Author: richard


Autonomous Cars: Issues, Challenges, Solutions

Self-driving automobiles were once “the future.”  Well, self-driving, or autonomous vehicles, are actually “now.”  Major brands like Mercedes, BMW and Tesla are pursuing the technology, with self-driving features that enable a vehicle to drive itself to some degree, if not completely, without an operator at the wheel.  And in 2015, as part of the company’s ongoing goal of “building a safer driver for everyone,” Google famously “completed the world’s first truly driverless ride on public roads.”


Some research estimates project 10 million self-driving cars will be sharing the roads by 2020 (that’s only 3 model years away!) But is fully, or even mostly self-driving technology really easier and safer? How do self-driving cars navigate, integrate, anticipate–in all kinds of weather, all sorts of terrains, all types of traffic and pedestrian situations?  Continue reading “Autonomous Cars: Issues, Challenges, Solutions”


What Makes a Good Car “Good”?

What are the makings of a well-thought-out, well-built, well-performing car? Forward-thinking design. Precision tooling. Skilled workers and quality workmanship. Structural integrity and functionality. Quality parts and components. A great car has them all. A good, or really good car, has some or most of those inputs and attributes in equal quantity.

The average car is made up of thousands of parts–some large composite ones, like the engine, itself made of thousands of individual pieces, which is then installed as a unit, others discrete or truly singular things like nuts and bolts. Every piece needs to be machined, inspected and connected to another piece–welded, bolted, glued, screwed or snapped on by people, by robots, by people manipulating robots–generally on an assembly line that can roll out many hundreds of finished automobiles in a day. There are “bespoke” cars, too, many parts of which are handmade and hand-finished, and which are priced accordingly. How well each of the steps is accomplished, how much attention paid to ‘tolerances’ (how tightly the windows and doors close), paint and trim finishes, and overall consistency, determines a car’s quality and long-term, reliable serviceability.  Continue reading “What Makes a Good Car “Good”?”


SUVs: The Evolution of A Driving Favorite

The SUV family tree includes station wagons, estate cars, light pickup trucks, minivans, large sedans, and even some standout forebears like the WWII-era Willys MB (or Jeep). SUVs began their more modern, widespread, popular presence in the 1990s, peaked in appeal because of high oil prices, then got hot again, especially when gas started getting cheaper and prices more stable. According to Wikipedia, “At the end of 2016, sales of SUVs and light duty trucks had surpassed traditional car sales for the year by over 3 million units.” Buyers like the bigger passenger and cargo space, safety features, towing possibilities and off-road capability.
Continue reading “SUVs: The Evolution of A Driving Favorite”


Horsepower: The Measure of the Machine

Vroooom! Vroooom! That throaty, low roar generated by a powerful V8 or V12 engine with impressive horsepower–really gets your attention, right?

There are different standards for measuring different types of horsepower.

For example, there are the mechanical (or imperial) horsepower, approximately 746 watts, and the metric horsepower, about 735.5 watts. Eighteenth century Scottish inventor and engineer, James Watt, of the Watt steam engine fame, used the term ‘horsepower’ to compare the output of steam engines with the power draft horses (work horses) could generate. Of course, the watt, the SI unit of power–The International System of Units, the modern form of the metric system–is named after James himself.  Continue reading “Horsepower: The Measure of the Machine”


Four? Six? Eight? Twelve–And Beyond?? How Many Cylinders Do You Need?

If you open your car’s hood to do more than replenish the windshield washing fluid, you’re probably familiar with the engine block, cylinders, pistons and other parts usually seen only by mechanics. So what are they, these usually kept-in-the-dark components, and what do they actually do?

Very simply described, a cylinder is the main working part of an engine, in this case your car’s reciprocating engine, an internal combustion or ‘heat engine’ that converts pressure into a rotating motion that makes the axles and the wheels go ‘round and ‘round. Each piston is inside a cylinder, where fuel and air mix, expand in the heat, and push that piston up and down to provide the engine’s power. Continue reading “Four? Six? Eight? Twelve–And Beyond?? How Many Cylinders Do You Need?”


Styles. Shapes. Sizes. Coming To Terms With What A Car Is Called

What’s In A Name?

Cars are classified according to basic descriptions, specifications, common standards (among countries and manufacturers), insurance data, safety requirements, other regulations (to determine tax amounts, e.g.), within a wide range of naming and defining categories. Some terms and descriptors are very common and easy to recognize, others a little more arcane.

Whether you’re shopping for a car, collecting cars, or if just reading the latest car news gets your engine fired up, here’s a brief refresher course.  Continue reading “Styles. Shapes. Sizes. Coming To Terms With What A Car Is Called”


Sizzlers: (Some of the) Hottest New Cars For 2017


What makes a “hot” car “hot”? Styling? Speed? Safety features? Super cool color?
Sedans, sports coupes, or station wagons (yes, station wagons!). . .conventional gas engines, electrics, or hybrids. They can all be hot, each for specific reasons.
Lists of the “best-of”, “hottest” cars for the young year include these makes and models, some brand new, some updated. Continue reading “Sizzlers: (Some of the) Hottest New Cars For 2017”


Magnesium, Exotics and More: Mixed Materials Drive Auto Design


Today’s Ride Is Faster, Lighter, Cleaner, Better

Back when. . .cars were made largely with conventional steel (heavy), outsize details (e.g. tail fins–again, heavy), lots of chrome, big grilles and big headlights. That was then. . .today is lighter, more aerodynamic, more fuel-efficient vehicles, with designers and engineers paying attention to every component and to which manufacturing material will make it best and best-performing. Today’s cars, from wheels to roof, are an amalgam of lightweight metals (magnesium, aluminum, titanium) and their alloys, carbon fiber, high-strength steel, and other materials. The formulae are designed to provide sleeker, lighter products with better mechanical properties and corrosion resistance, and that will use considerably less fuel.  Continue reading “Magnesium, Exotics and More: Mixed Materials Drive Auto Design”