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Laser Ignition May Replace the Spark Plug

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.

Transportation 388

dusty writes "Laser Focus World has a story on researchers from Ford, GSI, and The University of Liverpool and their success in using near-infrared lasers instead of spark plugs in automobile engines. The laser pulses are delivered to the combustion chamber one of two ways. One, the laser energy is transmitted through free space and into an optical plug. Two, the other more challenging method uses fiber optics. Attempts so far to put the second method into play have met some challenges. The researchers are confident that the fiber-optic laser cables' technical challenges (such as a 20% parasitic loss, and vibration issues) will soon be overcome. Both delivery schemes drastically reduce harmful emissions and increase performance over the use of spark plugs. So the spark plug could soon join the fax machine in the pantheon of antiquated technologies that will never completely disappear. The news release from The University of Liverpool has pictures of the freakin' internal combustion lasers."

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388 comments

Flashing lights (5, Funny)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 4 years ago | (#28777947)

If it makes cool red lights flash under the hood like KITT, I'm all for it.

Re:Flashing lights (1)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778015)

I'm sure I wasn't the only child of the '80s who was pissed off when he found out that real cars don't have the swooshy red light thing. I didn't care that my parents' Toyota Corona wagon didn't have a superintelligent AI or a TURBO BOOST button, but why the hell couldn't they have put the swooshy red light on the front?

Re:Flashing lights (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778161)

To save you from looking like a complete jackass?

Re:Flashing lights (5, Funny)

FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778189)

It was the 1980s. Between the feathered hair, the parachute pants and the Members Only jackets, nothing could save you from looking like a complete jackass.

Re:Flashing lights (1)

gujo-odori (473191) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778289)

Hey, I saw some Members Only jackets in Burlington Coat Factory a few months ago. Made me look around for an oddly equipped Delorean.

Re:Flashing lights (4, Funny)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778303)

Wait wait wait, two things
1. You're saying Members Only jackets are out of style and have been so since the 80s?
2. Who are you calling a jackass?

Re:Flashing lights (3, Funny)

gnick (1211984) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778167)

I've seen those installed. Be assured - An adult driving a car with a red swooshing light thing does not look nearly as cool as we all remember KITT and Michael to be.

Re:Flashing lights (1)

barberousse (1432239) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778183)

I actually saw one once. It even was the right model. Now I can say I drove faster than K.I.T.T. with my old Mazda :-P

Re:Flashing lights (1)

LinkX39 (1100879) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778517)

Take a look at this [youtube.com]. Obviously not the correct model/color but it fits pretty cool in the 2010 Camaro SS "mail slot." Here's [camaro5.com] the link to where I saw this video a while back. Good for a laugh if nothing else.

Shark Plugs? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28777951)

rawr

So what happens (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28777969)

When the vehicle gets to be a few years old, and the rings start letting extra oil past. Soon the lenses are covered with soot. Sparks can still jump through a moderate layer of soot, can the laser?

Re:So what happens (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#28777997)

You take it to a Factory Approved Dealer(tm), of course...

I'd be pretty impressed if they can make high energy fibre optics work for any length of time in a consumer auto. Cleaning and mating optical connectors can be annoying in the clean, vibration free, and relatively low power confines of data transmission. Anything connected to an engine, designed to be worked on by mechanics, and carrying enough power to set things on fire is going to be interesting.(though probably a great resource for tinkerers when scrapped...)

Re:So what happens (5, Insightful)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778035)

We're not talking gigahertz, 0.00001% error rate stuff. We're talking honking big pipe firing a few hundred times a second.

My first thought was, 20% loss? Who cares!??? Just stick a bigger laser on the other end!

Seriously, this is one of those things where power is good, and more power is better. Early ignition was pretty pitiful. Now electronic ignition is pretty much bullet proof.

I expect this to be like fuel injection, going from expensive trouble prone disaster to rock reliable. Once they figure it out, it'l be like injectors - maybe 200,000 mile service.

Honestly, I can't wait. I expect reciprocating engines will be with us a long, long time, burning some sort of liquid fuel.

Re:So what happens (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778159)

I'm not worried about the amount of energy getting to the cylinder, that can just be brute forced as you note. I'm more concerned about what the energy that doesn't make it will do. Fiber fuse [rp-photonics.com] could be fairly dramatic in such a system. Video of fiber fuse propagating [youtube.com].

