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Automotive engineering

From intelligent rolling bearings to
the Bio-Hybrid: Schaeffler is presenting
solutions for tomorrow's networked mobility

The focus for Schaeffler at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) concentrated on solutions for the future of urban and networked traffic with the "Bio-Hybrid" pilot project being on show for the first time at a trade fair. The automotive and industrial supplier also exhibited smart components and systems  which generate data and can network all of tomorrow's road users.

According to a United Nations study, by 2050, the worldwide urban population will have grown by 2.5 billion. While urban development has stagnated in many industrialised countries, it is exploding in the metropoles of Africa and Asia. Just three countries account for 37 per cent of the total growth: China, India and Nigeria. "As infrastructure expansion is not keeping pace with population growth, this development is resulting in enormous traffic problems," explains Prof. Peter Gutzmer, Deputy CEO and Chief Technology Officer at Schaeffler. "Intermodal traffic in areas where space is at a premium and the ability to change smoothly from one means of transport to another will be highly significant factors in tomorrow's urban centres. This is where the technical solutions that we are in the process of creating are required."

Sustainable solutions for tomorrow's mobility
One innovative concept is Schaeffler's Bio-Hybrid, a vehicle which, as far as its size and range is concerned, sits somewhere between a pedelec and a small electric car. It has a roof, so, unlike a bicycle, it offers some protection from the weather. The vehicle is only 85 centimetres wide and has four wheels for good driving stability. This width was chosen to ensure the vehicle can be used on cycle paths in most countries. The Bio-Hybrid's driver does not have to rely entirely on muscle power as further assistance is provided by an electric drive, as with a pedelec. The electric motor recuperates energy during braking and feeds the captured electric power back to the battery. The vehicle is designed to have a range of 50 to 100 kilometres. If the battery is running low, it can be simply removed and recharged from any domestic socket.

This mobility solution is a real eye-catcher at CES due to its functional, high quality design and its integral smartphone technology. The concept has been designed as a platform to take other superstructures, such as a three wheel variant. It is also possible to create a transporter version without having to make significant modifications to the drive and axles - something that might be suitable for delivering pizzas. "The Bio-Hybrid is not a high volume product, more an inspiration when considering new forms of mobility," concedes Prof. Gutzmer. "However, we can imagine producing a test fleet for use in a metropolis together with a suitable partner."

Schaeffler also showed an electric kickboard at CES, which has been specifically designed for getting around quickly. It is similar to a skateboard with two axles and a generously sized deck. However, the deck has an integral battery that drives the rear axle via an electric motor. The kickboard is controlled using a stick with an ergonomically designed grip. "Solutions such as these for the so-called 'last mile' make it easier for people to make use of public transport and car sharing in the urban environment," says Prof. Gutzmer, explaining the motivation behind this product.

Sensor technology for the networked automobiles of the future
The passenger car of the future will also be an integral part of the mobility network. To achieve this, it is necessary to develop smart components and systems that are capable of generating data. For example, it is important for car sharing businesses to have an overview of the maintenance intervals of all the vehicles in their fleet. The operator must therefore have access to information on the technical condition of all the components in each vehicle. Using bearings with integral sensor functionality, such as those presented by Schaeffler at CES, makes this a possibility. However, generating technical data alone is not enough: interpreting them is crucial. "The automobile will become part of the Internet of Things," according to Prof. Gutzmer. "Our sensor bearings, which are being fitted wherever components move and forces occur, provide first-hand data."

The data captured while driving could provide information not just on the vehicle but on the condition of the road as well. This is made possible by systems such as the intelligent active roll control, which Schaeffler is also presenting at CES. Not only does it provide increased driving comfort and greater safety for passengers, it could also, in combination with high-resolution GPS, be used to send information on poor road surface conditions to vehicles following on behind or to the infrastructure operator. For Prof. Gutzmer, the combination of mechatronics expertise and digital information is the essential prerequisite for overcoming the challenges of increasing urban traffic. "Mechanical perfection will always be decisive for the mobility solutions of the future," according to Prof. Gutzmer. "But in the end, it is not all about reliability - it is about people's safety as well."

Schaeffler AG in profile
The Schaeffler Group is one of the world's leading integrated automotive and industrial suppliers. The company stands for the highest quality, outstanding technology, and strong innovative ability. The Schaeffler Group makes a decisive contribution to "mobility for tomorrow" with high-precision components and systems in engine, transmission, and chassis applications as well as rolling and plain bearing solutions for a large number of industrial applications. The technology company generated sales of approximately 13.2 billion euros in 2015. With around 85,000 employees, Schaeffler is one of the world's largest companies in family ownership. It has a worldwide network of manufacturing locations, research and development facilities, and sales companies at approximately 170 locations in over 50 countries.

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