One of the things I’ve always loved about racing is that it’s a great place to develop the technology for tomorrow’s street cars. At the American Le Mans Series finale last weekend at Road Atlanta I had a quick peek of something that could end up in your car in another four or five years.
Officially it’s called KERS. That stands for Kinetic Energy Recovery System. The idea is to recover the energy that is normally lost during braking. Hybrids like the Prius already use a type of regenerative system that creates electricity when you slow down. Formula One racing started using KERS back in 2009. Unlike the Prius, F1 cars use the system to create extra horsepower.
The version I saw last weekend was different in that it didn’t generate electricity. When the driver steps on the brake, the energy is fed back into a device that sits between the engine and the transmission. Inside a special casing is a flywheel that can spin at up to 60,000 rpm. It’s sort of like one of those friction drive cars you had when you were a kid. As the car was pulled backward it wound a spring which was released when you let go. In this case, the energy starts the flywheel spinning. When the driver jumps off the brake and hits the accelerator, the energy in that flywheel (which is spinning much faster than the engine) gives the transmission an extra boost of power. In the race car it means up to 135 horsepower for somewhere between three and five seconds.
The company behind this version is called Flybrid Systems.The engineer on hand last weekend says they’re already working with Volvo and Jaguar to develop road versions that could hit the streets by 2016. It’s a way of providing extra horsepower without using more fuel. Jaguar says its test version is getting 20% better mileage.
Of course there are some downsides. It adds weight, it’s complex (the race version had three clutches and 18 gear ratios) and it’s not cheap. Still, it’s amazing technology that could save fuel and add power by using energy that is currently being wasted.
Who knows, maybe someday it will rank up there with rear view mirrors and seat belts as a significant automotive advanced that was developed at the race track.
Here is a video that shows how Dyson Racing is using the Flybrid system.