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Looking Beyond Detroit For Engine Innovation

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the but-it's-such-a-nice-town dept.

Transportation 290

waderoush writes "Opposed-piston engines (with two pistons in the same cylinder) have been around since the 1920s, but have been used mainly in submarines and airplanes. Now, several startups are working to make these high-efficiency engines practical for cars, trucks, and light vehicles — but they're under no illusions that Detroit will adopt the idea. Silicon Valley startup Pinnacle Engines, which is backed by the world's largest venture fund, is looking to a scooter manufacturer in India as its first partner. 'This ought to be music to Detroit's ears, but to them I'm just some whacko in California,' says Monty Cleeves, Pinnacle's founder and CTO. 'This is Silicon Valley, and what does Silicon Valley know about making engines? Folks in Asia have almost zero "not-invented-here" issues, whereas it's pretty prevalent all over the U.S.'"

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290 comments

First Post tsoP tsriF (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37643782)

First Post! !tsoP tsriF

OF course (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643802)

Detroit will be interested in it, if it works better.
Hint: Detroit has worked on this idea before, and didn't get it to work.

I'm not saying it can't work, only that it's been tried. Maybe this guy can actually scale up to a practice car with this that's reasonably more efficient.

At that point, Detroit will be interested.

However, the auto industry is full of things that worked on small scale, but turned out to be impracticable, or not marketable.

In the US, a culture is built around items, and that culture build upon itself.
In Asia, they are happy to take anyones ideas, and sell them illegally.

Re:OF course (1)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644080)

Reasonably well said. And a special place in hell for whatever jerk modded this a troll. It certainly seems on-topic, reasonable, and basically civil to me.

Re:OF course (3, Insightful)

Eil (82413) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644252)

In the US, a culture is built around items, and that culture build upon itself.
In Asia, they are happy to take anyones ideas, and sell them illegally.

That's the troll part. You seem to have missed it.

You could turn the tables and say that Americans are fat and lazy and don't want to innovate anymore while Asia (India and China in particular) is merely taking advantage of the western world's recent lack of blue-collar ambition.

Re:OF course (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644388)

The main problem with it is lumping disparate cultures together. The Chinese definitely steal ideas and IP to the extent that I can't imagine why corporations would have them producing their products as there are no trade secrets over there, especially for foreign companies.

As for your statement about what people could say about Americans, the difference there is that even now there isn't a track record that supports that notion. Around here we're just a few months away from the beginning of world's largest deep bore tunnel, Boeing recently delivered it's first 7e7 and in the near future we're looking to put the first train tracks on a floating bridge.

We're innovative in WA state, but we're hardly the only part of the country that's still capable of innovation.

Re:OF course (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644626)

It's not a troll,it is a demonstrated fact. All the emerging countries in Asia do it. Even Japan did it at one time.

And our blue-collar ambition is doing well. It's the upper crust that sell us short.

Re:OF course (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644096)

First they aren't very efficient at all and offer few if any advantages to a conventional in-line, boxer or V engine. I would put them on par with a rotary engine but far less reliable and vastly more complex, without sharing the rotaries low displacement high output characteristics. That's why they have never caught on.

Re:OF course (5, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644280)

Have you ever worked with Detroit? I own an auto industry startup who's dealt with top-level Detroit execs on a number of occasions. The auto industry is an extremely conservative industry with a very backwards business model and an exceedingly slow cycle time, hamstrung by regulations, supply agreements and partnerships that perpetuate the status quo. And they know all of this stuff, and it drives them crazy, because every exec has about a dozen big ideas for what they want to do but can't for some reason or another. At the same time, they have a formula that works, keeping them competing in an industry that tends to eat new know-it-all manufacturers for breakfast.

I wish the new startup well, and I wish I could say it's just a case of "may the best tech win". But it's not really. First off, Detroit is an "Old Boys Club", so a lot of their success will have to do with how well their team can infiltrate the culture, winning over power-brokers and former power-brokers who still have lots of buddies in the company, one rung of the ladder at the time. Secondly, you have to play by their rules. That means meeting over obscenely expensive dinners and drinks (and, from what I've been told, although I've thankfully been spared this for obvious reasons, strip clubs). And third, even when you do things right, it's slllllllllooooooooowwww. Assuming you do things right, have a good product, and properly cover your arse legally, and nobody scopes you to the field first, whether with independent development or ripping you off.

That said, startups *can* and *do* regularly make it in the industry, at least as suppliers. Although going from nothing to being a whole engine supplier is a pretty huge step, and they really should start out smaller. Honestly, given their situation, I'd strongly advise trying to work their way into some of the Tier 1 suppliers. It should be a lot easier than approaching the Big 3 directly (I really wouldn't expect them to give this startup the time of day).

Re:OF course (2)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644468)

At the same time, they have a formula that works, keeping them competing in an industry that tends to eat new know-it-all manufacturers for breakfast.

If it works so well, why did the government have to step in and bail them out?

wha ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644594)

(and, from what I've been told, although I've thankfully been spared this for obvious reasons, strip clubs)

You are a girl ???

You don't want to be a Tier 1 (1)

sjbe (173966) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644680)

Honestly, given their situation, I'd strongly advise trying to work their way into some of the Tier 1 suppliers. It should be a lot easier than approaching the Big 3 directly (I really wouldn't expect them to give this startup the time of day).