I don't doubt that they'll work it out in the end, engineers have a long history of being clever like that; but it is going to take a giant pile of tweaks on top of the naive implementation.

Re:So what happens (2, Informative)

afidel (530433) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778197)

Loss=heat, I doubt the cladding would stand up very well to that kind of loss. In my experience solid state lasers aren't very reliable even at fairly low power. In networking gear GBIC's/SFP's are by far the least reliable components, dying far more often then even mechanical components like fans and probably on par with enterprise HDD's.

Re:So what happens (1)

Vancorps (746090) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778437)

Is that so? I've never had a fiber GBIC go bad on me and my rig is a traveling rig with over 60 switches and at least as many GBICs. We role in the dust and our biggest problem is patch cables which you sometimes have to rub on your shirt to clean up. GBICs themselves can be blown out with compressed air, not the canned kind of course.

Given that HP has a lifetime warranty on them I wonder if anyone else has had that experience? I don't think solid state lasers are nearly as unreliable as you claim but I'll freely admit I could be wrong since my experience is just anecdotal.

Re:So what happens (1)

rs79 (71822) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778509)

" Loss=heat, I doubt the cladding would stand up very well to that kind of loss. In my experience solid state lasers aren't very reliable even at fairly low power. In networking gear GBIC's/SFP's are by far the least reliable components, dying far more often then even mechanical components like fans and probably on par with enterprise HDD's."

You ever had a car with Lucas electrics?

Re:So what happens (1)

XeroSine (1067136) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778525)

indeed, this would be AMAZING for diesels. in such a way that they could burn ALL the fuel in the chamber with no left over fuel. Also pew pew pew

Re:So what happens (2, Interesting)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778363)

I'd be pretty impressed if they can make high energy fibre optics work for any length of time in a consumer auto.

My money is on the 'free air' optics. In reality, the optical paths and components could be enclosed in some sort of housing. This has been done for spark ignition in a few cars already. The ignition system is one module that sits on top of the spark plugs. In the optical equivalent, the lasers, mirrors and distributor function would be contained in an 'ignition rail', eliminating fiber optic losses and alignment issues.

Re:So what happens (2, Funny)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778047)

Buy the fuel with little hard working men that cleans the engine from the inside.

Re:So what happens (3, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778337)

Exactly.
What is the point?

Obscure claims of increased fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, based on what? A spark is a better combustion source than a laser.

This looks like a solution in search of a problem if you ask me.

Re:So what happens (5, Insightful)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778379)

The laser can be focused to a specific point more easily, allowing it to ignite a stratified charge better. This makes it better at igniting a leaner mixture. Coupled with Direct Injection and maybe some octane boost trickery, this could make gas engines get the same compression ratio as a diesel while still reving over 3k.

Self Cleaning (2, Interesting)

wooferhound (546132) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778447)

> Soon the lenses are covered with soot.

I would think it would be self cleaning, wouldn't the laser keep all the crap burned off of the lens ?

In most likeliness (3, Interesting)

east coast (590680) | more than 4 years ago | (#28777975)

This will probably arrive as a viable and reliable technology right about the same time the internal combustion engine is on it's way out.

Don't think fax machine, think FD Trinitron.

Re:In most likeliness (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778053)

I would imagine that such a technology could be adapted to other fuel sources like hydrogen. In fact, I suspect that hydrogen engines might actually benefit greatly from this.

Re:In most likeliness (5, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778151)

I would imagine that such a technology could be adapted to other fuel sources like hydrogen. In fact, I suspect that hydrogen engines might actually benefit greatly from this.

I'm not so sure of that. Granted, you can use hydrogen fuel in an IC engine, but storing it is a big PITA. At sea level pressure, gaseous hydrogen has abysmal energy density per volume, and any solution for reducing that volume would have to be adapted for every car on the road. Meaning liquid hydrogen is a non-starter, pressurized hydrogen needs to be stored in a collision-rated tank, and hydrogen dissolved in or bonded with something else needs a cost-effective carrier of limited weight per fuel (else the energy density per weight or price per tank becomes a problem).

