After a little mishap I suffered in my Jet Black 918, going off on the INSIDE of the infamous Crowthorne corner at South Africa’s Kyalami racetrack in 2019, today will be my first time back on a circuit. It’s only thanks to the amazing surgeon, Sir Timothy Noakes, who printed some pretty trick Carbon nano-tubes on his office 3D printer and fused my Graphene replica-spine together so that at least I didn’t look like a rapper on coke, that I get to “drive” again.
I never thought that jockeying a set of wheels around the neighborhood could ever be a problem, but then again I never thought I’d be doing that hooked up to an ECU the size of a proverbial matchbox, with the processing power 100 times greater than the Challenger spaceship! Oh, I forgot to mention this thing reads my thoughts in order to pilot me around and keep me safe; at first, there were some anxious moments when my thoughts got a little competitive and less pedestrian, but I now realize how great ART (Automated Robotic Transport) really is!
Over the past few years I’ve also grown a whole new circle of “Friends”: All super smart and all independent thinkers – or as I knew them before my big sleep; Autonomus (Self-driving) cars. These guys have been great: No steering wheel, no loud pedal, clutch or brake, but damn the first time ART, or it might have been Fred, took me out on the four lane back roads in the forests of Mpumalanga, I must admit it reminded me of a short stint in the suicide seat of a Ford Focus RS RX back in the day: White knuckles with a screaming exhaust note, generated by the Yamaha designed Sound Symposer, as a funeral march.
Insanely late braking, never missed the apex and the exit speed… ohhh the exit speed! I remember glancing around me wanting to acknowledge this super cyber-Stig, and feeling a little lonely at the time.
But today is different, we’ve got a real P Car – Porsche’s latest 908TAh RS (T no longer stands for turbo, but for turbine hybrid) autonomous super-hyper-car, with one of the last petrolhead humans piloting the plot on a real closed circuit. I must also say it’s great to see Ferry’s original 90x numbering standing proudly next to the original Zufenhausen/ Stuttgart shield; even though it comes as a result of the demise of Peugeot who has long since been digested by previous JV partner Guangzhou Automobile Company, and previously held the right to all 90x naming.
Looking at this treasured badge makes me wonder why Beijing are pushing so hard to have it replaced by the Coat of Arms of this hub of the industrialised world: Although the famous Zufenhausen company relocated to Beijing in 2028 Porsche will always be associated with the prancing horse of Stuttgart.
Having coughed up our $US 2.8 Million for the day, including the obligatory government penguin-tax (African Bribe), We have the historic Greenpoint race theme park all to ourselves for a full 4 hours: Let’s go play is all I can think of – even if I’m a passenger, in what would normally be ART’s office.
Small hiccup though: This artificial intelligence has no controls – lest us inferior humans, molest ourselves by countering our masters’ wishes! As Google predicted in those early days of selfdriving cars, it’s extremely dangerous to have a human intervene with the 1080Kw 908’s nose pointing at the apex and smoking the 305CK15ZR (CK being the relatively new development of Carbon Kevlar “self-healing” rubber and ZR being a rating of a constant V of 400Km/h) rear tyres. Ask me, after rearranging my body parts on impact with the inside safety embankment in my crash 15 years ago; human decision making can be seriously flawed.
Fortunately, our 908TAh comes with the RS sport package, which includes fold away controls that can only be activated under special (Costly) circumstances by a representative of the Autonomous Regulatory Study Executive (ARSE), and doubles the price when the ARSE taxes are included. But it’s the only way we can get to really drive the beast.
Don’t forget all driving dynamics are monitored, adjusted and ultimately controlled by an array of virtually partitioned 64core microprocessors. Everything from slip angles on all four wheels, to centre of balance, weight distribution and transfer, and torque vectoring, on both axles in the AWD configuration, are all controlled by the vehicles self-learning artificial intelligence. And I thought that somewhere there’d be a switch that we flip that makes it all human? Not bloody likely!
Connecting to the 908 through the Ethernet, a quick check of all the vehicles systems is performed and recorded, while the 1080 is throttled back to 900KW if interesting weight distribution and slip angles are approached, which could exceed the torque vectoring capacity. At the same time the controls unfold themselves from their manmade caves and all airbags (23 of them) are reprogrammed to deploy at a max G of +/- 6.6 – enough to crack your intelligently inflated carbon Kevlar helmet, but too little to turn you into a social liability in a cabbage farm.