I absolutely guarantee they won't give them the time of day. Really though that is just fine. You DON"T want to be a Tier 1 supplier. When the Big 3 want to cut costs the first thing they do is cut payments to the Tier 1 suppliers. Unfortunately the Tier 1 suppliers frequently cannot pass on the cost reductions to the smaller Tier 2 and below suppliers without killing them. My company is a Tier 4 on a GM product and we certainly could not afford a significant price cut. Tier 1s are basically the big auto makers bitches.

Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

ThePhilips (752041) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643804)

Opposed-piston engines (with two pistons in the same cylinder)

Are those the same as so called boxer engines? which are found in Porsches and BMW motorcycles? What's the difference if any?

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (3, Insightful)

cobrausn (1915176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643836)

No, boxer engines are opposed pistons, but they use separate cylinders. Boxer engines are a form of a 'Flat' engine.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37643846)

the combustion is between the pistons on these opposed piston engines, the combustion is on the outside of the pistons in boxer type engines

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37643882)

In an opposed piston engine the pistons point In instead of Out like with a boxter.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (4, Informative)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643908)

An opposed piston engine has two (well, at least two) crankshafts at opposite ends of a cylinder, with a piston on each. The pistons then "meet" in the middle.

The advantage is that you don't need a cylinder head, so the engine can be lighter, and often smaller and go to higher pressures, which makes it ideal for aircraft and submarines and areas where you want to maximise power to weight.

A boxer engine is simply a V engine flattened all the way down, with two banks of cylinders facing away from each other with the crank in the middle.

One of the "classic" opposed piston engines is the Deltic, fitted to the locomotives that were named for it. A hugely complex beast with three crankshafts (one contrarotating), which was very powerful for its size, but very highly strung. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napier_Deltic [wikipedia.org]

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37643944)

A boxer is not a 180 degree V. V engines share crankpins between "opposing" cylinders while boxer engines do not. You can't have "opposing" pistons moving as mirror images of each other with shared crankpins.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644052)

I fail to see how having to make two crankshafts become one drivetrain is going to make it lighter.

What it will do is allow you to use counter-rotation to prevent torque from making your otherwise free vehicle spin around its axis continuously.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644206)

You don't need a big, heavy cylinder head since the opposing piston acts as the head for the other. This way you can push up the pressure in the cylinder without having to beef up the block/head much and get much more power for limited size and weight.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

danomac (1032160) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644054)

I would also imagine that is shares a compression stroke to drive both pistons, leveraging more efficiency.

The problem is current transmissions is they have a single input. A lot of dual crankshaft engine are "mended" together with gearing to drive a single input shaft, but I wonder what the mechanical losses would be through that setup.

It'd be interesting if they could design a transmission that can take two inputs and use them with more mechanical efficiency than using a gearing system. Either that, or all-wheel-drive systems could actually have the front wheels running off one crankshaft and the rear wheels running off the rear crankshaft. That'd be one hell of a complex transmission, but I don't know if it'd be any more efficient doing it that way.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644230)

Well, you need to keep the pistons in phase, so you need to physically connect the two (or more) cranks to each other - at that point it's trivial to simply drive one output shaft.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644076)

"An opposed piston engine has two (well, at least two) crankshafts at opposite ends of a cylinder, with a piston on each. The pistons then "meet" in the middle.

The advantage is that you don't need a cylinder head, so the engine can be lighter, and often smaller and go to higher pressures, which makes it ideal for aircraft and submarines and areas where you want to maximise power to weight."

IANAE, but...

Losing the cylinder head saves weight.
Two crankshafts gain weight.
Two crankshafts = more rotating mass
Two crankshafts = two output shafts or gearing down to one shaft?
Net improvement?

And he's making it a four-stroke, so I'm dyin to see how the valves actually last. Something about 'sleeve vavles'. It just sounds like magic.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (3, Informative)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644268)

The two crankshafts have to be connected together - the pistons need to stay in phase, so you only need one output since what one crank does, the other must match it.

Like the Deltic engine I linked above, you can get awesome power to weight ratio and power to size ratio out of them (although the Deltic was an opposed 2 stroke diesel), but they are somewhat temperamental - something that would likely be less of an issue in the modern era with finer machining tolerances etc.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

modecx (130548) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644098)

The advantage is that you don't need a cylinder head, so the engine can be lighter, and often smaller

Yeah, instead of some massive aluminum cylinder head and weighty valve train, you only need another main bearing and associated structure, and another crankshaft to boot. Sounds like real weight savings!

Meh. They've been tried.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644294)

They've not just "been tried" - they've been used very successfully in trains and ships. They are much lighter and smaller than "normal" engines of the same power - this is not a fact that is in doubt. The weight savings are real, even with all the "added extras" - you still come out net positive. Their downside was increased complexity, but with regular maintenance this can be overcome.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

modecx (130548) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644720)

Any successes the opposed piston design has enjoyed was mostly because it's basically a two-cycle design. So, yeah, they get more torque/displacement/RPM than comparable 4-stroke engines. The problem is, there are vastly more simple two-cycle engines, which for the most part are capable of similar thermodynamic efficiency.

