Park at a 90-degree angle while driving straight ahead. Or turn on the spot. Without stopping. This is what the automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler imagines the future of cars to be and the company already has some answers to the question of future urban mobility. After all, Schaeffler is certain of one thing: it will be emissions-free, flexible, agile and intermodal. E-mobility and autonomous driving are therefore right at the top of the supplier's agenda.
The decisive aspect here is innovation. ‘We’re not doing research for the sake of it. For us, innovation means successfully launching a product on the market and getting it on the road’, explains Prof. Tim Hosenfeldt, Head of Innovation and Central Technology at Schaeffler. An example of a pioneering project like this is ‘OmniSteer’. Together with several project partners and as part of a three-year joint project funded to the tune of 1.9 million euros by the Federal Ministry of Education, Schaeffler has developed concepts and prototypes for new steering systems in electrified and automated vehicles for use in urban applications.
Electric drive train in the wheels
The ‘Omni’ in the name stands for orthogonal and multidirectional driving manoeuvres as well as non-linear steering operations. The chassis enables a wheel steering angle of 90 degrees on both sides and can control each wheel individually. Depending on the situation, it can switch between front, rear and all-wheel steering. This makes it possible to park sideways in a parking space when driving straight ahead or to turn on the spot. Without stopping.
‘The prerequisite for this was the electric wheel drive, which electrifies the drive train and integrates it into the wheels’, explains Sebastian Wielgos, Head of Wheel Hub Drive in the e-mobility division at Schaeffler, who has been spearheading the development of this drive train together with his team over the past few years. With the wheel hub drive, all components such as the electric motor, power electronics, brakes and cooling are installed in the rim. This enables much greater manoeuvrability while also creating more space in the interior of the vehicle.
Out of the comfort zone
‘The wheel hub drive was a completely new thing for us’, explains Hosenfeldt. ‘We had already installed the drive system in classic vehicles, but then had to develop an idea for use in vehicle concepts that seemed a long way off a few years ago. Thanks to the right people and partners, we then had all the relevant know-how we needed in order to master the technical development. The real challenges lay more in changing mindsets and getting out of our comfort zone. But once we took that leap, enthusiasm and passion for the project really blossomed’.
A logical further development of the research results from the ‘OmniSteer’ project is the ‘Schaeffler Mover’ – a concept vehicle that won the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure’s German Mobility Award and the ‘Germany - Land of Ideas’ initiative last year. ‘With the Schaeffler Mover, we are developing innovative technologies and mass production-ready components that are essential for future urban mobility’, says Wielgos.