Hydrogen-powered cars make 118-mile journey at highway speeds, while navigating traffic and toll gates.
Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor
Hyundai Motor Company has kicked it up a notch during stage 4 (SAE) self-driving trials in South Korea. A fleet of five vehicles recently completed a self-driven 190-kilometer (118-mile) journey from Seoul to Pyeongchang, the site of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Three of the cars are based on NEXO, Hyundai’s fuel-cell electric SUV, which is slated to be released in South Korea next month, while the other two were Hyundai Genesis G80s set up for autonomous operation. Without human intervention, all of the vehicles were capable of executing lane changes when the cars felt it was necessary, overtook slower cars, and managed to navigate through toll gates using Korea’s wireless highway payment system.
According to Hyundai, this test marks the first time that level 4 autonomous driving has been achieved with fuel-cell electric cars. The firm also is touting the speed maintained throughout the journey, between 62 and 68 miles per hour, much faster than is typical in driverless car tests.
The simple instructions to put the vehicles in autonomous mode go like this: push one button for Cruise, another for Set on the steering wheel. The cars then switch to their self-driving mode and on entering the highway were able to move in sync with the natural flow of traffic.
Hyundai’s NEXO fuel cell EVs run on hydrogen—they are able to produce electricity through a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen in the fuel-cell stack—and can drive up to 609 km on a single charge, which is 107 km more than Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell car (total range: 502 km).Hyundai’s next-generation fuel-cell battery system allows NEXO to store a larger amount of hydrogen by means of an increased storage density and storage capacity within its hydrogen tanks. It takes less than five minutes to charge NEXO, 40%quicker than it took to charge the first-generation Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell EV (total range 415km, all range figures are based on South Korean standards). Acceleration and power have increased as well to improve performance. Compared to the Tucson FCEV, Hyundai said the NEXO has a 20% better 0-60 mph time of 9.5 seconds and has a top speed that’s 25% higher than the old car.
New ADAS Features
The NEXO was designed as a hydrogen fuel-cell car from the ground up. Hyundai said it carried out safety certification tests such as bursting the hydrogen tank and closely examining safety under unfavorable conditions—all on top of the current required collision safety tests. It also created a new body structure to protect the hydrogen tank and a front structure said to drastically improve the car’s ability to withstand a head-on collision.
Designed to handle extreme temperature and environments, the NEXO fuel-cell system warms up faster for improved performance; NEXO boasts cold-start capability within 30 seconds. Testing has proven that the vehicle is capable of starting after being subject to overnight temperatures of -20° F. The NEXO also is said to have excellent cooling performance on steep grades with temperatures exceeding 120° F.
Hyundai is using the NEXO to launch some of its new ADAS technologies including self-parking and lane-following features. Hyundai’s RSPA (Remote Smart Parking Assist) automatically supports parking and getting out of a parking lot whether a person is on board or not. The RSPA system can even back a NEXO into a parking spot by itself with a touch of a button from the driver.
Lane Following Assist (LFA) is a new technology for Hyundai making its debut in the NEXO. LFA automatically adjusts steering to help keep NEXO centered in its lane of travel at speeds between 0 and 90 miles per hour on both highways and city streets. It is paired with Hyundai’s Highway Driving Assist (HDA), which utilizes sensors and map data to ensure safe operation as well as automatically adjust speed in limited environments.
Hyundai’s Blind-spot View Monitor shows drivers on a center cluster screen the rear and side views of NEXO using cameras while changing lanes in either direction. The system uses wide angle surround view cameras on each side of the vehicle to monitor areas that cannot be seen by a traditional rearview mirror. Hyundai claims it is the first automaker to provide drivers with video footage from both sides of the vehicle.
A Connected Infotainment System
The cars were also equipped with 5G network technology from KT Corp., a Korean mobile service provider. This enabled the car manufacturer to deliver new infotainment technologies, all accessed through an intuitive user interface (UI).
For example, passengers in the rear seats can use “Home Connect,” a car-to-home technology which enables the user to access and control IoT devices installed in their smart home. They can view home camera images in real-time, control the lighting, remote door lock or TV, and even manage home energy systems. Hyundai plans to phase in home-to-car and car-to-home technology in its vehicles from the first half of 2018 (home-to-car) and from 2019 (car-to- home).
“Assistant Chat” is a technology that allows users to ask questions to a Chat Bot with simple voice commands and receive answers in the form of text or images. “Wellness Care” can monitor the health of passengers seated in the rear of the vehicle, such as their stress level, heart rate, and mood state. They can also access relaxing therapeutic services, and can be connected with a health consultant through a real-time video call.
Hyundai said it plans to have vehicles with level 4 autonomy commercially available by 2021, with fully autonomous (level 5) vehicles on the market by 2030.