The only truly interesting development I've seen in this area is an opposed engine where both pistons share the same crank, and there were two sets of pistons per crank pin--designed for attack drones, IIRC.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (3, Informative)

Bork (115412) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644198)

This design allow the engine to have a power stroke for every revolution, it is called 2-cycle but its not like what people think as 2-cycle. The engine has a compression stroke as the piston come together, a power stoke and then a "vent" at the end of the power stroke. One of the pistons that is called the power piston will open up ports along the cylinder wall to let out the exhaust, a few degrees of rotation later the other piston called the slave will open ports in the cylinder wall to allow forces air to purge out the remaining exhaust. The exhaust ports will then be closed off as the power piston starts to move back up the cylinder and then the slave will close its ports a few degrees of rotation later allowing a pressurizing charge to build up. The use of a super charger or blower is required on this type of engine. No valve or valve train - minimalist type of engine.

The crank shaft for the power side is about 10 degree ahead of the slave end. Oon the power stroke, this results in the power piston to be past TDC and moving down the cylinder while the slave is going through its TDC and have little cylinder movement.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644496)

What is different between a sub or an aircraft that does not permit the technology developed for these applications directly portable to automobiles?

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644576)

Airplanes tend to run at Wide Open Throttle (WOT) for 80% of its engine life.

Re:Difference to the boxer engine? (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644572)

I was looking at the link and that might actually work if you thing about a hybrid and not direct powered crankshafts.

In the picture you showed, a timing chain run around an electric generator would be a good mix. Use battery power to augument starting and a nice slow, lean engine to keep the battery charged. The engine shape would component battery shape. And it would seem to have fewer parts too.

I'd think this could be used in something like hydraulic power... Diggers and earthmovers. Again, direct drive the hydraulic pumps right off the corners and use hydraulic manifolds to distribute the power.

Inside-out boxer (1)

Quila (201335) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644086)

Turn a boxer inside out. Instead of having one crankshaft in the middle, have two crankshafts at the ends, instead of piston heads pointing out, they point in. Then for two piston heads that come at each other, put them in the same cylinder tube so the ignition happens between them.

Detroit can't deal with prototypes (2)

Relayman (1068986) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643826)

If you think Detroit is going to commit a production run to an engine that has maybe 10 prototype copies, you've got to be kidding. Think of the cost of recalls. Get a few thousand built, demonstrate the efficiency, get some patents to protect the IP and Detroit as well as Japan, Korea, Germany, etc. will have a look.

Re:Detroit can't deal with prototypes (1)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644036)

If you think Detroit is going to commit a production run to an engine that has maybe 10 prototype copies, you've got to be kidding. Think of the cost of recalls. Get a few thousand built, demonstrate the efficiency, get some patents to protect the IP and Detroit as well as Japan, Korea, Germany, etc. will have a look.

The man claims that the scooters he wants to build for India will consume 25 to 50 percent less fuel while being cheaper, lighter, and adaptable to every fuel from diesel to ethanol with a trivial change in the piston spacing. Presumably he believes he can do all of that with cars.

If they're offered that kind of improvement anyone will deal with prototypes. Any car maker on Earth will open an entire division just to produce a few hundred a year, even if largely by hand, and sell them to green-guilted celebrities for $300,000 a pop.

If the man can't get people to listen to him it's because he's not telling the whole story and he doesn't have all the problems even nearly worked out. I just can't imagine a more likely alternative.

Re:Detroit can't deal with prototypes (3, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644470)

25 to 50 percent less gas in a scooter isn't really that impressive. Most decent scooters are at the point of diminishing returns, the increased cost of maintenance is almost certainly going to be more than the savings on fuel. It's relatively trivial to get a scooter to get 60-70mpg, an extra 25% to 50% isn't that significant, unless that extra mileage comes maintenance free.

Re:Detroit can't deal with prototypes (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644066)

GM committed a couple of billion dollars to hydrogen-powered cars and the Volt.

It's not about commitment. It's about ownership.

Asia has much less of a problem stealing your technology from you, so they're open to things they didn't patent themselves.

Re:Detroit can't deal with prototypes (0)

Eil (82413) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644382)

Asia has much less of a problem buying your technology from you, so they're open to things they didn't patent themselves.

Fixed that for you, racist scumbag. Cheers.

Full of it (2)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643828)

Now, several startups are working to make these high-efficiency engines practical for cars, trucks, and light vehicles — but they're under no illusions that Detroit will adopt the idea...'This is Silicon Valley, and what does Silicon Valley know about making engines? Folks in Asia have almost zero "not-invented-here" issues, whereas it's pretty prevalent all over the U.S.'

'Detroit' as he refers to are now multi-nationals with divisons on every continent on the planet. NIH doesn't really apply since common models are sold across the globe with only minor variations (due to local laws). The reason 'Detroit' haven't done anything with the startups is because they have their own R&D factories. Why partner when they can do it themselves better and cheaper?

Re:Full of it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644124)

Why partner when they can do it themselves better and cheaper?

No they can't. Even when an engineer comes up with something, upper management will kill it because it's: too expensive, cannibalizes another and more profitable line, and for just plain shortsightedness on their part. If Detroit got a great idea from one of their engineers, they'd be too stupid to do anything about it.

Re:Full of it (5, Interesting)

dtmos (447842) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644240)

The reason 'Detroit' haven't done anything with the startups is because they have their own R&D factories. Why partner when they can do it themselves better and cheaper?

Because when technology is purchased, it is considered an asset, and appears so on the balance sheet. Internal research and development organizations, however, are viewed as liabilities, since they have payroll and other continuing expenses. It's an accounting advantage when outside technology, either in the form of entire companies or just their IP, is purchased.

