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UKZN launches new innovation group

25 November 2009 News

The Innovation Quotient (IQ) Group recently gathered relevant stakeholders from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and industry to a dinner hosted by UKZN’s Innovation Company.

The IQ Group is a new initiative launched by the UKZN Innovation Company in partnership with the UKZN IPTTO (Intellectual Property Technology Transfer Office) to perpetuate innovative research ideas among UKZN researchers and stakeholders from industry. It encourages innovative thinkers to come together in order to explore new ideas and share experiences which may provide mutual benefit, both academically and commercially.

Welcoming guests, UKZN Innovation Company’s CEO, Reggie Govender, said that the IQ initiative was an important creation because it is about bringing together the intellectual wealth in the university and in the corporate sector. “We are looking at vibrant individuals thinking out of the box in terms of challenging conventional thinking and ultimately coming up with projects that will position the university through exceptional research ideas and commercialisation of those ideas,” said Govender.

UKZN Innovation Company’s automotive portfolio manager and chairperson of IQ, Charles Freeman, introduced the programme to stakeholders and presented some of its underpinning components and benefits, particularly in the automotive portfolio which comprises a high efficiency engine system, together with a traction enhancing system for emergency braking, amongst other projects. “This could be cutting edge for UKZN. The IQ initiative serves to show that there is support for research innovation within university structures. This is an opportunity for young, bright groups eager to grow their brilliant ideas and research for the benefit of South Africa,” he stated.

Freeman further explained that there are numerous benefits of belonging to this group, such as networking with fellow innovators and sharing multidisciplinary solutions to problems, and possibly receiving assistance from the team at UKZN Innovation Company and UKZN IPTTO in commercialising inventions.

Professor Francesco Petruccione, director of UKZN’s research group on quantum technology and guest speaker at the dinner, commended UKZN Innovation Company for starting this project which he said will benefit students and staff. “What we want is for people to come up with an idea that could be implemented in relation to research. We can start with small projects and as the IQ concept grows then move to even bigger projects. The initiative will show people that it is fun to be involved in innovation research and formulating ground-breaking ideas is an important aspect to society.”

UKZN IPTTO, led by the director Rory Moore, a registered patent attorney, and staffed by IP consultant Thamaray Govender, is usually the first port of call to researchers who may have identified any form of intellectual property (IP) in their projects. “The UKZN IPTTO is honoured to have collaborated with UKZN Innovation Company on the IQ initiative, which aims to build a think-tank of skills and resources amongst UKZN or UKZN affiliated researchers, in the hopes of progress in research and technological endeavours with IP registration and commercialisation possibilities,” said Miss Govender.

The following are just a few of the exciting projects on the go under the umbrella of the IQ Group’s automotive portfolio.

Early warning brake light system

A ‘rapid braking’ warning device was designed to reduce the severity and probability of rear-end collisions in motor vehicles. The invention uses a micro-electromechanical (MEMS)-based accelerometer to measure the deceleration of the vehicle in which it is installed. When the brake pedal is pressed and the brake lights are powered, the device is also powered, continually measuring the deceleration of the vehicle.

Whenever a new maximum deceleration is measured, the value is stored in non-volatile memory on the device in order to determine the maximum braking power of the car. If the car is decelerating more than half the stored maximum deceleration, then the device initiates an emergency braking situation and flashes an LED array (a third brake light or centre mounted high stop light) to warn the driver in the vehicle behind. In this way the device can automatically calibrate itself to the vehicle it is installed in.

The importance of this feature is that people get used to the performance of their vehicles; a person with an old car with poor brakes will often accommodate their driving habits to allow for the inability to brake hard. A person with a modern luxury car with excellent brakes will be accustomed to driving with this known performance. However, the deceleration experienced by a modern vehicle with excellent brakes slowing down to a stop street for example, may be greater than the capabilities of an older vehicle that is applying emergency brakes. For this reason an absolute threshold for the emergency braking situation is not the solution since the device would have to indicate an emergency braking situation at relatively low decelerations.

The emergency braking situation is more an indication of the state of the driver and their indicated immediate response to an event in front of them, rather than the braking performance of the car they are driving. Since the deceleration sensor will be affected by the slope of ground the car is on, another sensor pointing downwards is also monitored. This is also a MEMS device and it measures the acceleration due to gravity. If the car is on a level surface, the sensor will measure 1 G. If the surface is sloped, this value will change and the microcontroller inside the device will be able to estimate the slope of the ground, and thus compensate for the deceleration value of the first sensor.

Currently the IQ Group has a provisional patent for the product and has applied through the PCT for international patents.

Traction enhancing system

This device improves the braking capability of vehicles on the road, particularly during wet conditions, but also during normal driving conditions on dry roads, in emergency situations. It accepts inputs from the ABS of the vehicle to determine if a possible loss of traction would otherwise be taking place, hence loss of control of the vehicle. This trigger from the ABS simply implies that the ABS is enforcing maximum traction on the road surface in order to allow the driver to still safely steer the vehicle.

Without the ABS, if the tyres lock or travel slower than they should be in order not to slip on the road, the vehicle no longer follows the path directed by the tyres. What is interesting to note is that during wet road conditions, the probability of accidents statistically increases by 2,5, which may be attributed to the driver not realising that the coefficient of friction between wet tyres and wet road is considerably less than in dry conditions. In this situation, the ABS will still ensure that the tyres do not slip on the road, however, the vehicle’s braking distance will be much longer than in dry conditions.

Another undesirable situation is if the vehicle skids off the road while cornering a tight bend in the road. In this situation, ABS will not help the vehicle regain stability as the tyres are moving perpendicular to the plane of their rotation. Another product which uses the features of ABS, called ESP (electronic stability programme) varies the brakes on each wheel in order to avoid such instability. However, it is still limited in performance by the limitations of ABS.

The proposed system, when triggered, ejects a stream of traction-enhancing liquid onto the front tyres from a module within the car’s engine bay. Doing the same for the rear tyres would improve the system, however, for a lower cost just the front tyres may be considered as they bear most of the strain while braking. The particular traction enhancing liquid may be used on wet or dry roads, is biodegradable, not harmful to the environment and is relatively inexpensive. With the application of this liquid on the tyres, traction is greatly improved for a short period of time, allowing the ABS to apply much greater braking power, thereby decreasing braking distance.

As the ABS may be intermittently triggered on rough roads or gravel, the device contains its own ultrasonic obstacle detection system on the front of the vehicle. Using similar technology to park distance control, this device will measure the distance between the front of the vehicle and the closest obstacle. Clearly if there are no obstacles in front of the vehicle, there is no emergency braking needed as the ABS will keep the vehicle steered on the road correctly. If, however, there is an obstacle detected ahead, the onboard microprocessor continually measures the distance from the front of the vehicle to the obstacle and the speed of the vehicle, from the ABS. It then calculates if the vehicle has sufficient braking power to avoid a collision with the obstacle, based on these measurements. If the distance is sufficient to avoid a collision, the module does not deploy the traction enhancing liquid; if a collision is probable, it does.

The prototype allowed the test vehicle to increase its braking deceleration by 32%, a considerable improvement. The product is covered by a provisional patent and a PCT application is currently in progress.

For more information contact Charles Freeman, freemanc@ukzn.ac.za





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