South Dakota Patent of the Month – August 2021

Autonomous vehicles use sensors to acquire data from objects or details surrounding the vehicle. This data then informs the navigational control system to help the car travel safely. As autonomous vehicles are being developed, so are the mechanisms to power them without needing human operators. Traditional gas or diesel engines still need operators present. Anderson Industries, Inc. has designed a fuel cell powered battery to power these autonomous vehicles.

This fuel cell design successfully powers agricultural, residential, and industrial vehicles – from skid steers to cars. Fuel cells have high energy density compared to internal combustion engines. The fuel cell stack uses chemical processes to convert a hydrocarbon fuel directly to electricity with as few moving parts as possible. Removal of moving parts simplifies the necessary maintenance and makes it more readily autonomous – no need for oil changes, filter changes, coolants etc. Each wheel is powered by its own electric motor which draws power from the fuel cells. The fuel cells are powered by hydrogen produced by fuel reformers. It converts a conventional fuel source like gas or diesel to pure hydrogen. This method removes the need to transport hydrogen tanks. The fuel cell is coupled to sensors and a control system to properly fuel the vehicle. For instance, a vehicle used to move bales of hay may use LIDAR sensors to detect where the bale of hay is and the fuel cell powers the lifting and forward motion of the arms on the skid steer to pick up the bale of hay. This provides a better chance for autonomous control of vehicles.

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