Said another way, the external technology has a value that is explicitly recorded on the balance sheet. The value of technology created by the internal R & D organization, OTOH, is not explicitly realized. One reason for this is that its valuation is quite difficult to determine (unless it's sold outside the company, of course, when it becomes worth what someone is willing to pay for it). Case in point: Your company's R & D organization develops a new opposed-piston engine technology. How much is it worth, in a dollar figure justifiable to an external auditor? Could someone make an equally reasonable argument for a figure one-tenth that of yours?

Re:Full of it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644610)

Until the supplier decides to hold you hostage if you don't buy the IP outright. And your R&D costs don't end at proof of concept, so a huge chunk of cash that the auto industry has to come up with still applies. Purchasing tech doesn't make the bottom line as flush as you seem to imply. The tooling costs are huge, changing a tech now means you lose interchangable parts, the list of things that make things like this complicated and expensive is huge. I worked at a shop designing production line equipment for Ford, GM, and (then)Daimler-Chrysler. The orchestration involved in model year chang-overs is incredible where the changes are much less significant than changing an entire engine technology. So if you want to be taken seriously by the big three, or any of the non-disposable Asian auto manufacturers, you had better come with your shit together, not like some community college student who just discovered the web and thinks that they can re-write GE Capital's accounting system over a weekend using ruby and some javascript. Arrogance is no substitue for expertise.

Re:Full of it (1)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644320)

Not only that, but US and Japanese companies (like Mazda & Ford, GM & Toyota) have made joint ventures to share technology - not only engines, but many parts of some of their high volume cars.

Besides, that CTO is full of crap anyway, Asia has *plenty* of NIH issues. Just look at Samsung, Mitsubishi/Panasonic, Sony (less so now, though) - the amount of vertical integration (esp. Samsung, Mistubishi) or use of in house technologies over standards (Sony - Memory Stick, Minidisk/ATRAC, UMD, etc) is huge there.

Re:Full of it (1)

SIR_Taco (467460) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644538)

'Detroit' as he refers to are now multi-nationals

OMG no way!

they have their own R&D factories

OMG no way!

In all seriousness, though:
Yes what you said is obviously true, but the idea that because they have their own R&D and have researched this before doesn't mean this company hasn't figured out a better way to do it.
I'm not saying that they have figured out a better way, but to dismiss something as 'oh, well that's been tried before' isn't a good basis

Should they not have linked (4, Informative)

ickleberry (864871) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643840)

Opposed-piston_engine [wikipedia.org] for ignorant feckers like myself who have never seen or heard of this engine design before?

Re:Should they not have linked (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37643974)

To make an opposed piston engine. Take two inline engines (straight four or six or whatever). No V type engines, just inline. Take the cylinder heads off. Then bolt the two engines together head-to-head. Re arrange the inline and exhaust valves and manifolds to feed the new combustion chamber in between the two opposed pistons. Each combustion (power) stroke drives the two opposed pistons apart.
      The idea has been around since just about forever, and I know of marine diesel engines and railroad locomotive engines with opposed pistons. I am not aware of any efficiency advantages to opposed pistons.

Re:Should they not have linked (1)

mzs (595629) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644412)

Not so simple, you need to find such engine with the valves in the block.

Re:Should they not have linked (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644126)

Video (circa 2008):
http://www.engineeringtv.com/video/Opposed-Piston-Opposed-Cylinder
(See first 6 minutes)

Two points (5, Interesting)

mvar (1386987) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643850)

First:

“There are 50 opposed piston engine companies out there, and they all haven’t gotten to the point where they’ve figured out what their Achilles’ heel is,” says Byron Shaw, general manager at GM’s Advanced Technology division in Palo Alto. “It’s unlikely that [the engine startups] have discovered something that isn’t known,” he continues. “Let’s say they really improve the ability to run air flow ratios super lean, but then they haven’t solved the NOx problem [nitrogen oxides, a by-product of combustion and the source of smog and acid rain]. There is always a ‘but,’ and most of these companies haven’t gotten to the ‘but’ yet. In India and China they don’t have any idea what the ‘but’ is. They are a pure growth trajectory. But as those markets mature, so will their expectations.

and the best part:

As if to illustrate Cleeves’ point, Shaw tells a story from his days as a young, just-out-of-college engineer at GM in 1988. “I came up with this change to an internal part of the air conditioning compressor,” he says. It was part of a project to switch over to a new, environmentally safer coolant. “It passed every test. I was rocking and rolling. I was going to change the world. My boss said, ‘Okay, why don’t you get on the plane and go down to the plant and tell them all about it.’ So I go down there and I start to give my spiel. And the plant manager says, ‘Let me give you a tour of the factory.’ “He shows me where the blank aluminum comes in and where it’s machined and processed. And then he takes me down this line of machines. There are 320 steps and each machine does one step and it’s really fast and precise. And at the end of the line this part rolls off. And he says ‘The part you want to change is machined on step number two. And on every machine after step number two, that’s where they grab the part and hold it to do all the subsequent machine steps. So we’d have to retool 320 machines. Is your change that good? How much more are people willing to pay for their cars based on the improved performance from your little part change, versus what it’s going to cost the company?’ That was a really interesting lesson for me.”

