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Japan's new weight-saver: Parts that power themselves

Automotive News reports on new technology from Japan that allows components in cars to power themselves.

TOKYO--Fed up with the yards of cables wound around their products to power such parts as sensors and switches, Japanese carmakers are taking hybrid technology to the next level.

The goal is to develop components that need no external power sources and can transform small amounts of vibration, heat, or light into the electricity they need to operate.

It's much the same principle as a mechanical watch that winds itself through the movement of a person's arm.

Research affiliates of Honda and Toyota are among the members of a new 21-company-strong Japanese consortium aiming to pioneer such technology and promote it internationally.

Application in cars could eliminate the need for the lengthy cables that send power to the dozens of sensors mounted throughout a vehicle. That could save space and weight and help improve fuel efficiency.

Italian tire maker Pirelli S.p.A. already uses the technology in its Cyber Tyre. A computer chip in the tire, which relays such information as air pressure and road conditions to the driver, is powered by drawing on the kinetic energy of the vibrating tire.

General Motors Co. and BMW are among the carmakers trying to convert engines or exhaust heats into energy for a car's electronics, according to the Japanese trade journal Nikkei Electronics.

The concept, known as energy harvesting, also could be applied to fields such as electronics. But widespread use is still limited by high costs and the added bulk of such gadgets.

"The consortium is still studying the issue from various angles and exchanging information among its members," Toyota Motor Corp. spokes-man Paul Nolasco said. "As such, nothing has been decided yet regarding joint development or commercialization."

Japan's alliance, led by the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting Inc., was formed in May. A spokesman said there is no timeline for a commercial rollout of a product.

(Source: Automotive News)