Enabling innovation: Developing a high-efficiency ride height system – 23/12/2020
The quest for energy efficiency requires a holistic approach. Although it’s often powertrain innovations that make the headlines, automotive OEMs are working hard to reduce power losses across all areas of the vehicle.
The ActHeRo active ride height system developed by R53 Engineering Ltd is a prime example of a seemingly unrelated product acting as an enabler for these improvements. Its core function is to raise and lower the vehicle, but in doing so it helps OEMs to set their cars up to sit closer to the road, reducing aerodynamic drag. Likewise, it’s highly efficient electric motor design is said to significantly reduce the system’s own power consumption compared to existing units.
There are other benefits too. The system is very quiet, which makes it a natural choice for electric and hybrid vehicles where a conventional design, with air springs driven by a compressor, might prove prohibitively loud.
These attributes all hold different values to different customers, from low-volume supercar manufacturers seeking the ultimate in vehicle dynamics to large-scale OEMs confronting the challenges of electrification. R53 Engineering turned to the APC’s Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP) to help make sense of these different markets and to support development of the concept.
“Working with TDAP gave us a much clearer idea of how to make this product a success,” comments the company’s Managing Director, Roger Estrada. “In particular, the ‘fresh eyes’ event, opened us up to potential applications that we hadn’t even considered. On top of that, TDAP gave us a very clear path for our route to market. It helped us to break thingsdown into our initial target markets with early adopters and then a longer-term strategy. We realised that our technology requires completely different business models for these two groups.”
Through the TDAP process, R53 Engineering was able to secure £100,000 of grant funding without having to surrender any equity in the business. It also provided extensive help and support on issues such as business planning and IP protection.
“TDAP made us realise how much IP we actually have in the company,” comments Estrada. “We are putting processes in place to secure that IP. Without TDAP we wouldn’t even have understood the value in that.”
During the project, the company worked with IP consultancy Ingott, which helped to determine that the technology was suitable for a patent application. Meanwhile, the financial support from the APC assisted with the production of a working prototype that has since been used for bench–testing.
“We’ve seen a very rapid progression through the technology readiness and manufacturing readiness levels during the project, which has brought our technology close to market,” comments Estrada. “Now we have a physical prototype, it’s created a lot of interest from potential customers. We have two OEMs who are about to start testing and several existing customers who are now considering it as a technology for future platforms.”