Re:Two points (4, Insightful)

AceJohnny (253840) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643998)

So we’d have to retool 320 machines. Is your change that good?

Perfect illustration of why we're resistant to change. And then some new company comes up with that change embedded in their process, and trounce the old one. Then the cycle repeats.

Re:Two points (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644120)

Perfect illustration of why we're resistant to change.

Imperfectly applied to this situation.

You don't retrofit opposed pistons into an existing engine block.

You design a whole new car and manufacturing process around it. You're retooling the factory from the concrete up, so it's no more or less skin to do it for one or another type of engine design.

Re:Two points (1)

Squiggle (8721) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644070)

"That was a really interesting lesson for me."

The wrong lesson. The lesson I would take away is "we have a problem where we can't innovate because our retooling costs are out of control; we better change our manufacturing so that we can continue to innovate."

Re:Two points (2)

lgw (121541) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644634)

The reality is: you accumulate the cool ideas for a few years, till you have a stack of them that are collectively worht it (and the machines are getting worn and need serious work anyhow). This is why you get new generations of car models every 5 or so years.

Re:Two points (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644106)

This part too...
 

Cleeves says his engine can also be scaled up for larger vehicles, and can easily be modified to run on diesel, ethanol, or even compressed natural gas, which means it could also turn up in light commercial vehicles or even cars

Mr Cleeves seems awfully confident about what can be accomplished with an engine that he only has one prototype of, and exactly zero experience with actually scaling up, or modifying for different uses. But such things are always easy on paper.
 
Also left unmentioned in TFA are the effects of the increased mechanical complexity on manufacturing, maintenance, and lifespan.

Re:Two points (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644544)

Opposing piston engines are hardly new and they scale up just fine. The Balao, Tang, and Barbel class submarines used such engines.

Retooling (1)

maroberts (15852) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644186)

In Ye Olde Days the retooling issue was probably a very significant deal, however I would suspect that a large part of the cost would now be avoided as most of the retooling would simply be reprogramming the various CNC machines to do the job.

Re:Retooling (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644608)

Reprogramming vs. retooling I suspect aren't a whole lot different if the process hasn't had its complexities abstracted away which I doubt they have been to any appreciable degree.

Could this explain Asia's development? (1)

iusty (104688) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643854)

Folks in Asia have almost zero "not-invented-here" issues, whereas it's pretty prevalent all over the U.S.'

Hmm, could this explain how Asia was able to move so quickly in the past decades? Yes, it means that you steal (either figuratively or literaly) ideas more often, but it also means that you'll always try to use what it's best, without being hang-up on the current solution.

Anyway, I thought about the relation/contrast between being "liberal" with other peoples ideas and having a NIH syndrome, and I find this interesting.

Re:Could this explain Asia's development? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37643906)

Traffic and air pollution in China are definitely using "what's best" without being hung-up on the current solution.

Re:Could this explain Asia's development? (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644202)

Folks in Asia have almost zero "not-invented-here" issues, whereas it's pretty prevalent all over the U.S.'

Hmm, could this explain how Asia was able to move so quickly in the past decades? Yes, it means that you steal (either figuratively or literaly) ideas more often, but it also means that you'll always try to use what it's best, without being hang-up on the current solution.

Where do you see this happening? In most industries, China has first, blatantly ripped off existing IP, then figured out how to manufacture it, then undercut other manufacturers and made some money. They've not done especially well in high tech. Their new 'Chinese" commercial aircraft is largely copied from an Airbus A320. Much of the technology in their high speed trains is German and French.

They have bright engineers and have figured out complex mechanical engineering and supply chains and whatnot, but they are hardly a paragon of new technology blazing to unheard of heights. Hell, their space program is based on the 1960's Soyuz design. Nothing wrong with that, but it's hardly ground breaking.

They are pretty much using the 'current solution' everywhere.

Re:Could this explain Asia's development? (1)

iusty (104688) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644368)

They are pretty much using the 'current solution' everywhere

Sure, but that's exactly what I was referring to---the ability to catch up to the 'current solution', across many fields; I didn't mean to say they are advancing above the current solution, not at all.

Even for just catching up, I think they've done a good job at it, and my point is that maybe there is a relation between this and not having NIH. That was what I trying to say :)

Not really all that great an idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37643884)

This sounds like more "I'm from Silicon Valley. I know more than a century of tireless, talented engineers" talk. We engineers hear it all the time. Mostly from blustering, pick the low hanging fruit, Silicon Valley types.

Opposed Piston engines carry a lot of extra complexity to keep them synchronous. And keeping the system mechanically synchronous is easier, and hence a better engineering approach, than trying the same thing synchronous with a kludge of electro-mechanical components, especially outside the lab (i.e. "in the real world").

Complexity=Weight (usually).

The machining and assembly is harder.

The only real advantage is that you can create a higher compression ratio because it'll be crated for a lot less time (the relation is non-linear). You still have the same safety concerns though.

Mostly Silicon Valley types have seen themselves as the standard bearers for change and innovation, even if reality doesn't quite agree.

Re:Not really all that great an idea (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644340)

there is no more complexity in this design than the VW - W line.. if nothing there is less (you still have two cranks and half the valves of a W) and they got them to work just fine.

This the same Detroit that cried like babies.... (2, Insightful)

Kenja (541830) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643886)

This the same Detroit that cried like babies over federal fuel efficiency requirements? Didn't they say that 30mpg was impossible and would put them out of business, despite foreign car makers doing it for years?

