22 September 2009
Father, son engineering team develop hybrid RV
With fuel costs continuing to rise, people planning to travel by vehicle continue to give it a long hard look. Having said that, one father-son engineering duo with a passion for RV travel decided to combat the problem by creating a concept for an electric-hybrid passenger vehicle with the ability to improve fuel economy and increase the acceleration of the motorhome towing it.
Dr. Steve Shepard Jr., University of Alabama associate professor of mechanical engineering, and his father, Dr. Steve Shepard Sr., a former faculty member and researcher at Mississippi State University, developed the idea for a hybrid dinghy pusher after the cost of fuel curtailed both families’ traveling plans.
In this concept, the dinghy consists of a hybrid SUV towed by the RV. When driven as a standard automobile, the SUV operates as a fully-functional hybrid vehicle. When towed behind a RV, the engineers can then switch the SUV into the hybrid dinghy pusher (HDP) mode, where the vehicle only utilizes the electrical portion of the hybrid-SUV. The HDP works by going into generator mode and storing energy when going downhill, and energy previously stored in the batteries helps push the RV up-hill. The previously stored electrical energy in the HDP can also help accelerate the RV more quickly from a stop or while just driving down the road.
A conventional hybrid SUV utilizes its electric system to recycle energy when being towed. The HDP’s onboard motors provide propulsion during acceleration and act as electric generators during braking. The assistance provided to the RV by the HDP should not replace the propulsion provided by the RV engine; it simply supplements it to improve acceleration and reduces wear on the RV engine. Unlike typical towed dinghies, RVs towing an HDP experience a decrease in fuel consumption and an increase in acceleration performance.
Hybrid motorhomes are just now coming onto the market, and they are expensive, said the younger Shepard. Besides being a cheaper alternative to a hybrid motorhome, the greatest advantage of this new concept is the HDP not only assists the RV in transit, but it also provides the owners with a hybrid vehicle to drive after arriving to their destination. Other advantages of implementing such a system would be better gas mileage, reduced rate of wear on brake components, and improved mobility for users of RVs and the dinghy.
Working with Alabama’s Office for Technology Transfer, the Shepards are in the process of securing a development partner to bring the technology to the market. The team has filed a U.S. provisional patent.
For related information, go to www.isa.org/manufacturing_automation.