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Electronic innovations open door to personal mobility for all

19 September 2016

EU-funded scientists are designing and developing an affordable and user-friendly electric vehicle specifically for Europe's ageing population.

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A prototype should be ready in 2018.

The SILVERSTREAM project, launched in June 2015, aims to develop innovative and cost-effective electronic and ergonomic solutions to facilitate independent personal mobility for an ageing population.

“SILVERSTREAM represents a first step towards sustainable mobility for all,” says project coordinator Reiner John of Infineon Technologies. “It brings together experts from the automotive sector with medical doctors and experts in cognitive science, opening the way for a new concept in vehicle interior design.”

The project team will combine both ergonomic concepts specially conceived for elderly people and advanced automotive technologies that improve driveability and energy efficiency. These will include easier entrance to the car – even for disabled drivers; minimum-fatigue human machine interfaces (HMIs) that allow certain car operations to be controlled by simple gestures; rear cameras to aid parking and efficient energy storage systems for longer battery life.

By June 2018, a lightweight, affordable electric vehicle prototype will have been built and tested to fully demonstrate the feasibility of the project’s innovations.

Mobilising Europe’s ageing population

“We in this project are working for ourselves to an extent,” says John. “We’re all of a similar age, and, even if we should be confined to a wheelchair, we want to be able to drive ourselves and live independently.” By 2050, the global population of over 60s is expected to reach almost 2 billion, with the proportion of older people doubling between 2006 and 2050. Furthermore, the number of people living in global urban areas is expected to grow from 3.5 billion in 2010 to 5.2 billion in 2050.

“This relentless trend towards urbanisation presents Europe’s ageing population with significant barriers to achieving personal mobility,” adds John. “City life requires getting into and out of vehicles more often, tight parking, frequent braking and accelerating, and dealing with a large amount of information (such as road signals and traffic advice). This can lead to high levels of cognitive and physical stress, and our project is dedicated to finding affordable solutions to alleviate these challenges.”

Understanding and controlling complexity

The SILVERSTREAM project is part of a larger European research cluster that aims to significantly increase Europe’s global market share of microelectronics. The solutions currently being developed within this cluster will open new doors to SMEs specialised in electronics, and in the case of SILVERSTREAM provide a boost to Europe’s automotive manufacturing sector. In addition to achieving sustainable and affordable personal mobility for an ageing population, the project’s final results could also be transferred to other fields.

“These innovations – such as the human machine interfaces – are designed to benefit people who have physical or even cognitive difficulties,” says John. “This means that the tools could very well be adapted to other applications such as education.” While John jokingly describes combining engineers and doctors as being a little like mixing oil and water at times, he remains convinced that developing electronics adapted to the special needs of individuals has potential in wide range of future applications.

“This project shows that complexity can be a good thing – we need complexity to develop better machines – but this is something that we must understand and control,” he says. “Electric vehicles have on average about 50 percent more electronic components and semiconductors than conventional vehicles and are therefore more complex. The key is to make this complexity easy to understand and easy to use, and ultimately bring benefit to the end user.”

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