Cost and uncertainty (5, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644524)

Didn't they say that 30mpg was impossible and would put them out of business, despite foreign car makers doing it for years?

No they didn't say that. Nor have the foreign car makers been "doing it for years". If you make a big heavy vehicle it is going to get crappy fuel efficiency. US consumers, for better or worse, love big heavy cars. All automakers know how to make more fuel efficient cars but those are not the ones most people buy. Designing more fuel efficient cars without regressing on other features customers demonstrably want is seriously difficult and possibly without much prospect of payback for the engineering cost. Relatively few people buy a car with fuel efficiency as their primary concern. That might change if gasoline were suddenly $7/gallon but that simply is not going to happen.

The reason the automakers fought against increasing CAFE standards was simply cost. The government is imposing an engineering cost on their business without any certainty of additional revenue from their customers to offset the cost. Furthermore when your most profitable vehicles are the least fuel efficient (true for every auto manufacturer) and best selling, that is a major problem.

Toyota and other foreign car manufacturers were just as against raising CAFE standards as the US auto makers. The Toyota Tundra simply cannot achieve 30mpg without some combination of horsepower reduction, weight reduction, better aerodynamics and possibly hybridization. That's physics and has nothing to do with being a foreign or domestic car maker. The engineering challenges are just as difficult for Toyota as they are for GM. I've worked with both companies directly and I promise you Toyota does not have better engineers.

Wrong (2)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643902)

As the cost of hybrid batteries plummets, engines will increasingly run at set power levels for long periods of time. The right engine for this role is debatable, but it's almost certainly a turbine, or less possibly a stirling. They run on any fuel, have excellent economy, and have problems primarily with throttling - which isn't a problem on a hybrid. Investing in new conventional piston technology is a waste.

Re:Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644380)

You haven't flown or fixed many turbines, have you? They're only positive qualities are low weight. Fuel efficiency of turbines sucks, horribly. If you figure out how to put an intercooler between compressor stages, efficiently, then you might have something. Otherwise, no. They are nice when you have to burn several types of fuel, but no. It's nice that I can burn anything that comes out of a "gas pump" but it costs a lot. IRAN on a small turboshaft engine costs more than your car.

And for the folks who say "well, being stuck by the tooling is why Detroit's dying" have an implicit assumption on the capital costs of serial production of automobiles that's off by at least 3 orders of magnitude.

The real issu is (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37643950)

its after 2 PST, and STILL no Ada Lovelace story.

Re:The real issu is (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644130)

If ignoring it is good enough for the Google Doodle, it's good enough for /.

Re:The real issu is (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644574)

I submitted a story, so I know they have at least one. It's hard to encourage my daughter to continue her love for science when even the most influential women are ignored so blatantly.

It has nothing to do with NIH (2)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644000)

It has nothing to do with NIH.

Most Americans, as opposed to California, has a "fix it if it's broken" mentality. It's not a closed box. Opposed piston designs, like boxer engines, are not well suited for this. Neither are EVs. They have parts that wear out and are either too cost prohibitive to replace, or too difficult (in terms of accessing them to take them out).

Meanwhile, something like a Detroit engine, as we're calling it now, can have the engine pulled and replaced with relatively little effort still, in many vehicles. Plug, wire, etc. maintenance is still easy (except in designs that crowd the engine bay). It's a design that's known to work fairly reliably, and when it doesn't, it can be fixed. Try replacing the engine in something like a Subaru sometime... or even getting at the plugs.

On the other hand, I'd love to see more inline engines. They have a lot of the same benefits.

Re:It has nothing to do with NIH (1)

sribe (304414) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644220)

Try replacing the engine in something like a Subaru sometime... or even getting at the plugs.

Why? 130,000 miles, and engine placement has not been an issue so far ;-)

Re:It has nothing to do with NIH (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644348)

BS. The car engine of today frequently outlasts the car. Usually the transmission or something else goes before the engine does.

Are you seriously bringing up Subaru, when the US out made engines like Cadillac's North Start and similar engines, where you had to pull half the engine out to replace the freaking starter? Or my Jeep, where you have to unhook the exhaust headers? Getting at the plugs? Seriously--I've got 2 domestic vehicles, and the Jeep you've got to unhook the freaking washer fluid reservoir to get to one of them.

And maintenance isn't easy--see what happens sometime when something involving the mandatory emissions monitoring/computer goes. You've almost always have to take it in, due to the reprogramming, to the dealer, and federal law only mandates warranty to around 80,000 miles. After that, it's likely a minimum $300 shop visit after they diagnose it. Easy my ass.

You're essentially are the story's point. While maybe not NIH, you're very resistant to obvious improvements. Meanwhile, the same people hanging on to the old are the ones complaining most about energy independence, desiring more drilling, more phracking, all to maintain their belching, inefficient gas or diesel engines. Live next to a major road sometime--you'll appreciate the meaning of "exhaust." Some studies even attribute a large portion of health care costs of males between 35 and 60 due to being around bad but legally allowable emissions (i.e. diesel increases stroke and heart attack risks).

This is all just one of the reasons why "Detroit" suddenly became very willing to up the standards on emissions and crash tests. It wasn't to improve their vehicles or to up safety, but as a political move to prevent newcomers and newer tech from entering the marketplace, by raising the barrier to entry. They don't care as long as their business continues. Nothing national or better or more efficient about it.