If we've got the hydrogen storage problem licked, and with all the R&D focusing on precisely that we very well might someday in the not too far future, then why use an IC engine over a fuel cell? In a FC + electric motor configuration, the engine makes very little noise, there are fewer moving parts than an IC engine, no need for a separate (and heavy) alternator + battery to power the electronics, and probably other advantages I've overlooked. The one downside is cost, which can probably be substantially reduced via mass production - the cost per cell is high now, but we aren't making them for every car on the road.

Re:In most likeliness (1)

blindseer (891256) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778427)

If we've got the hydrogen storage problem licked, and with all the R&D focusing on precisely that we very well might someday in the not too far future, then why use an IC engine over a fuel cell?

Because fuel cells require high purity fuel, expensive materials, and are generally very delicate. An internal combustion engine is very durable, a known quantity, and quite cheap. Of course that may change when/if we figure out how to store hydrogen with an energy density similar to gasoline or diesel fuel but I'm not terribly optimistic on that.

But then your premise is that we don't have the hydrogen storage problem licked already. All we have to do to store that hydrogen in a form that is liquid at sea level and room temperature is bond it with carbon. Synthetic hydrocarbons, IMHO, is the future of the "hydrogen economy". We already have the transportation and storage infrastructure for hydrocarbons and the engines to consume them. All we need is a source of carbon (coal, sewage, household garbage, industrial waste) a source of hydrogen (natural gas, water) and a plentiful energy source (nuclear power). While it's not as fanciful as fuel cell cars nuclear fission reactors driving synthetic fuel plants is quite feasible now.

We might see fuel cells become commonplace but, as you point out, we need to fix that hydrogen storage problem.

Re:In most likeliness (5, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778457)

Actually, the hydrogen storage and delivery problem has been licked long ago. If you combine hydrogen with carbon and form long chain molecules, it becomes a liquid at normal atmospheric pressure and temperature. This allows it to burn efficiently in modern vehicles without any modifications required...

Re:In most likeliness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778179)

I would imagine that such a technology could be adapted to other fuel sources like hydrogen. In fact, I suspect that hydrogen engines might actually benefit greatly from this.

And I base my scientific conclusion on a hunch. But it doesn't matter. Because my opinion is now on Slashdot, will eventually get tweeted and blogged, quoted on Wikipedia and thus confirmed. Hydrogen engines greatly benefit of laser ignition. Although they're completely different from traditional combustion engines and don't use spark plugs at all.

Re:In most likeliness (2, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778223)

"Hydrogen engine" is vague to the point of uselessness. It's like saying "Combustion engine", which covers everything from steam locomotives to rockets.

I suspect you read "hydrogen engine" to mean a fuel cell powering an electric motor. From the context, it sounds more like he meant an internal combustion engine, fuelled by hydrogen, which is a different beast entirely. Hence the confusion. An ignition source is indeed potentially useful for such an engine, though not absolutely necessary (not all IC engines use spark plugs).

Hydrogen IC engines do exist, both on paper and in prototype, but I strongly suspect that if we ever get hydrogen to work as a fuel, meaning we can generate and store it in the needed quantities, we won't be burning it in a piston engine of any kind. Fuel cells make more sense in that context.

Re:In most likeliness (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778365)

Pure hydrogen has a terrible octane rating and is extremely inefficient in an IC. However, you can mix a little into regular gas to boost its octane rating, letting you run higher compression or turbo boost. It also increases the flame front speed, which is particularly good for Wankels. Mazda's Furai concept is being developed along these lines.

Re:In most likeliness (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778057)

You want to go to external combustion, then?

Re:In most likeliness (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778087)

Yes. Steam engines with modern materials are surprisingly lightweight, efficient, and effective, without the complexities of the internal combustion engine.

Re:In most likeliness (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778123)

You want to go to external combustion, then?

Yes. Steam engines with modern materials are surprisingly lightweight, efficient, and effective, without the complexities of the internal combustion engine.

You'll still get carbon dioxide in the 'exhaust', though not carbon monoxide or those nitrous compounds you get from an internal combustion engine's exhaust. You won't need a catalytic converter, at least.

Re:In most likeliness (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778141)

Yes, my car only takes 2 shovel fulls of coal to make it o work and back.

Getting it started is a pain if I have forgotten my lighter fluid and I always have to park next to a water hydrant so I can re-fill the water tank....

