Columbian inventors making progress on cutting-edge auto innovations

Jan. 1, 2020
Scientists at Universidad Nacional de Colombia – the National University of Colombia – are in the process of perfecting two recent inventions that could present widespread opportunities within the automotive industry.

Scientists at Universidad Nacional de Colombia – the National University of Colombia – are in the process of perfecting two recent inventions that could present widespread opportunities within the automotive industry.

Aimed at OEM manufacturers seeking increased sturdiness and less weight, just a small plate of a new boron and bainite steel alloy is capable of bearing a load of up to seven tons. A second development consists of a “black box” for cars that precisely analyzes and records a vehicle’s movements while creating an animated illustration suitable for detailed crash reconstruction, law enforcement proceedings and auto engineering purposes.

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Inspired by the black boxes installed in aircraft, physics professor Plinio Teherán set about to design a device for cars based on the same principles with the goal of establishing exactly what happens before, during and after a traffic accident.

Teherán’s black box – the unit is actually green in color – is called the Testigo Digital Automotor (Digital Automotive Witness), or TDA. And while the TDA does not record cockpit conversations as with an airliner’s black box, it does capture and retain the dynamics of a vehicle’s movement as it travels.

“The apparatus consists of accelerometers, memories and circuits, and is able to measure when an automobile backs up, turns to the right or left, goes over a bridge or reduces speed, etcetera,” Teherán explains. “Because it is digital, its data is then processed in a computer where an emulator then creates an animated version of the vehicle’s last movements.”

Graduate student Yamid Núñez, who is working with Teherán on the project, describes the TDA as “an improved version of Wii,” which also utilizes accelerometers. “When the racket moves, the computer records it because the accelerometer indicates the angle that is activating the device. The accelerometers in the game consoles are of lesser quality than the ones we use, because Wii is not able to deal with an increase in velocity” and the accompanying gravitational forces that unfold during a vehicle collision.

About the size of a cellular phone and installed beneath the dashboard where serious damage seldom occurs, even during the most ferocious of wrecks, the TDA has been subjected to extreme acceleration and other physical punishments. Testing has been conducted in various sections throughout a vehicle, and also applied to motorcycles, with no loss of movement capture or data retention, Teherán says.

Upon commercial production, the device will be enclosed in a steel box with the information being accessible only to verifiable authorities.

“The apparatus would be capable of recording as many as 10,000 pieces of data per second, which is enough to reconstruct what happens during a collision,” according to Teherán. “The necessary information, with certain algorithms, is permanently recorded in an inviolable memory. We are working to provide the apparatus with a sufficient degree of invulnerability, so that the data could not be altered mechanically, electrically or by hackers,” he adds.

Comprised of off-the-shelf parts purchased at electronics stores, Teherán says it can be mass-produced for about $100 in U.S. funds.

The TDA offers an immediate road-worthy solution to Columbia’s chaotic traffic woes and the challenges faced by law enforcement officers.

According to statistics kept by the Fondo de Prevención Vial (Road Prevention Fund), there are some 5,000 deaths each year in Colombia due to traffic accidents. The annual injury rate amounts to 50,000 annually. “Data on how many of these people die after being hospitalized is not yet available because death certificates always give a different cause of death, such as cardio-respiratory failure,” Teherán reports.

The Federación de Aseguradores Colombianos (Colombian Insurers’ Federation) in 2010 recorded about 250,000 accidents involving vehicular damage but injuries, and in most cases the at-fault motorist, are never determined. “It appears that drivers do not care if they break the law because they feel sure that they will never be prosecuted,” says Teherán. “Given that lack of concern, along with the inability of the system to prosecute the responsible parties, it is only natural that there is an increase in the number of accidents,” he explains.

Teherán has been working for the past 15 years as a consultant for the Columbia attorney general’s office to try to clarify the facts in vehicular collisions, and he observes that the mathematical patterns currently being applied seldom deliver reliable results. “It requires a lot of time and a sufficiently high technological level in order to obtain better and timely data,” he says.

“One of the big advantages of this device in the court system is that it would make it possible to resolve cases in less time,” Teherán continues. “Currently, with the new accusatory criminal system, two years or more can pass between the time when an accident occurs and when formal charges are brought. The TDA provides virtual animation of the accident in five minutes and would therefore substantially reduce the timeframe for trial.”

If the units were uniformly installed in vehicles, drivers “would think twice before committing imprudent acts,” he notes, envisioning a smaller future version of the device that pedestrians can wear on their belts.

Automakers eye new alloy
Universidad Nacional de Colombia graduate student Mauricio Sierra Cetina and engineering professor Rodolfo Rodríguez Baracaldo have been collaborating on the creation of a new boron and bainite steel alloy that presents an attractive suitability factor for automotive production applications.

Four times tougher than regular steel, a small plate of the material can bear up to seven tons of weight. It is already being used in Columbia’s railroad industry.

“The work consisted of achieving a microstructure with certain properties that are very hard to get in steel,” says Sierra Cetina. “What generally results is an unstable combination of strength and tenacity; namely if strength is high, tenacity is low and vice versa.”

The two researchers applied metal casting and thermo-mechanical molding – converting laminated steel cubes into plates – to develop an alloy with enhanced stability.

The small quantities of added boron significantly alter the mechanical properties of steel by increasing its strength. In addition, the material contains other elements that contribute to the microstructure formation, such as chromium, molybdenum, manganese and silicon. An added attribute is the lack of carbides.

“The steel produced by us is carbide-free and does not have carbide precipitates that ultimately reduce the strength and tenacity of the material,” according to Sierra Cetina. “Bainite steel absorbs blows without any signs of wearing or warping due to its strength and tenacity.”

Further evaluations are being conducted to assess corrosion, wear and fracture to determine bainite steel’s service life and fatigue properties.

For more information, visit www.unal.edu.co/english.

About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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