Re:It has nothing to do with NIH (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644458)

Plug, wire, etc. maintenance is still easy (except in designs that crowd the engine bay). It's a design that's known to work fairly reliably, and when it doesn't, it can be fixed. Try replacing the engine in something like a Subaru sometime... or even getting at the plugs.

On the other hand, I'd love to see more inline engines. They have a lot of the same benefits.

Interesting you say that. The last time I did an engine swap on my Subaru Legacy, it did take *quite* a while, but that's because it's a 4WD, and the only reason it was more difficult than when I pulled the engine out of my Jeep is because the Subaru engine takes up a lot more of the engine compartment than that inline six in the Jeep. The engine was also much easier to deal with because it was so much lighter than the Jeep engine/transmission/transfer case. It was also much easier than pulling the engine in the 1967 Oldsmobile, which has about the same amount of engine compartment clearance as the Subaru, simply because it was so much lighter.

And I'm really surprised by the claim about sparkplugs. It takes me like 30 minutes to change the plugs on the Soob -- a little longer than on the inline six in the Jeep, because the Jeep plugs are so easy to access, but *far* easier than changing the 8 plugs on the Olds, because I have to loosen and tilt the power brake booster to get to the furtherest-back sparkplug on the Olds.

I'd far rather work on Subarus with their nice little flat boxer engines. They fit so nicely in the hood space. Everything's easily accessible.

Massive Yet Tiny Engine. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644004)

How do these things stack up to MIT's Massive Yet Tiny Engine? Cause they are, by far, the best ICE engine design I have seen so far.
Still wondering why no major manufacturer tends to even look twice at it, at least, not since the last time I checked.

Detroit OPOC (4, Informative)

plsenjy (2104800) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644058)

More prominent than Pinnacle is the first company mentioned in TFA, Ecomotors. In the past 6 months they have begun test builds on on-highway trucks for one of America's largest truck manufacturers, Navistar. (https://www.ccjdigital.com/navistar-announces-opoc-engine-technology-agreement/) Considering America's position as #1 fuel consumer, hacking into the amount of fuel used by the most fuel-intensive industry is much more significant than increasing efficiency on mopeds in India.

From TFA:

"“I don’t know what it’s going to take to get somebody in the U.S. excited” about fundamental improvements to the venerable internal combustion engine, Cleeves [CEO of Pinnacle] says"

Are you kidding me??!

Trucks here are doing everything they can to improve fuel efficiency, from installing flaps underneath their trailers to controlling and monitoring the speed of trucks. If the OPOC engine does prove to be a large increase in efficiency on these large, constantly running trucks, while at the same time eliminating components, you better believe the trucking industry will hop on board with a second.

Come on, practice a little vetting for once, or maybe try googling for more than one source on an article here!

Walmart is pushing efficient trucks (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644238)

Walmart, owners of one of the largest trucking fleets, has been pushing to increase truck efficiency. They are experimenting with aeromods, hybrids, and sorts of stuff. If Walmart wants it, the manufacturers will build it.

Not used much on aircraft. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644064)

In fact I can not think of a single successful aircraft engine that used that design except for one German diesle engine that saw limited service on a few low production number aircraft in WWII . Maybe they where used on airships.
The real popular use for them was submarines and trains.

Bypass Detroit: Open Source Car (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644078)

There are still these open source cars [wikipedia.org] around; a cheap efficient (but close-sourced) engine and a transmission built around it, actually made in California, very affordable, compliant with its emission standards, I'm sure would do great in the market for people who don't want to gamble on car batteries lasting (cycles, not charge) long enough.

Not invented here... (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644090)

Actually Japan is noted for some industries having a corporate culture where "not invented here" takes hold.

http://www.economist.com/node/10169932 [economist.com]
http://www.business-strategy-innovation.com/2010/01/pay-attention-when-sony-and-japan.html [business-s...vation.com]

"Akira Takeishi of the Institute of Innovation Research at Hitotsubashi University has investigated why Japanese firms are highly competitive in some industries (carmaking, electronics, imaging products, video games) and less so in others (personal computers, software). He concluded that Japanese firms did best in manufacturing industries with closed product designs that do not require collaboration with the rest of the industry, and worst in fields based on open standards and modular architectures. So if the nature of innovation has changed, and it now depends on collaboration with other firms around the world, Japan could be in trouble. Japanese patents with foreign co-inventors accounted for less than 3% of the total, compared with 12% in America."

TFA browser alergy (1)

epine (68316) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644174)

TFA displays some page contents on my FF, then immediately refreshes to http://m.xconomy.com/ [xconomy.com] which formats a bunch of category links on IBM green and white printer paper, but contains no useful text.

I'm able to read a copy obtained by wget with no problems.

Re:TFA browser alergy (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644360)

I noticed that too; once I had the page loaded proper I just smacked ESC a few times and it interrupted whatever was doing the forwarding.

Re:TFA browser alergy (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644708)

This isn't the first time.

Slashdot doesn't need to fucking post xconomy Slashvertisements.

Buy a 1200hp diesel engine now... (1)

simp (25997) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644222)

The russians are already using opposed piston diesel engines in some of their tanks: http://www.morozov.com.ua/eng/body/addmotor.php [morozov.com.ua]. That's a very good power to weight ratio compared to diesel engines in western tanks. Ok, I admit that it is a bit overkill for the average commuter...