Even cynical me has a grudging appreciation for the engineers that fought governments, ethics studies and lawyers to bring this magnificent marvel of automotive engineering to life. And I would personally like to show my appreciation to the geek that programmed the Sound Symposer to howl like a wolf with the vocal chords of a flat 12; reminiscent of a 917 down the Mulsanne! I swear I could feel my right toe twitch excitedly, at the glorious sound!
Hitting the track from pitlane the 908 nudges 100 in less than two seconds thanks to the 1080Kw being produced by the six (Yes that’s right: one hub motor per wheel and one inboard for each rear wheel) motors.
The guys in the white coats didn’t just wake up one morning and think that six motors would be cool; no the six-motor layout with independent power feeding each wheel provides an ideal configuration for torque vectoring which is managed by a central chassis electronic control unit. Four-way torque vectoring guarantees maximum cornering stability at high speed and eliminates the requirement for old fashioned complex and heavy mechanical differentials.
Looking at the drivetrain you could be excused for holding your breath in anticipation of some outlandish storage battery, but I’m relieved to say that this is refreshingly low-tech: The system using 2,376 cylindrical 18650 Lithium-Manganese-Oxide battery cells, relies on a really smart battery management system to manage the 20 kWh (at 720 V). Thanks to the battery management system, the battery pack can be charged by the turbine generator (Remember the T in 908T?) in approximately 40 minutes.
To make sure this power is available to drive the beast, the roof and rear decklid are covered in “Sprayon” Li-ion batteries, developed by a team of mechanical engineers from Rice University and similar to those commonly found in paint used for housing.
By breaking down the different components of a battery and rendering them into a liquid form, the technology has revolutionized widespread renewable energy capture, storage and utilization.
Being a captive passenger in this rocketship I do what most owners of high-tech toys do; I rummage through the glovebox for the handbook to look for the inside story, only to find that all the info I want can be accessed by way of the virtual HUD … which can only be used in self driving mode (Only driving info is flashed across the HUD). So it’s back to the book in the glovebox – some things just never change.
Micro-turbines used as range-extenders.
And this is where the workings of the 908 are revealed: In this day and age where EVs control 95% of the market small ICE range extenders are common, but the 908 has bucked the trend in favour of turbines or, more correctly micro turbines. These units commonly found in the aviation industry are mid-mounted and configured to run on liquid fuel such as aviation-kerosene, diesel or gasoline as well as, on the touring version, hydrogen, biogas and natural gas. These turbines generate electricity that charges the battery pack which in turn powers the switched reluctance motors driving the wheels.
Air drawn into the micro turbine, mounted behind the passenger cabin and in front of the rear wheels, is passed through a heat exchanger where heat from the hot exhaust gas is transferred to the cold intake air after it has been compressed. Ignition of the compressed and heated fuel-air mixture drives the turbine vanes. As this hot exhaust gas is expelled, it passes through the heat exchanger to ensure the heat energy is recuperated and transferred to cold intake air to continue the cycle.
Each turbine spinning, at over 96,000RPM, is directly coupled to a generator and together they pump out 36 kW; 30 kW is used to charge the battery, which powers the motors, and 6 kW is used to run auxiliary equipment such as the inverters.
Compared to the power generated, this system is decidedly skinny with the complete range-extender system (micro-turbine, inverters, fuel pumps, air pumps, and generator, but excluding batteries and motors) weighing in at a mere 100 kg.
Sitting in the form hugging Ergo seats covered in stylish lab-grown ostrich skin I can’t help but marvel at the technology the company has developed… just to charge the batteries. Back in the day I’d be reading about the specs of the ICE that actually powered the car, instead I grapple to get my head around a functioning series production air bearing!
The high rotational speeds that the turbine shaft spins at to pump the required volume of air, means that low friction bearings are paramount in achieving the efficiency that the system requires. To make this happen Porsche apply air-bearing technology; using a high-pressure feed of compressed air instead of a traditional oil lubricant film to separate the shaft from the bearing. This reduces frictional losses since it eliminates parasitic losses of a mechanical bearing. The use of an air bearing system is not unique, but still not widely used in the motor industry.
