Electric Mini fitted with 'thinking' wheels

Wheels that “think” are being added to an electric Mini with blistering performance developed by British engineers.

The “smart” wheels sense road conditions and modify the car’s performance accordingly.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will allow the wheels to communicate with each other and “learn” from experience as the car is driven.

The Mini Cooper, an early version of which was exhibited at last year’s British Motor Show, is powered by four wheel-mounted electric motors that together generate 640 brake horsepower.

As a result, the electric car performs more like a Ferrari than a milk float, with a top speed of 150 mph and the ability to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds.

A small 250cc petrol engine charges the car’s battery while it is being driven, giving it a range of 900 miles and fuel consumption of 80 to 100 miles to the gallon.

The Hampshire-based team working on the project, which is partly funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, hope the new Mini will revolutionise electric road transport.

Martin Boughtwood, director of PML Flightlink of Alton, told The Engineer magazine: “We had the belief that we could create a very efficient electric vehicle but could see no one was approaching it the right way. There’s a stigma attached to electric vehicles, but really they can out-perform combustion vehicles.”

The completed Mini will have no transmission and all its functions, including suspension and braking, will be linked by software.

Scientists from the University of Portsmouth were brought in to add the smart wheel technology after the car’s motor show appearance.

Although the driver will remain in control at all times, the AI system will “teach” the vehicle to adapt to bends in the road, potholes and other potential hazards.

The information will be logged in the car’s memory and used next time the car encounters similar conditions, allowing it to respond faster and improve the ride.

“If the car experiences familiar conditions it can compensate by controlling the linear motors in the suspension,” said Dr David Brown from the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Industrial Research. “It can also predict problems. If it encounters certain conditions it can predict that it is on a slippery road and prevent skidding.”

The car is being developed as a technology demonstrator, and not as a commercially available vehicle.

Most Read in World