, they kill people," Richardson explained. "We're working on a specific module, looking into ways of building self-monitoring into the electronics. If it finds a problem, it will have some sort of ability to reconfigure the system so it doesn't affect the driver."

The three-year project, worth £500,000, will involve two researchers from the Lancaster centre working in collaboration with a car manufacturer, a sub-systems supplier and an aircraft engineering company.

The companies involved will receive half their expenses from the Department of Trade and Industry.

Originally Daewoo was to be involved, but despite its recent financial difficulties the project funding is assured.

TRW Automotive Electronics (formerly Lucas) will take the researchers' ideas and build prototypes.

Meanwhile, Microcircuit Engineering will be looking at how to transfer the reliability of aircraft components to the automotive industry but for "pennies rather than thousands of pounds".

The plan is to produce a demonstration electronic control unit for the suspension, braking, steering or security system of a car in 2020.

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