August 29, 2017
To car enthusiasts, there may be no better feeling than getting behind the wheel, revving up the RPM’s, and having complete control over a powerful engineering wonder. Driving as a sport has been around for hundreds of years and the technology behind automobiles within the consumer and professional industries has advanced considerably. In many consumer cars today, drivers have features and functions available that are becoming the industry standard for safety and convenience. Many new drivers will never know of the life before Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS), the three-point seatbelt, airbags, and basically a sensor for every other system on the vehicle.
Despite the constant innovations within the automobile industry, there are certain “primitive” systems that are “kept around” for the sake of car enthusiasts, car performance, and legacy/tradition. For example, although many consumer cars have power steering, many professional racecars actually do not use power steering systems. Many traditional mechanical systems are still used in professional racecars, and even some consumer cars, to allow drivers to make a car an extension of their own bodies while they are behind the wheel. One of these systems is the transmission.
For years, there have only been automatic transmissions and manual/standard transmissions. The former uses the car’s computer to shift a car from gear to gear to reflect a car’s change in speed so the engine produces power to the wheels efficiently. The latter relies on the driver to physically manipulate a mechanical shifter to ensure that the engine’s power is being translated to the wheels in the most efficient way. With a manual transmission, nearly the entirety of a car’s performance and efficiency is a direct reflection of how a driver is controlling the various components of the vehicle. From what was mentioned before, one could assume what kind of transmission type performance enthusiasts would prefer in their vehicle.
Unfortunately for enthusiasts of auto performance, lawmakers, in part with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are working to create a standard for vehicles that are more gas-efficient, safer, and environmentally friendly. Automakers are receiving incentives to move away from some of the more traditional systems and start investing and producing electric and hybrid fuel systems, greenhouse gas reducing technologies, and other methods of producing safer and efficient cars. With these changes, car enthusiasts might assume that manual transmissions will be phased out for the more efficient, computer-programmed automatic transmissions.
Fortunately for those that love to shift gears, Toyota has applied for a new patent that might spark the interest of gearheads. Titled, “Controller For Vehicle and Control Method For Vehicle,” this patent is for an electronic device that would work in tandem with manual transmissions to create a new hybrid transmission systemthat will allow manual transmission vehicles to be more efficient and potentially fit the DOT and EPA requirements. The device will automatically shift a vehicle into neutral to coast the vehicle down hills. The system will also prevent any driver error when it comes time to shift, e.g. shifting from 5th gear to 2nd gear, which might damage your engine block. The system could also be used with newer auto-braking systems, automatically putting the car into neutral if an emergency braking situation is presented, preventing the car from stalling as if it were a traditional manual transmission. All of these features are meant to work without any driver or user input. Saab utilized a similar concept using a mechanical method back in the 1960s, but given the number electrical and computer systems used in cars today, Toyota is taking on that innovation with the future in mind.
Many automakers are journeying into the realm of self-driven cars. For those of us that are busy with work and family, not having to worry about dealing with a commute might be a dream come true. To the car purists, this is their worst nightmare. While Toyota does have self-driving technology in mind, it does seem like Toyota does not want to give up on manual transmissions entirely. This new patent application shows that Toyota, as a automaker, understands the importance of not only knowing their targeted demographics, but bringing innovation in more ways than one. Innovation does not have to be linear, and Toyota is showing the rest of the automobile industry that old can still be new.
Author: Dan Truong, Legal Assistant & Researcher
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