Friday, November 9, 2007

Rotary (Wankel) engines

Rotary Wankel engines were introduced into road cars by NSU with the Ro 80 and later were seen in several Mazda models. In spite of their impressive smoothness, poor reliability and fuel economy led to them largely disappearing. Mazda, beginning with the RX-2, has continued research on these engines, overcoming most of the earlier problems with the RX-7 and RX-8.

Road traffic injuries represent about 25% of worldwide injury-related deaths (the leading cause) with an estimated 1.2 million deaths (2004) each year.

Automobile accidents are almost as old as automobiles themselves. Early examples include Mary Ward, who became one of the first documented automobile fatalities in 1869 in Parsonstown, Ireland, and Henry Bliss, one of the United State's first pedestrian automobile casualties in 1899 in New York.

Cars have many basic safety problems - for example, they have human drivers who can make mistakes, wheels that can lose traction when braking, turning or acceleration forces are too high, and mechanical systems subject to failure. Collisions can have very serious or fatal consequences. Some vehicles have a high center of gravity and therefore an increased tendency to roll over.

Early safety research focused on increasing the reliability of brakes and reducing the flammability of fuel systems. For example, modern engine compartments are open at the bottom so that fuel vapors, which are heavier than air, vent to the open air. Brakes are hydraulic and dual circuit so that a total braking failure is very rare. Systematic research on crash safety started[citation needed] in 1958 at Ford Motor Company. Since then, most research has focused on absorbing external crash energy with crushable panels and reducing the motion of human bodies in the passenger compartment. This is reflected in most cars produced today.

Airbags, a modern component of automobile safetySignificant reductions in death and injury have come from the addition of Safety belts and laws in many countries to require vehicle occupants to wear them. Airbags and specialised child restraint systems have improved on that. Structural changes such as side-impact protection bars in the doors and side panels of the car mitigate the effect of impacts to the side of the vehicle. Many cars now include radar or sonar detectors mounted to the rear of the car to warn the driver if he or she is about to reverse into an obstacle or a pedestrian. Some vehicle manufacturers are producing cars with devices that also measure the proximity to obstacles and other vehicles in front of the car and are using these to apply the brakes when a collision is inevitable. There have also been limited efforts to use heads up displays and thermal imaging technologies similar to those used in military aircraft to provide the driver with a better view of the road at night.

There are standard tests for safety in new automobiles, like the EuroNCAP and the US NCAP tests. There are also tests run by organizations such as IIHS and backed by the insurance industry.

Despite technological advances, there is still significant loss of life from car accidents: About 40,000 people die every year in the United States, with similar figures in European nations. This figure increases annually in step with rising population and increasing travel if no measures are taken, but the rate per capita and per mile traveled decreases steadily. The death toll is expected to nearly double worldwide by 2020. A much higher number of accidents result in injury or permanent disability. The highest accident figures are reported in China and India. The European Union has a rigid program to cut the death toll in half by 2010, and member states have started implementing measures.

Automated control has been seriously proposed and successfully prototyped. Shoulder-belted passengers could tolerate a 32 g emergency stop (reducing the safe inter-vehicle gap 64-fold) if high-speed roads incorporated a steel rail for emergency braking. Both safety modifications of the roadway are thought to be too expensive by most funding authorities, although these modifications could dramatically increase the number of vehicles able to safely use a high-speed highway. This makes clear the often-ignored fact road design and traffic control also play a part in car wrecks; unclear traffic signs, inadequate signal light placing, and poor planning (curved bridge approaches which become icy in winter, for example), also contribute.

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