Formula E as a laboratory for cars of the future (ART394E )

The same way the traditional racing of mechanical vehicles with internal combustion engines worked as a laboratory for the development of all the technologies which have been part of the traditional cars during all the last years, Formula E with all its electric vehicles emerges as a new laboratory for the vehicles that should be part of our lives in the coming years: the electric car. In this article, we comment a little on how formula E races should contribute to the development of new automotive technologies.

Formula E is the competition category that emerges with all strength thanks to the latest developments in electric vehicles, especially in what concerns the propulsion and storage of energy.

The performance of electric racing cars increases day by day, and thanks to the development of its technology, just as with the vehicles of internal combustion engines, is taking the direct application in the commercial vehicles which we will be using in the next years.

However, the challenge of developing an electric race car is not just in the propulsion system. In addition to the need for perfect management of how energy is stored, one must take into account how it is used.

We also have the systems which aim to give stability to the vehicle and mainly safety.

All this would seem relatively simple if it were not the very environment in which everything should work in harmony.

From the time of embedded electronics to common vehicles we know that the automotive environment is different from everything else. In addition to the unfavorable conditions of the environment with high temperatures, presence of corrosive substances and much more, we also have the vibrations, interferences and the very own fast variation of many quantities which influence the performance of the vehicle.

The difference between the formula E vehicle and a common internal combustion race car lies in the fact that the electric car was born also electronic.

Unlike the Formula I or Formula Indy internal combustion engine, where electronics have been slowly entering the formula E car, electronics have been born within it.

In a formula E car, there are more than 60 embedded processor circuits monitoring a multitude of sensors, controlling a huge number of actuators and interfacing with both the pilot and an external hub.

This requires components with special features which manufacturers must develop, they must use the formula E vehicle as a test bench and then industrialize to be part of the commercial electric vehicles.

Just as in traditional expensive races, there are rules which allow teams to differentiate their vehicles in order to get the differential that will lead them to the best performance and therefore to victory. The FIA (Féderation Internacionale de l'Automobile) is who determines these rules.

In cars with internal combustion engine, it is the engine and the system of gears that can be worked. In electric cars, you work with the battery (weight and efficiency) and propulsion, since the motors can be coupled directly to the wheels.

We also have the differences regarding what needs to be monitored and controlled.

For example, while in a car with internal combustion engine it is necessary to monitor the system of burning and exhaust of the engine, in the electric car this does not exist.

The level of common car fuel and engine coolant water do not exist in the electric car, but on the other hand the battery charge needs to be controlled.

The level of electromagnetic interference (EMI) itself must be controlled in both cases, although in the internal combustion engine it is larger due to the ignition system.


Designing for Formula E

Taking these facts into account, we see that designing a car of formula E considering the application of the products created in ordinary electric cars is not something so simple. It is not enough to try the new component in a car in a few tests.

Fatigue, failure, resistance to heat and vibration tests should be extended and must take into account all the possible variables. Field testing is the key.

Remembering the early days of electronic ignition for common combustion engine cars, a company came out with a test vehicle which was simply paralyzed when passing by the antennas of a radio station on a road in a rural area. They had neglected the shielding of important sensor cables.

Today, several companies that distribute components through Mouser Electronics, which also cares about this problem, already have in their lines components which are solutions applied in electric vehicles, many creating components that integrate several features that being on a single chip minimize the effects of adversities of the hostile environment that is the car. They are filters, propellers, and many other components the reader can find on Mouser formula E website at: