Since its inception Corvette has been known for showcasing new and innovative technologies. From the 1953’s fiberglass body to the C3’s fiber optic light monitoring system to the more recent Magnetic Ride Control systems Corvette continues to set the technological pace for GM. The C7 follows suit by using an aluminum frame and more stealthily, a new Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) wire to control the hidden rear hatch vent.
Although seldom seen by owners, most all cars have a hidden vent or pressure relief valve which purges air from the interior when the doors are closed. If not installed, closing doors and rear hatches or trunks would be more difficult because you’re basically actually trying to force more air into a fixed volume of space (in this case, the vehicle interior). Instead of using a heavy electric motor to control the vent, the 2014 Corvette Stingray saves over a pound of mass by using a new wire which retains its shape until it subjected to a small current at which time it returns to its original form.
The new SMA’s are usually made up of copper-aluminum-nickel or nickel-titanium and can change their shape, strength, and/or stiffness when activated by heat, stress, a magnetic field or electrical voltage.
“Smart materials like shape memory alloys offer new possibilities for many movable vehicle features,” said Jon Lauckner, GM’s chief technology officer. “These new materials enable innovative designs and new and improved features at a lower cost than traditional motors and actuators.”
In the short video below GM Smart Materials Researcher Paul Alexander tells us about this new technology, how it works, and where this hidden part is located on the C7. He demonstrates the new smart material first by stretching a spring, releasing it, and then heating it up until it returns to its original shape. One of the more interesting items in the video is a chart showing how electric motor usage in passenger cars has increase since the 1970’s. Note how quickly they’ve proliferated over the last the few decades. With that in mind you can imagine why it’s so important to minimize these small, but heavy items in a car.
“The shape memory alloy used on the new Corvette represents nearly five years of research and development work on smart materials for which GM has earned 247 patents,” said Paul Alexander, GM smart materials and structures researcher. “And it is just the beginning. We have many more smart material applications in the pipeline that will bring even more improvements to our vehicles going forward.”
We’re looking forward to hearing about more of these new smart materials and widgets as more details about the 2014 Corvette are released.
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