Re:In most likeliness (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778163)

1. Use a better fuel (compressed biomass bricks, perhaps?)

2. Get one of these fancy lasers to ignite it from a battery

3. Use a recirculating condensing water system

4. ???

5. Profit!

Re:In most likeliness (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778177)

Yes, my car only takes 2 shovel fulls of coal to make it o work and back.

What's that in rods per hogshead?

Re:In most likeliness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778205)

..without the complexities of the internal combustion engine

What complexities are these? ICEs can be made with 2 moving parts.

Re:In most likeliness (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778257)

..without the complexities of the internal combustion engine

What complexities are these? ICEs can be made with 2 moving parts.

Rockets can be made with zero moving parts. And there are very, very simple rockets in existence, dating back millennia (think fireworks). That does not mean "rocket science" is easy, and nor does it mean that the statement "rockets are complex" is in any way wrong.

Same goes for piston engines. Yes they can be "simple" - they made the first of the damn things in the days when people still though of "aether" and "phlogiston", it doesn't require advanced chemistry or physics. That does not mean they always, or even often, are. Most such engines are complex beasts that require a great deal of science and engineering to design.

Re:In most likeliness (2, Interesting)

shoor (33382) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778371)

Another example of an improvement arriving to a technology just as it was obsoleted is the gas mantle, which improved the efficiency of gas lamps just about the time the electric light bulb came along.

bs science as usual- and a waste of time/effort (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28777979)

this is typical insane engineering- if this succeeds then a mechanic would need to be an expert in light theory and frickin laser beams to work on your car.
this is not the way to make cars more efficient- spark plugs work great and im sure these lasers cant give any more power - the spark plug ignites the gas already, and it BURNS- how much more combustion could you get? this is not an improvement- it is adding tech where it isnt needed or wanted.
=)

Re:bs science as usual- and a waste of time/effort (4, Insightful)

east coast (590680) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778025)

this is typical insane engineering- if this succeeds then a mechanic would need to be an expert in light theory and frickin laser beams to work on your car.

Only as much as they need to be an expert in fluid dynamics to change your oil.

this is not the way to make cars more efficient- spark plugs work great and im sure these lasers cant give any more power - the spark plug ignites the gas already, and it BURNS- how much more combustion could you get?

It is a good question as to how this would work any better but if you've ever spent any time under the hood you know it doesn't take much in the way of fouling or plug wire degradation to change fuel efficiency. If this system can avoid those kinds of issues it would make certain aspects of tune ups obsolete and would also increase fuel efficiency over a period when traditional plugs and wires would degrade but not to the point of seemingly needing replaced.

Re:bs science as usual- and a waste of time/effort (4, Informative)

Bobnova (1435535) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778229)

I've spent entirely too much time under the hood of a car(21 year auto mechanic), and you are entirely incorrect.
Degrading plug wires either cause a misfire, which is blindingly obvious and kills mileage horribly, or doesn't. There is no middle ground. Plug wire misfires happen maybe once or twice in the 300,000 mile life of a (japanese...) car.
Modern electronic ignition systems are fairly immune to spark plug wear until extreme circumstances, such as missing three tuneups in a row with standard plugs. Then you will sometimes get drivibility issues and lose 1mpg, tops.

Back in the days of points it was different, plug wear and point wear (mostly point wear) had huge effects on mileage between tuneups. These days, the effects are minimal at most.

Re:bs science as usual- and a waste of time/effort (3, Insightful)

compro01 (777531) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778059)

the spark plug ignites the gas already, and it BURNS- how much more combustion could you get?

It's not so much getting more combustion, but making the combustion behave how we want it to. And there's a long way that can be gone.

But whether this has any real point compared to other fuels, such as diesel that have a big leg up on gasoline to start with, is up for debate.

Re:bs science as usual- and a waste of time/effort (1, Flamebait)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778065)

Because mechanics now are such experts on electricity. Or cars, for that matter.

Re:bs science as usual- and a waste of time/effort (2, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778299)

this is typical insane engineering- if this succeeds then a mechanic would need to be an expert in light theory and frickin laser beams to work on your car.

No, you do exactly what they do now:
When it is determined that there is no spark = replace the coil pack (laser sequencer), or replace the plug wires (fiber pipes), or replace the spark plugs (thingies that screw into the cylinders).

