Predicting the Road to Efficiency

In the hands of untrained reporters, Delphi’s Intelligent Driving test vehicle averaged 16% better fuel economy on a closed course with overall speed just 4% slower. (Delphi)

Delphi Technologies isn’t coming right out to say most of us aren’t very good at driving efficiently, but there’s no getting around that’s what’s implied by the company’s new Intelligent Driving technology, which its engineers said can improve the fuel economy of just about any vehicle by 10% or more when the system is engaged.

The Intelligent Driving system, slated as the centerpiece of Delphi’s presence at the 2019 CES in Las Vegas, mixes cutting-edge Delphi propulsion-system components with enabling technology for automated driving to deliver a system that uses autonomous functionality to “predict” the road ahead. If the vehicle—and its propulsion system—know what’s coming up, it can avoid using fuel that the driver, without knowledge of the road ahead, would unknowingly waste.

New propulsion component, new information collaboration

Key to the Intelligent Driving system is an all-new, all-knowing component: a “propulsion controller” that collates and evaluates the information from a variety of existing vehicle electronic control units (ECUs) such as the engine and transmission controllers—and increasingly, ECUs governing the actions of advanced electrified portions of a vehicle’s propulsion system such as motor-generators, batteries and entire hybrid-electric drivetrains.

Delphi’s new propulsion controller is the central electronic control unit (ECU) that enables Intelligent Driving’s collaboration with other onboard systems—and the outside world. (Delphi).

The propulsion controller is the vehicle’s link to the outside world, also taking in data from “vision” sensors such as cameras, radar and lidar and, crucially, communicating with the vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) networks and cloud-information systems currently being built out to serve autonomous vehicles. This information is vital to helping the propulsion controller understand what’s ahead: maybe a traffic light ready to turn red, perhaps a long line of stopped vehicles just around the next curve.

Using this advance awareness, the Intelligent Driving system—engaged by the driver in essentially the same fashion as adaptive cruise control—controls the pace of the vehicle based on what is known about the upcoming route. Information from more-sophisticated mapping software, for example, can help the system know when a hill is looming, slightly adding speed to avoid transmission downshifting, or applying less throttle just before the vehicle descends a grade, lessening the need for energy-wasting braking.

Increasing vehicle electrification, improved propulsion efficiency and advancing vehicle connectivity and autonomy are converging to improve vehicle efficiency and environmental impact. (Delphi)

Flow in heavy-traffic corridors with sensor-equipped traffic lights and stop signs, all communicating with vehicles equipped to make use of that information, could be greatly improved, Delphi engineers said, easing the stop-and-go pace that is such a fuel-wasting daily routine in nearly every city and town.

Pace without waste

Delphi CTO Mary Gustanski admitted she initially needed convincing. She drove a test car on a fixed route, first without Intelligent Driving, then with the system engaged.

“I was sure I’d done it better,” she insisted. But such was not the case; Intelligent Driving improved her efficiency, even though while driving without the system she was highly attuned to driving as smoothly and frugally as possible. “This is something that can be done to help everyone on the road today,” she said. “And then be ready for (the autonomous) tomorrow.”

Reporters preparing to try Intelligent Driving on a closed course in Michigan were dubious. It sounds like a fancy twist on the simple practice of “Slow down and save gas.” And many drivers don’t embrace the idea of slowing down.

Nine press members drove the Intelligent Driving test car at a small track at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan, each with Intelligent Driving disabled, then a second drive on the same course with the system activated. On average, said Keith Confer, Delphi’s engineering manager for advanced powertrain systems, Intelligent Drive cut fuel consumption by 16% “while showing only about 4% longer time to complete the route.”

This author’s individual test saw fuel economy improved by 20% and the time to complete the roughly 2.5-minute course increase by just two seconds.

No waiting for the ‘future’

Intelligent Driving system uses connectivity with infrastructure and other vehicles to manage the propulsion system in the most-efficient manner for the set speed; Delphi said such control can improve fuel efficiency by more than 10%. (Delphi)

Intelligent Driving is “something that can be done now,” said Gustanski of the system’s readiness. “What Delphi is trying to talk (its automaker) customers into doing is putting a propulsion controller in place,” she added. Delphi is producing propulsion controllers now; once the cost of that component is absorbed, any vehicle, whether it’s conventionally-powered, hybrid or fully electric, can reap the benefits of the Intelligent Driving technology, Gustanski said.

Delphi engineers admit there will be some behavioral adaptation required as Intelligent Driving is adopted. Most importantly, drivers will need to become more accustomed to engaging the system—which effectively behaves like today’s adaptive cruise-control—in around-town driving. That may be somewhat foreign to those who typically view cruise control as an open-road feature. And at least for now, Intelligent Driving does not control vehicle braking, only how the throttle is used.

Not unlike some powertrain-control systems already in place in commercial trucks, Gustanski said use of Intelligent Driving for commercial vehicles could be “a broader and deeper” application of the technology. “Part of it is just knowledge,” she said. “We have a lot of development to go and a lot of data to develop.”