Small and Lightweight Interconnects Inspire the Rise of Personal Electric Vehicles
The hottest electric vehicles aren’t cars; an expanding world of personal transport options is changing the mobility landscape in cities around the world, thanks to the design possibilities afforded by powerful miniaturized interconnects.
On an increasingly crowded planet, the ability to zip out of clogged traffic, park on congested streets, and lower transportation costs while preserving independence and flexibility has led to the rising popularity of personal electric vehicles, or PEVs. Outside of the car-centric West, personal transport is a dominant reality in cities like Mumbai, Jakarta, Lagos, and Shanghai, where kick and seated scooters, bikes and skateboards, mopeds, and motorcycles move millions of people. In China alone, where 250 million cars are on the roads, 350 million scooters are the more nimble and affordable choice. However, while motorized personal transport uses less petroleum than cars, small engines still contribute significant amounts of noise and toxic air pollution to already deafening and smog-congested urban centers. A shift towards electrification would have a profound effect on life in these places, and change is beginning to happen with a new generation of electrified vehicles.
In the next 10 years, the global electric scooter market alone is expected to more than double from $10.4 to $24.8 billion. India’s Ola Electric startup became a $5.4 billion company in its first two years and is quadrupling production to meet demand; it plans to produce two million e-scooters in 2024. In late 2023, Honda released its smallest vehicle ever, the Motocompacto, a foldable electric scooter with a price tag under $1,000.
As battery and electrification technologies refine, innovation in this category is contributing to the popularity of PEVs across the board. Electrification is transforming the market for personal vehicles of all types, including watercraft and snowmobiles. In 2023, Ski-Doo and Lynx introduced their first electric snowmobiles and Taiga introduced an electric jet ski that operates quietly and without leaving an oil slick on the water. Small, fast, and powerful interconnects are allowing designers to fit electronics into narrow PEV frames of all sizes.
Harry Huang, foreign sales manager at Tarng Yu Enterprise, said the interconnect company began to focus on personal electric vehicles about five years ago, when the booming e-bike market offered a natural transition from the company’s focus on custom solutions for consumer electronics. The small architectures of those devices led to the company’s focus on perfecting small, lightweight, yet powerful interconnects that could endure the rough operating conditions consumer products face. Those same qualities serve PEV designs, which require interconnects to fit inside narrow frame tubing or tight spaces, and to contribute to the minimization of weight to extend battery life. (The Motocompacto, for example, weighs just 41 pounds.)
“At the time, e-bikes were a relatively new industry and we had experience with high-end customizations for consumer products, so it was easy for us to design new products that had the qualities needed for e-bikes,” Huang said. “We produce all the internal connectors and harnesses used across the whole e-bike, including lighting, display, motors, and charging modules. Our products are A-A compatible and A-B compatible, as needed by the customer.”
During the pandemic, demand for e-bikes soared and the company began to innovate further, redesigning its waterproof IP66 interconnects to meet IP67 ratings with an internal sleeve and silicon O-ring to enhance sealing, as e-bikes, PEVs, and other light electric vehicles (LEVs) operate in all weather conditions.
“Now the challenge is to make an e-bike look like a regular bike, with all the cabling inside the frame, and even the battery in some models,” said Huang. In response, the company developed its TW0603 series (6 mm) outdoor waterproof signal connector with a keyed circular interface and then went even smaller with its 0704 series (7.7 mm by 5 mm), which features an entirely new mating face designed to fit within the confines of a bicycle handlebar. This rectangular interface looks similar to a D-sub but has the smallest mating face in the industry. Application uses include the front and back lights, GPS system, display POD, throttle system, brake system, and torque sensor.
PEV connectors take inspiration from other markets
The interconnects needed for PEVs take inspiration from interconnects used in consumer products, vehicles, and military products, but the combination of outdoor use, consumer rough handling, size and weight reduction requirements, and high performance have led to market-specific innovations at companies that have become involved in these markets.
Rosenberger’s RoPD connector was specifically designed for e-bikes, along with the RoDC, a 4-pin small, sealed data connector used for sensor and lighting applications on e-bikes. RoPD products enable both power and data transmission. Their magnetic locking features make it easy to make a secure connection in tight spaces or areas of a build where both ends of a connector aren’t visible to the installer, such as within a narrow bicycle frame. Luna Cycle also uses Rosenberger RoPD connectors in its charging design. Although e-bikes were the original inspiration for developing this connector, their reliability, durability, and lightweight nature has also made them popular with designers of drones and unmanned military vehicles. RoPO – Rosenberger Power Bike – low-voltage connectors up to 60 V DC have been developed with secure bayonet locking for uninterrupted data and power transmission. Seamless connectivity must be ensured, and the connector must be easy to plug and unplug.In many ways, the connectivity features on larger PEVs, such as electric motorcycles, ATVs, or snowmobiles, are not very different than those used in automotive systems. “It really varies by application, but in general, automotive connectors are preferred,” said Steine Hermann, product marketing manager at JAE. “If the connectors adhere to automotive standards, they will succeed in powersports, ATVs, and snowmobiles. We do see an increased demand for sealed connectors in PEVs because there isn’t a roof or cab section to keep compartments dry as with a car. The auxiliary devices [headlights, analog/digital odometers, etc.] used for power sports generally draw the same power or less than with automobiles because power sports vehicles are generally smaller and lighter. Other important features for connectors in this realm are their ability to be versatile, convenient, fail-safe, durable, and long lasting. Other factors include keying options, wire size options, TPA locking, lightweight, flame-retardant material, vibration tolerance, and heat tolerance.”
The goal is to offer the reliability, durability, and performance customers experienced with gas-powered performance sports modes, with the bonus of clean, quiet operations. “I like cars. I like powersports, I like motorsports. I like going fast,” said Hermann. “But electricity over gas to save the planet.”
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