When trying to determine exactly what makes Corvette the icon that it is today, for some, there are certain non-negotiables. Many will remember not too long ago when all Corvettes featured hide-away headlights, and some will even recall the fervor that ensued when the C6 came out with that feature omitted. A similar bone of contention for many has hovered around the next-generation (C8) Corvette that apparently will have a mid-engine layout.
While many are savoring the engine’s migration to a closer relationship to the car’s transmission/transaxle, some are fearing that the move may cost them the option of rowing their own gearset. Talk of the mid-engine’s lack of self-selection gearing has been a thorn in the side of many enthusiasts who don’t equate automatics with performance. We’re happy to report that according to a recent patent published last month by GM Global Technology Applications LLC, the option of driver gear selection may still be available, albeit in a more techno-savvy manner.
Ions Over Fluid Ounces
There’s no doubting that we are in an electronic age, and a LOT of the benefits that we enjoy are directly due to the switch (pun intended) from mechanical to electronic means of getting things done. Electronic fuel injection, throttle by wire and even electronic steering have brought us so much more to our driving experience than we ever could receive through fluid and levers. The level of control is staggering, and when you’re trying to squeeze out every last mpg, fine-tuning that control is the only way to do it.
Now, it appears that operating a clutch plate is the next operation to fall victim to sensors and servos. This patent, recently published by the US Patent and Trademark Office shows application for a fully electronic slave cylinder designed to operate a clutch.
Much like the throttle position on many cars today, this system is designed to allow the operator to give input to the timing and amount of operation, but it also entails input via a computer, that also allows integration into the serial-data flow of the rest of the vehicle. The ramifications of that fact may not be fully known until these systems are seen on the open road, but consider how features like that could be switched between manual or automatic.
While we’re actually pretty strong proponents of most types of technology, we’ve also asked ourselves what this might mean in the case of a blown fuse or faulty sensor? Would it be the same as a blown clutch, a leaky hydraulic system or mis-aligned linkage? Would it have a default state or would it simply cease to operate in whatever state it was when the fault occurred (clutch engaged, disengaged or somewhere in between)?
there is a need for a new and improved clutch operating system and method for operation. – GM patent application
Sure, there are those who may ask such questions, but answers really won’t be known until the cars hit the road at the hands of enthusiasts like ourselves. Besides, even with all the fore-mentioned electronically controlled systems, there hasn’t been wide-spread bloodshed in the streets, so perhaps we’re just sketchy this morning.
The Nuts And Bolts Of Ion-Drive
As you would expect, the electronic slave cylinder is designed much like today’s hydraulic systems, except that its reservoir is full of ions, not fluid. While there have been instances where limited fluid flow has been blamed for affecting performance, we’ll have to wait and see if speed will be an issue or a benefit of this new design. According to the patent’s wording, “while current manual clutch operating systems achieve their intended purpose, there is a need for a new and improved clutch operating system and method for operation.” No mention of whether that “need” was derived from owners or GM’s engineers.
Covering all the bases, GM’s patent application allows for several versions of “slave cylinders”. Some could be mounted to the transmission, much like today’s fluid system, or internalized into the transmission itself. There are even allowances of mounting an actuator to the body of the vehicle (think Z-bar application). There were applications where electric motors may turn a gear to pressure the pressure plate and even more sci-fi, was the inclusion of a “magnetic field generating unit”, aka, a coil, that would operate the clutch engagement.
While we don’t know much about exactly how this system will operate thanks to a decidedly-vague patent application, time will certainly tell if it will bring additional benefits that overcome the complexity of such a system. One thing is for sure, at some point we’ll get a much better look at this mid-engined car that has been taunting us for too long. When that happens, perhaps we’ll also come face-to-face with our first electronic clutch actuation system.