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ClearMotion Wants to Make Pothole-Ridden Roads Easier to Live With

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【Summary】Bumpy roads will always be a nuisance, but ClearMotion’s technology wants to make cars that are as smooth as trains on the road.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    May 14, 2018 9:15 AM PT
ClearMotion Wants to Make Pothole-Ridden Roads Easier to Live With
author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

ClearMotion, a company that develops high-tech chassis components for vehicles, is working on ways to make cars smoother over rough roads. As The New York Times found out in a first-hand experience, the technology doesn't make a car float over a road, but does make it much smoother. The goal of the technology, though, isn't to make a system that makes bumps a thing of the past, it's to make cars more comfortable when autonomous vehicles hit the road. 


Making Cars As Smooth As Trains


As the outlet claims, founder and chief executive of ClearMotion, Shakeel Avadhany, wanted to make technology that mirrored the bullet trains in Japan. The Shinkansen, which is also known as the bullet train, are capable of traveling at speeds of up to 200 mph, while being incredibly comfortable. 


"We are engineering ClearMotion to recreate that train experience in the car," said Avadhany. "As autonomy matures beyond the basics, we will see the conversation shift to user experience. The sensation of stability and comfort will enable productive activity while in motion." 


As The New York Times points out, automakers have explored various suspension setups to smooth out rough roads. Citroen, a French automobile manufacturer, explored a hydropneumatic suspension system with automatic leveling on the DS 19 that first appeared in 1955. While the system was astonishing in an automotive application, it wasn't exactly reliable. 


Instead of completely gutting a vehicle's existing suspension setup, ClearMotion's Activalve system adds a softball-sized electrohydraulic unit that works in tandem with a car's shock absorbers. It applies pressure onto the dampers every millisecond to counteract road disturbances. As Avadhany puts it, it's "noise canceling for motion." 


As the outlet reports, the system resulted in a stark difference between a vehicle that wasn't equipped with the system. The Activalve system resulted in a vehicle that was smoother when it came to up-and-down movements, as well as right-and-left motions. 


According to the company's CEO, ClearMotion has raised approximately $180 million in equity capital. He also stated that six automakers have signed on, as well. The first vehicles on the road with the Activalve system are expected to be out on the road in 2020. That's the same time that Volkswagen plans to roll out its autonomous parking features and Mercedes-Benz wants to have self-driving vehicles on the road. 


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Others Are Working On High-Tech Suspension Systems


ClearMotion's Activalve system requires a decent amount of power and, as the outlet points out, requires vehicles that have a 48-volt electrical system, which is appearing on a variety of new vehicles, or have a machine that can convert 12 volts to 48 volts. That means the tech could make its way to hybrids or electric vehicles first. 


While ClearMotion sounds like its idea to make cars even smoother on rough roads is a novel, unique idea. The company isn't the only one that's attempting to make cars more comfortable. Vibracoustic, a German-based Air Spring company, for example, has a similar system to ClearMotion's on the road at the moment. 


As The New York Times points out, Vibracoustic has a three-chamber air suspension setup that is currently available on the new Porsche Cayenne that came out this year. The company's tech allows owners to adjust the vehicle's ride height, alter conditions for various road conditions, and dial in specific settings to their liking. 


Everyone's Playing Catchup


According to Jörg Böcking, chief technology officer at Vibracoustic, Mercedes-Benz kicked the air spring trend off in 1998. Ever since the German automaker came out with the system, automakers have been trying to catch up with one of their own. In Vibracoustic's system, Böcking states that each of the three chambers can be switched on or off, which adjusts the volume of air inside the unit, increasing stiffness. 


"Independent of load, we can change the leveling of the vehicle, and give a good compromise between ride and comfort," said Böcking. 


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Luxury automakers, like Bentley, are also looking at ways to make their vehicles even more serene with high-tech suspension systems. Director of chassis engineer at Bentley, Keith Sharp, stated that the Bentayga SUV utilizes a 48-volt system that is in charge of powering the front and rear stabilizer bars. The system helps reduce the amount of roll the SUV has. While SUV's may be the craze at the moment, the taller layout of the machines means that they have more roll than other vehicles on the road. Still, the high-tech system makes a noticeable difference. 


"The system measures the disturbance of the wheel, then reduces the amount of force that would normally be driven into the vehicle itself," said Sharp. "The result is an increase in ride comfort." 


Audi has also entered the segment with a system of its own on the new Audi A8. According to Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Navigant Research, the A8 features an electromechanical active suspension that's powered by the vehicle's 48-volt system. The sedan is fitted with four electric motors — one at each corner — and a camera that detects imperfections in the road at the front. 


"It appears to do much of what ClearMotion offers, and it will also raise the side of the car if the sensors detect a pending impact," said Abuelsamid. "Using sensors to look ahead for potholes can be beneficial, and that's what Audi is doing."


Even with other companies looking to enter the segment, Mercedes continues to be a leader. The automaker offers its Airmatic suspension setup on the S-Class and has Magic Body Control as an option. The latter uses a camera that's located on the front of the vehicle to read the road ahead and automatically adjust to imperfections. It's a high-tech setup that results in one of the most serene rides on the road. 


Still, ClearMotion believes its tech, especially its camera system, has a special part in the industry. The brand hopes that the data its camera gathers in regard to rough roads can be crowdsourced to others. While that's a good idea, other automakers seem to be working on similar systems of their own.


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