Future modes of transport will be environmentally friendly and sparing in their use of natural resources thanks to intelligent sensors, lightweight materials, new technologies and high-performance batteries. This is what is keeping researchers busy in the various institutes based in the city. Niels Modler is one of them. He is a professor at the Institute for Lightweight Engineering and Polymer Technology of TU Dresden (ILK) and runs the largest department for Lightweight Construction in the whole of Europe. Approximately three kilometres away from the Transparent Factory, he and his colleagues are trying to find out how electric cars can be made to weigh less. They are looking into so-called ‘sandwich materials’, i.e. a covering layer of steel over a fibre composite core which combines the advantages of both components to produce a lightweight vehicle body. “Ultra-lightweight cars save on fuel,” explains Modler.
Working in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology (IWS), his team has recently succeeded in developing a hybrid of textile thermoplastic and metal. In a joint project with Thyssenkrupp, they have looked at the potential of a steel and carbon mix and managed to get the weight of a prototype car down to less than 900 kilos. “Lightweight construction is a key technology for e-mobility,” adds Modler. Dresden has gained an international reputation as a research hub for lightweight technology, especially since the establishment of the Research Center Carbon Fibers Saxony (RCCF), which focuses on the development of carbon fibres that have the capacity to revolutionise lightweight construction. Modler is able to draw on input from innovative researchers at other institutes, a bonus which he calls “the Dresden spirit”.
Driverless cars could appear on the streets of Dresden sooner than many people think. Parking sensors in the car are connected to a central computer, which then informs other drivers about available spaces. According to the research department at VW, robot taxis or autonomous vehicles that drive in convoy along the motorways and brake and accelerate by themselves could become a reality by 2020. They have given a name to this vision of the future: Modellstadt Elektromobilität (Model city: e-mobility). The city police are already pioneering the concept in electric patrol cars. Meanwhile, the municipal transport services in Dresden have switched some of their buses to lightweight and quiet-running carbon-fibre aluminium rims and can’t wait for the new technology to go into series production.