Ford Revs Up Car-Making With This Company

Throughout automotive history, the one component found on nearly all mass-produced cars that has remained constant is the wheel. Naturally it’s been greatly improved upon — from the wood-spoked, iron-laden wagon wheels that graced the first motorized carriages to the pneumatic tires that we have today — but overall (and relative to all the other bits found on modern cars) the wheel has gone under little transformation.

However, a partnership between Ford (NYSE:F) and German engineering firm Schaeffler has debuted a creation that rethinks how the wheel operates, and interacts with the vehicle it’s mounted on.

The two companies have debuted the new technology on the Ford Fiesta, which from the outside looks more or less completely ordinary. However, the unsuspecting observers don’t realize that the back two wheels contain electric motors — literally, inside the wheel hub.

The new layout is aimed to free up space under the hood, where, in a conventional EV, one would find the central motor (in a standard gasoline-powered car, this would be the engine and transmission). By putting the power source inside the wheel itself, it frees up room for storage, or more important, for people. The extra space could also provide more crumple zones, which are quite handy in the event of an accident.

Dubbed the eWheelDrive, all the components required for motion and reduction thereof — drive, deceleration, driver assistance technologies — are contained fully inside the wheel. That includes the electric motor, the brakes, and the necessary apparatus for cooling it all off.

Source: Schaeffler

Speculatively, the space-saving nature of eWheelDrive could find home in small, compact cars for city dwellers, where the smallest amount of space saved can make a big difference. Additionally, for those who hate parallel parking, the eWheelDrive could help there, too — if steering systems were able to evolve to accommodate the eWheelDrive, cars could conceivably rotate the wheels sideways and pull into a spot without all the turning and blind spots that traditionally grace the parallel parking experience.

Numerous technological breakthroughs (at least near-breakthroughs) have found their way to the auto industry. Recently, Toyota’s (NYSE:TM) Lexus line pioneered a radar-assisted self-parking mechanism that will parallel the car for the driver with virtually no effort, as the following video shows:

Largely, these inventions have been made to ease issues normally associated with city life. Among the many dangers of driving in urban settings, the chance of hitting a pedestrian is a big one. It seems Volvo has that covered. Check out the following clip that describes the car’s ability to calculate trajectories:

Using similar radar technologies as Lexus, the car will supposedly stop immediately if presented with a danger. Once you’ve seen how it was supposed to work, take a look at how it worked in a real-life presentation — a stark reminder that sometimes there’s no substitute for the human touch:

Where Ford’s new tech will lead is anyone’s guess, but it’s an indication that engineers will do everything they can — including reinventing the wheel — to usurp as much potential from technology as possible.