Niche market product model (1)

sjbe (173966) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644242)

Now, several startups are working to make these high-efficiency engines practical for cars, trucks, and light vehicles — but they're under no illusions that Detroit will adopt the idea.

That's because the primary technology for future auto transport is almost certainly based around electric motors with internal combustion engines moving to a supporting role. There may very well be a market for this sort of internal combustion engine but it is unlikely to become more than a niche product. Internal combustion engines will likely always be around but they really aren't going to get a whole lot more efficient than they already are. I very much doubt that this particular permutation on engine design will be radically better. The engineers in Detroit are not idiots even if the management and union leadership might be.

There are a lot of engine designs out there with unique advantages. The Wankel rotary engine is smooth, simple, and light and has a name that is fun to say. Unfortunately it also has seal problems and consumes fuel somewhat more briskly compared to a V8 with similar power and thus it is only produced by one mainstream manufacturer (Mazda). There are tradeoffs. We use the type of engines we use because the balance of their engineering tradeoffs makes/made sense. For a small weed whacker a two stroke air cooled engine makes a lot of sense. For a sports car, not so much.

I wish these guys luck but they have an unproven model of a product (read not even close to production) with significant engineering unknowns.

Compression ratio (1)

Drunkulus (920976) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644244)

There is nothing in the article that indicates a technological advancement over internal combustion engineering of the 1920's. Furthermore, compression ratios are not a limitation of a single piston engine design. Compression ratios for a gasoline engine are dictated by the quality of fuel likely to be available.

"not invented here" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37644300)

aka steal and copy rather than innovate themselves.

A visionary, an insufferable asshole, or both? (3, Insightful)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644322)

Sometimes a radical idea takes a lot of time to percolate in the minds of those who hear it, or even hear of it, before it starts to make sense to them. It's fine to go seeking more open minds to get the concept ironed out and start making money, but maybe he should also drop the scorned prophet act while he does it. Come back with his billion dollars and his 3 million Indian customers as the best damn proof of concept he could possibly have and negotiate with Detroit from a position of strength rather than badmouth the very people he wishes would do business with him.

Also, take a look at Mr. Cleeves Linkedin profile. His industry appears to be Semiconductors and his summary says "Leadership roles in technology development".

Nothing about engineering or materials or chemistry or any other field I'd imagine central to massively repurposing a large engine. But hey, a semiconductors guy with specialty in "Process management" should have doors flying open for him in Detroit.

I can't imagine a guy with that skill set could have an easy time convincing a heavy industry to listen to him, no matter what his idea. It doesn't mean the industry is a closed-minded bunch of trolls, as he seems to think; it just means that he's got no reputation and no credentials, just like the other thousand outsiders who try to send them ideas or schedule pitch meetings every year.

Get in line (1)

black mariah (654971) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644402)

Yet another in the very long line of home inventors that suddenly "discover" an idea that's been around for a very long time and subsequently shit themselves with anger when "Detroit" doesn't give two fucks about them. News flash: The auto industry spends billions of dollar a year in research and development. You are meaningless. What you have is not even a drop in their bucket. Quit kidding yourself that you have done anything revolutionary and just find a goddamn niche and make some money. Fucking twatholes...

been there! (1)

EETech1 (1179269) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644540)

When I was young I had this minibike that I bought at a garage sale, and it was my test bed for modified engines of all types! The only time it ever scared me was with an engine that I had made during my study halls in the metal shop out of a converted GM radial air conditioning compressor from a car. We took one apart in auto shop and I thought "now thats how you build an engine right there!" so I asked my two shop teachers about what they thought of such an animal, and they gave me everything I could ask for to make it happen. I whittled and lathed lots and lots of parts, and my two shop teachers helped too with getting whatever materials I needed to make it run (tore apart lots of small engines they new would contain helpful parts)

I got to run it in the parking lot at school, and it didn't last long, but it was much more powerful than any other engine I could stuff in that frame! Motocross bike (YZ 490), snowmobile (440 Liquifire) Motorcycle (750 Nighthawk) had nothin' on this thing for that two minutes of fury I got to have on school grounds!

The poor kids these days don't get to enjoy high school like I did!

Thanks to Mr Gwinn, Mr Iverson and Mr Mildebrandt, and all my other teachers who went the extra mile to keep school interesting for me!

I also think part of it (1)

nimbius (983462) | more than 2 years ago | (#37644588)

is the obvious foot-dragging old-guard mentality of Detroit.

theres no real incentive to change or innovate anything since they can lobby government bodies to simply inject cash when theyre punished by the market. these companies are headed by people who charter private jets to washington for their dole, and when faced with the disgusting irony of it simply cherry-pick a "hybid" or "green" car to return to washington with. the car or truck they drive doesnt matter, it wont be produced for consumption or if it was, it will be killed in a year (chrysler aspen anyone?)

Arguably the only incentive for chevy to produce the volt was that it was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by bureaucrats. As for ford and its hybrid malibu, it was a predictable cat-and-mouse reaction to the Camry, which had long been known to detroit as the yearly kick in the teeth from japan. Its hybrid drivetrain and regenerative braking were so embarassingly identical to toyotas synergy drive that it was forced into a patent deal.

so yeah i dont fault these guys for headed to silicon valley. detroit automotive industries are to engine design as Dennys is to the culinary arts.
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