Now...this laser stuff may or may not be needed. But repairs nowadays = remove and replace the bogus part.
The coil pack on my almost 10 year old truck is a sealed unit. No fix, just replace.
Plug wires? Trivially replaced
Plugs? The only thing I might need to do is wirebrush. Or replace at $1.50 ea.

A laser ignition might be useful in adjusting the ignition rate and level, according to engine load, and balanced with fuel flow/mixture. Similar to a camera flash. Depending on need, you might want it to fire slower or later than under full load.
With a current spark plug, you get to time it, but not adjust the level of spark. You get spark or no spark.

Re:bs science as usual- and a waste of time/effort (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778475)

You want uniform burn. This is the problem with ALL ICEs (Diesel and gasoline). Gasoline starts burning around the spark plug and propagates out, diesels start around the injector and go out. Ever seen a diesel spew black smoke? Or how about sit near an old muscle car and have it smell a bit like gasoline?

In an ideal world you combine the two cycles and get Homogeneous charge compression ignition [wikipedia.org] where everything in the cylinder goes BOOM with 0 fuel left over at exactly the same time.

Stupid question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778033)

Diesel engines work without spark plugs -- they compress the air before injecting fuel; the compressed air is so hot that the fuel ignites by itself. However, diesel engines require diesel fuel. They cannot use gasoline.

Why not?

Re:Stupid question (2, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778061)

I'm assuming it's because gasoline is a helluva lot easier to light on fire. My experience from being an adolescent firebug was that gas burns easily, but very quickly, whereas diesel takes a lot more heat to get started, but burns more slowly, and probably releases more energy. I'm no chemist, but my understanding is that different hydrocarbons have different energy yields, and diesel is much more efficient, the tradeoff being a very different kind of engine.

Re:Stupid question (3, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778133)

Gasoline will auto-ignite just fine, it's just much trickier to control when it ignites than with spark ignition or diesel ignition.

Mercades has a engine in development called the diesotto [telegraph.co.uk] that does this.

Re:Stupid question (2, Informative)

JesseL (107722) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778207)

Gasoline is a very 'dry' fluid. It provides almost no lubricity. Diesel engines need some lubricity in their fuel to lubricate the very high pressure injection system (might be less of an issue with modern common rail systems and piezo injectors though).

Re:Stupid question (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778211)

Diesel engines work without spark plugs -- they compress the air before injecting fuel; the compressed air is so hot that the fuel ignites by itself.

My truck has spark plugs, and every "consumer grade" diesel engine I have ever seen has them. So where did you hear of this non-sparking engine?

However, diesel engines require diesel fuel. They cannot use gasoline.

Actually several diesel engines can burn gas for short runs(like making in to a gas station). It is a good idea to go get a service check soon afterward because it can screw your system over, majorly.

Re:Stupid question (4, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778255)

Those aren't spark plugs, they're glow plugs. different animal altogether. No spark, just a hot wire...

Re:Stupid question (1)

pogopop77 (804709) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778291)

What kind of diesel engine truck do you have? Most consumer diesel engines (including mine) are direct injection, at least in the U.S. They intake air, compress it, and then inject the fuel directly into the combustion chamber (hence the term "direct injection"). It is the heat of the compressed air that lights the fuel. No spark plug required.

Re:Stupid question (1)

Dest (207166) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778423)

Direct injection does not mean that there is no spark plug, BTW.

Direct Injection vehicles do exist with spark plugs and regular gasoline.

Re:Stupid question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778315)

I will pay money to see you run your diesel truck on gas.

Re:Stupid question (1)

pherthyl (445706) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778375)

Diesel engines work without spark plugs -- they compress the air before injecting fuel; the compressed air is so hot that the fuel ignites by itself.

My truck has spark plugs, and every "consumer grade" diesel engine I have ever seen has them. So where did you hear of this non-sparking engine?

Like others have mentioned, those are glow plugs, and they are really only necessary to start the engine when it's cold out. I've driven a Mitsubishi Pajero diesel that had no glow plugs. Works just fine, but starting at anything past -10degC is not fun. Takes about a solid minute of cranking and what looks like a volcanic eruption of black smoke before it'll decide to run. Luckily they're running on 24v so it can handle the extended cranking.

Re:Stupid question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778565)

Mitsubishi Pajero diesel

Luckily they're running on 24v

Where did you find one of those? The one I had had only 12V system.

