While some study ways of electronically controlling the shock absorbers and giving you a smooth and steady ride, and others are seeking ways to convert the heat generated by the engine into electricity, a team of undergraduate MIT students invented a shock absorber that harnesses the energy from the very bumps it hits. Several truck manufacturers and the U.S. military have given them attention, and planned to use their technology in their cars.
While hybrid cars recover braking energy, by the same dynamo principle (applying a big consumer on a coil linked to the wheel, while the magnetic chassis opposes it). The system works like a reversed DC motor. The same principle is applied in these students’ shock absorbers, only in a somewhat more efficient way: they use a hydraulic system forcing a fluid through a turbine attached to a generator (the inverted DC motor I was talking about earlier).
The system is controlled by an active electronic system that optimizes the damping, providing a smoother ride than conventional shocks while generating electricity to recharge the batteries or operate electrical equipment.
The students say their system is able to reduce the car’s fuel consumption with about 10%, if used in a properly designed hybrid system, or if the electricity generated is used to power the air conditioning and lights.
I say they would have got much more than that 10% if they went down the bumpy road I drive each week to get to my parents’ home, 40 miles away from where I live (maybe 20-30%).
If someone takes these guys’ absorbers, link them with Volkswagen’s recently developed heat converting system, they would surely get about 30-40% reduction in consumption. We may push the assumptions even further, without calculating much, and we may get even more on a bumpy road during a hot summer day, with a solar panel on top.
Sounds fit to a plug-in Prius, doesn’t it?