A completely new take on powertrain design

Louise Smyth

A new Protean Electric ‘corner module’ concept that integrates advanced powertrain, steering and suspension technologies within a single product will help next-generation urban transport vehicles better meet the needs of operators and users. The module, called Protean360+, is thought to be the first of its kind to be developed for commercial applications that offers a limitless 360 degree steering capability. This is combined with innovative suspension, pneumatic ride-height control and an efficient and powerful ProteanDrive in-wheel electric motor.

The company is developing the new module for next-generation urban transport vehicles tasked with smoothly and efficiently moving people and goods around busy conurbations. Its compact packaging will allow for an entirely flat vehicle interior floor and sufficient lateral access to offer wheelchair ingress and egress via front, rear and side doors, bringing better mobility solutions for all. This also means the vehicle can park front-, rear-, or side-on to the kerb, and occupants can disembark straight onto the pavement without having to step into the road.

The exceptional manoeuvrability enabled by the steering system will allow for exceptional versatility on busy urban streets, and parking in tight spaces with absolute kerb-side precision. Once stationary, the pneumatic ride height control of Protean360+ will enable the vehicle to ‘kneel’, dropping the vehicle entry-point to kerb level. This will afford stepless and virtually gapless ingress and egress for heavy or cumbersome loads or for passengers with impaired mobility.

“Transport-as-a-Service urban mobility is gaining momentum, and with it the need for a new class of urban transport vehicles,” explained KY Chan, CEO of Protean Electric. “Whether shared or private, for passengers or goods deliveries, human-driven or autonomous, these new vehicles will require new technologies to be fit for purpose. The Protean360+ corner module was borne from our team’s innovative thinking about how to meet the requirements for these next-generation urban vehicles.”

“The module combines cutting-edge, production-ready technologies. Its unrivalled capabilities significantly advance the effectiveness of the urban transport vehicle concept, and we are already in discussion with prospective customers wishing to apply the corner module in their future vehicles,” concluded Chan.

Autonomous vehicles will be required to negotiate complex combinations of fixed street furniture as well as unexpected obstacles in their path. The ultimate manoeuvrability delivered by independent four-wheel limitless steering means the vehicle will not need to stop-steer-move when performing even the most complicated manoeuvres. Protean 360+ will help to minimise the risk of the vehicle encountering a situation that it is unable to smoothly and safely negotiate. As a result, journeys will be less susceptible to disruption or delay to passengers and – just as crucial – other road users, helping to contribute to more predictable traffic flows and less congestion.

Because the corner modules will enable the vehicle to spin through 360 degrees within its own footprint, it will be able to make uninterrupted progress along narrow urban streets and around tight corners at junctions and in parking lots and loading bays, for example. And, crucially, it will allow ultimate precision in manoeuvrability for the final metre when approaching the kerb to park up.

The 360 degree steering capability is made possible by a patent-pending rotating interface that sits above the corner module’s main arm. The top of the rotating interface is fixed to the vehicle; the lower interface is fixed to the module arm.

The electric steering unit (by-wire controlled) is located above the interface, so that the axis points to the bottom of the wheel.

From the lower rotational interface, control cables for the motor, hydraulics, and pneumatic ride height controls are channelled down the module arm and are connected to a second static interface within the hub and into the wheel motor unit. As the arm module rotates through 360 degrees, the full component set rotates with it. As a result, the connections and cables are not twisted or stressed.



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