Re:Stupid question (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778419)

My truck has spark plugs, and every "consumer grade" diesel engine I have ever seen has them. So where did you hear of this non-sparking engine?

Your diesel engine has glow plugs.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glowplug [wikipedia.org]

Long story short: The glow plug's heat allows your diesel to start and then it maintains heat so that combustion can continue.

Really big diesels (commercial size) don't need a glow plug because air in the compression chamber stays hot enough to maintain the combustion temperature.

Stupid Memes (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778079)

Cue all the idiots who say "yeah but what about sharks with these lasers on their heads." Yeah, I saw that movie too. Chuckle chuckle, tee hee now get the fuck over it. Sheesh. They're almost as bad as the Wikitards.

Electric cars don't need no stinkin' spark plugs. (1)

TheSlashaway (1032228) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778091)

Electric cars don't need no stinkin' spark plugs.

Re:Electric cars don't need no stinkin' spark plug (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778169)

Nope, they use potpourri sented spark plugs, so much smugger.

IC engine (4, Insightful)

zymano (581466) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778101)

inefficient. Adding a laser is not going to do much.

Re:IC engine (3, Insightful)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778199)

But it's potentially enough. ISTM part of the reason the ICE has lasted so long is the continued incremental improvements that make it just good enough to stick with. Continued incremental improvements in fuel economy, at a rate roughly equivalent to the inverse of the rise in fuel prices will keep the modern gasoline powered ICE a viable alternative for a long time.

This kind of improvement, along with better optimized hybrids and other "transitional" technologies effectively allow us to maintain the status quo.

IMVHO, only two things will pitch ICE's off the top of the pile: 1) a radical, cheap, viable, ready-to-go, drop-in-now replacement, or 2) time, a long time.

Re:IC engine (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778353)

This kind of improvement, along with better optimized hybrids and other "transitional" technologies effectively allow us to maintain the status quo.

And we want that...why?

I'm personally in favor of a gas tax that increments $0.50/gallon every 18 months or so.

Re:IC engine (1)

pintpusher (854001) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778435)

Oh, I don't want that. Just stating what I think will happen...

Personally, I'm in favor of everyone (from consumer to corporation) getting their collective heads out of their collective asses and making real change instead of paying it lip service. But I don't see any flying pigs yet. And when I do, I'm sure they'll be powered by fossil fuel ICE's.

Re:IC engine (1)

andy_t_roo (912592) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778505)

the problem is enough of the 10% marginal swing voters aren't in favour that no polly will propose such a thing if (s)he is interested in a career after the next election.

Spark up! (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778125)

Man, you can use them to light cigarettes too! Oh hell... the fuel injector fire at the same time!

Great... (4, Insightful)

PhotoGuy (189467) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778145)

Great, the laser pulses will probably be DRM encoded so that only authorized chips are used and vendors that insert the appropriate smart card can perform service on them...

The advent of CPU-enhanced cars is a great one, but this is one place where the govt really needs to step in an open things up. For standard engine codes, things aren't too bad; but Lord help you if you want to read an ABS or airbag code from a GM vehicle (for example). They're locked down. I have some decent PC-based code reader hardware and software, but in order to read the ABS error that my two vehicles are both showing (GM, learn to design ABS, will ya!), I need to spend hundreds or thousands on their own software/hardware to simply find out which of my four ABS sensors is faulty.

The more they get into specialized things like this, including laser ignition, the more I worry that I won't be able to be a backyard mechanic any more.

Re:Great... (2, Informative)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778283)

The more they get into specialized things like this, including laser ignition, the more I worry that I won't be able to be a backyard mechanic any more.

When's the last you were able to backyard mechanic effectively, at least on a "modern" vehicle?

Most are locked down to the point that many of the smaller auto garages around my house have closed up because they couldn't afford to get every single piece of hardware/software to work on the new cars.

Re:Great... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778287)

Great, the laser pulses will probably be DRM encoded so that only authorized chips are used and vendors that insert the appropriate smart card can perform service on them...

The advent of CPU-enhanced cars is a great one, but this is one place where the govt really needs to step in an open things up. For standard engine codes, things aren't too bad; but Lord help you if you want to read an ABS or airbag code from a GM vehicle (for example). They're locked down. I have some decent PC-based code reader hardware and software, but in order to read the ABS error that my two vehicles are both showing (GM, learn to design ABS, will ya!), I need to spend hundreds or thousands on their own software/hardware to simply find out which of my four ABS sensors is faulty.