If you thought that was cool then this will really blow you away: The air bearing is also supported by a magnetic field that allows for precise adjustment of the high-speed shaft. Whilst the magnetic bearing only maintains a far greater clearance between the shaft and its wall lining, both bearing systems work together to maintain stability.
This is especially important in the automotive application of the turbine system because—unlike in stable power generation conditions—the entire assembly must be able to withstand vertical shocks from uneven road surfaces and lateral forces in cornering.
And for the more cynical of you, who may be asking: “So what?” Not only does the 908 sprint to 100 in under 2 seconds but it can travel forever on a teaspoon of gas: Around town, using the turbines as range extenders, the standard batteries will see the 908 cover more than 2,500Km on 80 liters of avgas or any other fuel with an equivalent calorific value.
Wow, that’s absolutely amazing! Even I, the ultimate petrolhead have to admit this new EV technology is exciting; different to cams and turbos, but still uber cool. And as if to prove the point I’m almost squeezed through the automated Inteli Seat Aanchorage system as we hit the apex of the parabolica at some insane speed with the HUD confirming 4.8g!
Self-healing CF mimics human healing process.
As is common in the era of high-performance EVs the backbone of the 908 is a carbon-fiber monocoque providing exceptional torsional rigidity and passenger safety. The body structure is also lightweight carbon fiber, including the dihedral doors.
But, as with everything else on the 908 even the CF is unique – it heals itself when it “suffers” a minor injury. The healing takes place by way of tiny, hollow “microspheres” that have been added to the hollow carbon material – so small that they look like a powder to the human eye – which break on impact, releasing a liquid healing agent.
The agent seeps into the cracks left by the damage before coming into contact with a catalyst, triggering a rapid chemical reaction which causes it to harden.
Also made from carbon fibre, the rear subframe carries the primary range extender components, including the micro turbine generator and direct ancillary systems, as well as the cooling systems for the electric traction motors and battery pack, and the rear motors and inverters.
Under the carbon-fibre body, a longitudinal T-shaped battery back runs down a central spine of the car, providing the same appearance in the passenger cabin as a transmission tunnel would in a front-engine, rear wheel drive car. The battery pack is liquid cooled to maintain an optimal operating temperature for the cells.
As Isaac Newton put it: “For every action there has to be an equal and opposite reaction” and with such power and speed on tap the reaction is provided by 405 mm ventilated discs with six-piston calipers at the front, and 380 mm ventilated discs with four-piston calipers at the rear.
What really amazes me is how well the low slung 908 smoothes out the surface imperfections of the somewhat tired asphalt. The Magnetec dampers are so well developed that they not only control dive under braking they automatically soften up the bump dampening, which gives an almost dreamlike glide.
And if you choose to activate Harman’s active noise cancelling (ANC) system, you really do believe you’re having a dream! The ANC uses four in-cabin microphones, along with four strategically placed accelerometers in the chassis and a proprietary processor to create sound that is 180-degrees out of phase with the noise and vibrations entering the vehicle.
This essentially cancels out the noise, creating a quiet, sureal environment, that the technology doesn’t interfere with music performance or the exhaust note generator. In fact, the resulting quiet is more conducive to satisfying sound quality.
What’s even more remarkable is the turn in … Porsche has always been blessed with race car turn-in response but with 4 whee- steering this is taken to new levels. Coupled to the electronically controlled vectoring this makes an expert driver out of even the uninitiated!
An interesting hologram pops up on the HUD as we hit the apex on a steeply cambered turn: It depicts 4 wheels with a psychedelic heat graph across each tyre surface. This is not there as mere entertainment – the tyre temperature gradient is fed into a processor which in turn adjusts tyre pressures and Caster Camber & Toe until the load is homogeneous across each tyre. Star wars stuff indeed.
With the start finish line rapidly approaching, my stint in the latest automotive wizardry reminds me of how far the industry has come since the days when ICEs ruled; when JD Power’s 3 year durability industry average was 110 Problems per 100 vehicles (Now on 15) and only the superrich could afford a 918 – now you cannot own one, but rather you have to RentShare.
Although the storyline exists only in my fertile imagination, and no humans were harmed in the production, the technology does exist in various guises to make this highly likely within the next 100 years.
Although loss of life and road safety is obviously extremely important, this technology will probably take a further 100 years to be implemented in the parts of the world that really will benefit – the developing regions such as Africa, certain parts of Asia and South America.