British racing icon Cosworth tests self-driving market

July 31, 2018 06:01 CET

DETROIT — Cosworth, the British engineering company founded 60 years ago by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth, is best known for making internal combustion engines deliver more power-per-liter for both street and race cars.

Cosworth has worked with every major automaker on engine projects. In June, the company opened a North American headquarters and manufacturing center in Shelby Township, Michigan, north of Detroit. One of the center’s first products will be cylinder heads for General Motors’ new 4.2-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine for the upcoming Cadillac CT6 V-Sport.

But the new center also will help take Cosworth into an unexpected realm for a traditional engine company: self-driving vehicles. Cosworth CEO Hal Reisiger spoke with Staff Reporter Richard Truett at the new North American headquarters on how the company plans to use its racing electronics expertise for automated vehicles. Cosworth’s suite of AliveDrive technologies provides the building blocks.

Q: What’s Cosworth’s role in automated vehicles?

A: In 2004, when the shareholders bought the company from Ford, they also bought a company called Pi Research, a spinoff out of Cambridge University consisting of mathematicians applying their skills to electronics. We became experts at data acquisition, telemetry and analysis.

We have a long-standing experience integrating sensor data output with data analysis. In controls, we’ve done power management and [electronic control units], along with other electronic subsystems, principally based in motorsports. But as we looked at the strategy five years ago, we said how do we apply the brand, our powertrain and electronics core competencies? We put together a strategy that enabled us to become a Tier 1 supplier both on the powertrain and electronics side.

Give an example of how Cosworth has united powertrain and electronics expertise.

With our AliveDrive technology we take video and visual image processing and integrate them using intellectual property that synchronizes visual image processing with CAN bus data that describes completely how the vehicle and the driver are performing. That sets the foundation. When you hear about [advanced driver assistance systems] and [autonomous vehicles], it’s all about artificial intelligence and machine learning. How quickly can we get a car to work like a human? And this is a big challenge because sensors aren’t eyes and processors are not brains.

How does that technology help enable self-driving vehicles?

We are taking our visual image processing from AliveDrive technology, and we’re going to add a radar input and a lidar input, and that will be the platform for what is called a “perception module.” It’s actually a natural sequence for us, because we can leverage past and current technologies. It’s not that far of a stretch for us.

Some companies are testing self-driving technology on public roads. But Cosworth is testing in race conditions. Why?

When you are doing Indy 500 and there are 33 cars going 230 mph, your system and technology had better work. We have 100 percent real-time data acquisition encrypting and analysis. When it comes to meeting timelines — and that is in our culture and DNA — you need to have that sense of urgency and speed to market.

Formula E seems to be a natural for Cosworth to perfect AliveDrive.

We’re talking with them about that. Data acquisition and analysis is critically important in every area of motorsports. Formula E is now introducing the next set of regulations and so we are engaged in discussions with them.

One challenge is transmitting terabytes of data collected by various sensors. How does Cosworth get data from vehicles? Is the company working on this?

We are. Go back to the Indy 500 cars. There are 300 channels of math data on each car. And you can’t afford to miss one bit of that data. We are already equipped to handle massive amounts of data. What we are trying to do with automakers is help them understand what is the important and beneficial data to analyze. Maybe we manage some of that for them.

What is the future of the internal combustion engine? Has it already lost to the electric motor?

If you look in broad terms, the engines we’ve developed have a 38 percent thermal efficiency, some of the highest in the world. Look at Mazda and Nissan. They are investing in internal combustion engines. If you can get two more points out of that engine — and we will — you are as efficient as a fossil fuel-fired power generating station that is going to be used to charge the electric vehicle.

There’s a lot of growth opportunity. And if you look at power density, range and cost, it will be around for decades. We are looking at continuing to drive efficiencies on engines to make hybrid powertrains more effective.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com.

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