The more they get into specialized things like this, including laser ignition, the more I worry that I won't be able to be a backyard mechanic any more.

That's what you get for buying American.

Re:Great... (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778313)

Great, the laser pulses will probably be DRM encoded so that only authorized chips are used and vendors that insert the appropriate smart card can perform service on them...

Or even worse, they'll only ignite a certain brand of petrol :)

Doesn't worry me though. My car is diesel.

Re:Great... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778395)

Y'know, actually, you might be able to do that.

There has been a lot of research in producing nanoparticles that absorb precisely limited wavelengths of light(mostly for nobler purposes). If you patented one with an unusual absorption pattern, and mixed it with your gas, you could ignite it with a laser tuned to emit in a suitably matched wavelength, while not igniting the normal stuff...

Let me make a run at a joke! (2, Funny)

tiger32kw (1236584) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778215)

"So the spark plug could soon join the fax machine in the pantheon of antiquated technologies that will never completely disappear."

I always get my secretary to page me when I get a new fax. Then I head over to the closest payphone and give her a call to see what it says. Generally its just spam :(

Has other applications (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778319)

There's another obvious application for this - detonating nuclear bombs.

Nuclear weapons require that all the charges be detonated simultaneously, within nanoseconds, so that the implosion squeeze is precisely symmetrical. (OK, A-bomb geeks, I'm ignoring asymmetrical designs and flying-plate systems here.) If the timing is even a few nanoseconds off, the core won't be compressed; it will just blow out on one side, and a "fizzle" yield will result.

The usual trick for this is to use an "exploding wire" detonator. Unlike regular detonators, which have an intermediate explosive to start the main explosive, exploding wire detonators do it in one step, by discharging a capacitor bank through a resistance buried in the explosive. This takes a very fast high-voltage high-current switch, and the traditional solution is a krytron, a gas-discharge vacuum tube from the thyatron family. There have been big flaps over the years about various countries trying to acquire krytrons, which aren't classified but are export-controlled.

Krytrons are 1940s technology. This laser ignition system could be its replacement. One big laser pulse pumped through fibers of equal length to each detonation point should do the job. And it's off the shelf dual-use technology.

Does this mean we'll be using... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778333)

Shark plugs?

Pointless. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778433)

This quite frankly seems to be a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist. Not only that, but it is a more complicated system for ignition. The combustion cycle in modern engines is actually quite efficient, and we're more or less peaking in terms of efficiency. The returns will probably be quite limited on this method, and it will be a system in which much more can go wrong. K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

Wake me up when.... (2, Insightful)

tchdab1 (164848) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778449)

...they replace the fuel spray from injectors with heavy hydrogen pellets.

Lifetime? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778477)

The problem with putting lasers in your engine is that it gets hot in there, and laser lifetime plunges drastically when you run them at elevated temperatures. I'm sure the dealers will love us having to replace our laser-plugs every two months, but no one else will.
(And if you're thinking thermo-electric cooling is the answer, that's going to use a whole lot of juice; don't know how feasible it is.)

Just great. (1, Insightful)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778481)

I just patented a device to control sharks through attached spark plugs. How am I suppose to use a laser? Sharks and fiber-optics don't mix well. Besides their lasers are busy with other matters... Sigh.

Is it just me... (1)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778555)

... or has anyone bought a spark plug lately?

I hadn't really thought about it, but now that I think about it, I can't remember every buying a spark plug for any car I have owned, that was made after 1987...
Maybe I don't keep cars as long as I used to, or do they just last longer now?
I assume the robots that make cars now are more consistent than the dudes who made them before.

Re:Is it just me... (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 4 years ago | (#28778573)

It's recommended every 100,000 miles on a newer car. But often your car's computer will complain about misfires long before that, or you'll get them replaced in an attempt to help pass your mandatory emissions tests.

Laser-initiated ordnance systems (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28778559)

We used a similar system starting back in the late 1990s for initiating ordnance systems. The primary explosive would be doped with a small amount of carbon black to enhance absorption. One advantage was that specific equipment was required for proper initiation, which (in theory) made it safer.

Dynamite and a laser beam indeed.

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