Add Tech From The Mars Curiosity Rover To Your Old Car

Would you really like to take your old '76 Vega Kammback on the HOV lane, but you just can't convince anyone to ride with you? And, are you sick of the way that tired old engine sucks gas like it's gin in my uncle's secret Thermos? Sure you are. If that Vega was a hybrid, you could solve all these problems.

Well guess what, champ? You can. Because Professor Charles Perry at Middle Tennessee State University has developed a way to convert nearly any existing car into a not lame plug-in hybrid.

Professor Perry's fundamental idea is one that's been around since 1901, when Ferdinand Porsche developed the first hybrid vehicle, the Lohner-Porsche Mixte. That car used electric motors mounted in the hubs of the wheels, and that's exactly what Perry's system employs. This same system is used on the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars this Sunday as well. So that's not the revolutionary part about this. What makes the Middle Tennessee University's solution so remarkable is the design of the components themselves, and that they can be fitted to nearly any car.

The conversion consists of adding two three-phase brushless DC motors into the empty space within the rear wheel hubs, around the brake assemblies. Each motor produces about 200 ft-lbs of torque, and is employed to assist the normal gas-powered drivetrain of the car. The motor controllers and battery array is contained in a unit that will be about the size of a carry-on bag in the production version. The current version, with its larger battery/controller unit, is being tested in a '95 Honda Accord wagon.

With the electric assist in place, an average car can get between 50%-100% better fuel economy, primarily in lower-speed, in-town situations. Since this accounts for most of the driving people tend to do, the fuel savings is quite significant. The system is still in a testing/prototype phase now, but the hope is to have it available for about $3000.

Personally, I think this sounds like a good idea, and on many older cars I can see it having use to help get you home when you burn some valves or throw a rod or something. Don't think of it as making your old car a hybrid, think of making it a cyborg.

(Thanks, Garett!)