Cheetah Tail Could Prevent Car Rollovers, Seriously

CheetahTailPolicevSUV

Along with anthropomorphic accessories like eyelashes and mustaches, it's not uncommon to see cars dressed up with plush jungle-cat tails affixed to their rear end, especially in a college town where the dominant sports mascot is, say, a tiger. Researchers in South Africa have found that a tail on a car may in fact be a breakthrough in preventing high-speed rollovers. But the tail belongs to the cheetah and it isn't just for show.

Researchers at the University of Cape Town in South Africa have developed a miniature robotic car that takes biomechanics cues from the world's fastest land animal, specifically the way it uses its tail, to keep from toppling over during high-speed maneuvers.

Do Any New Cars Have Four-Wheel Steering?

The tail experiments could have implications with regard to how vehicles are, well, tailored — particularly emergency-response vehicles such as ambulances, police cars and military vehicles — to literally give them catlike agility at higher speeds. According to pbs.org, Cape Town researchers found that the addition of the "actuated tail" on the robotic car enabled stable turns at more than twice the speed it otherwise would have been capable of without tipping. The robotic tail acts as a counterbalance to the car's high center of gravity and more evenly distributes weight across all four tires; this would help top-heavy vehicles to remain stable without affecting ride height, pbs.org reported.

"To investigate the effect that a swinging tail during that turn has, you'll see that there is a reactive torque on the rigid body, which would counter that toppling moment and thus keep the body in a straight line," said Amir Patel, robot designer at the University of Cape Town, in a report on the CBS Radio Network program "The Osgood File."

Several luxury vehicles — the Acura RLX, Porsche 911 Turbo, BMW 5, 6 and 7 Series and Infiniti M37/M56 — already have been offering four-wheel steering, which typically turns all four wheels in the same direction at high speeds, more evenly distributing weight for improved stability. The feature has been available on various models for decades but has yet to enter the mainstream.

How the concept of a cheetah-tailed vehicle would manifest itself in the real world is far from being known. If you watch the video above, you'll see that the tail, perhaps more like an arm, would likely whack every car it attempted to pass on the interstate. And that would be a cat-astrophe (sorry).

By Matt Schmitz | February 14, 2014 | Comments (11)

Comments 

James

Can't humans come up with a sliding weight lower down in overall body? Don't EVs have the potential to have their centroid so low that it won't matter? Or does the whipping effect, rotational momentum change give it the ability to offset more than a mere centroid change can?

I wonder how the rotational momentum of Porsche 918 and such flywheel cars affect their ability to change the axis of the car; either normal steering or roll overs? Because, if one takes even a MILD flywheel and manually tried to offset it on its axis of rotation, you'll quickly learn about the forces you're dealing with. And I wonder if that is a pro or con for road-going cars?

James,
From my understanding it is really the taller vehicles like SUVs, trucks etc. that are used by first responders that need the help. Think Ambulances in terms of a vehicle that needs to move fast. But you're right on in terms of EVs and sports cars.

Wain

I'm seen lot's of these Explorers being used by highway patrol,
they go way too fast. It's only a matter of time.

Jon

I dunno, it seems like a pretty bad idea. Better damper technology and anti-roll bars seem like a much more useful thing, especially considers the limits of tire grip. Maybe you want your ambulance or whatever taking a sharp turn at 30 miles an hour, but do you really want a 4 ton vehicle hitting the limits of grip and sliding through a corner?

Yngvey

Mount the spare tire vertically in the center rear of the car, attached to a computer-controlled servomotor that could spin it at high speed to torque the vehicle opposite the direction of lean.

boeingboy

Maybe Ford could bring back the Mercury Cougar!

John Dziak

Notice the potential for between-vehicle communications. Your tail can bristle up if you're mad. You can slink by with your tail between your legs. Or if everything's just fine, you can wag your tail with joy.

As a Tesla owner/driver, I'm guessing you haven't put the Tesla S through the test. The dense, low-riding mass of the battery gives this care incredible road-grabbing agility. Try it.

Karl

So. The "tail" (I am deducing this) would be a vertically mounted wheel with a motor. To maximize rotational inertia, the wheel should be heavy, or large, or both. The motor should have high torque, to push hard, quickly, against the car and wheel. (And it should have constant torque, regardless of RPMs.) So this is a heavy, expensive, complicated device, that is only useful in hard cornering. (And if you get several hard turns in one direction, the wheel could end up being "saturated" and unable to absorb more torque without burning out the bearings. Google "reaction wheel.") I'll pass.

Even if you could make an ambulance take a turn at 50 MPH, i'm not so sure the staff inside it and the equipment could. I can just imagine the tech doing CPR in the back on an 80 year old while at 1.5 G-force.
Go Gramma....

rafael

The terrain management system helped that Ford Explorer a lot.

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