Advanced science.  Applied technology.


SwRI highlights NEXTCAR II project advancements at 2023 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit

April 18, 2023 — Southwest Research Institute showcased the latest advancements in its ongoing NEXTCAR Phase II project at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. (March 22-24). The Institute’s NEXTCAR program aims to reduce vehicular energy consumption by 30% by developing innovative connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology. SwRI’s technology suite, which is mid-way through its second development phase, has seen significant progress.

In 2021, the DOE awarded a three-year, $5.25 million contract to SwRI as part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) NEXTCAR program. Phase I involved the development of a suite of algorithms that reduced energy consumption by more than 20% in real-world driving conditions using the connected technologies. SwRI received an R&D 100 award, recognizing its NEXTCAR work as one of the most significant innovations of 2022.

During Phase II, SwRI has made significant progress in building a Level 4 autonomous vehicle, fusing widely adopted sensing technologies, such as Lidar, with SwRI’s patented Ranger localization technology. This technology maintains vehicle position within 2 centimeters, in contrast to GPS measurements, which can vary by several meters. The automation stack integrates with SwRI’s drive-by-wire system, which uses electrical systems to replace mechanical brake and steering systems with minimal modifications to a vehicle.

“Over the last year, our team has demonstrated that these technologies are usable in fleets today and can reduce energy consumption and emissions,” said SwRI Senior Research Engineer Stas Gankov, who is working on the project with SwRI’s Scott R. Hotz and Sankar Rengarajan. “These technologies are showing highly promising results at this stage in development.”

The team conducted extensive testing on SwRI’s virtual-traffic-enabled test track, allowing them to simulate real-world scenarios and evaluate technology performance. They also tested vehicles traveling together in a synchronized formation or “platoon,” validating computational fluid dynamics models for cooperative platoon formation. Through these tests, the team demonstrated how synchronized driving could optimize efficiency and how its CAV technologies can help passenger vehicles operate more efficiently.

The R&D team is also seeking avenues to pilot the technology in real-world conditions and are open to working with fleet collaborators, original equipment manufacturers and suppliers to bring the technology to market.

“These technologies have the potential to revolutionize the transportation industry through its energy consumption and emissions reduction capabilities,” said Gankov. “We’re excited to continue our work on this critical project and look forward to realizing the technology to make our roads safer and more efficient. By working together with industry, we believe that we can make a significant contribution towards the development of sustainable transportation systems.”

As a leader in automotive engineering and intelligent systems, SwRI has several ongoing research initiatives to improve the efficiency and range of hybrid and electric vehicles in addition to lowering the emissions of internal combustion engine vehicles.

The “Eco-Mobility with Connected Powertrains” technology suite and the Phase II developments are available to license. For more information, contact Scott Hotz at +1 734 263 2606.

For more information, visit Connected Powertrain, contact Jesús Chávez at +1 210 522 2258, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.