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You Always Remember Your First: Revisiting Bose Ride - Technologue

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 11/27/2014 Frank Markus
Even the best lowrider’s aircraft hydraulics would be hard-pressed to replicate this electromagnetic feat.© Provided by MotorTrend Even the best lowrider’s aircraft hydraulics would be hard-pressed to replicate this electromagnetic feat.

My very first Motor Trend Technologue column, dated January 2005 and titled “Riding on Electrons,” covered a suspension technology the Bose Corporation had been quietly tinkering with for 24 years. The late Dr. Amar Bose aimed to leapfrog air and hydraulic suspensions with a new concept: electromagnetic rams. The gathered crowd watched as a Lexus LS 400 equipped with said suspenders glided over speed bumps and around fast bends without pitching or rolling, and for the grand finale the big Lexus quite literally leapfrogged right over a 2-x-6 plank standing on edge across the road.

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That last was a parlor trick devised to make an impression and demonstrate the power of these electromagnetic rams. I’ve never forgotten it, and I’ve (fruitlessly) pestered the Bose PR team for an exclusive early ride in a production version for 10 years. That pestering (sort of) paid off recently in the form of an invitation to Bose’s 50th birthday party in N.Y.C., which featured a roundup of tech highlights including one called Bose Ride. Sign me up!

Sadly, after 34 years no production car suspension awaited me in the Big Apple, though there’s still a semi-dormant development program. I’m told that Bose’s ultra-quick electronic switching capability (an audio-system strength) allows the rams to regenerate most of the 100 kW of energy they expend, so the system only draws a few hundred watts going down the road. Many of the mass and packaging problems have been solved, and the cost of the various sensors and processors involved has plunged in the last decade.

For the grand finale the big Lexus quite literally leapfrogged right over a 2-x-6 plank.

It’s those developments that have enabled Bose Ride, which is a one-fifth-scale version of this technology that’s in production as a seat suspension for semi tractors. The functionality is nearly identical: A load-leveling air spring supports the mass of the seat and its occupant while an electromagnetic ram counteracts the higher frequency ride and mechanical vibration inputs. A built-in battery buffers the peak power input/output of 3.5 kW, so the power draw from the vehicle is just 50 W. If you’ve experienced the relaxing effect Bose’s noise-canceling headphones have on your ears, you can imagine what a treat a vibration-canceling seat would be to a trucker’s backside.

Erasing the copious vibration present in big semis has tremendous health benefits for people who spend a majority of their waking life at the wheel, which is why many fleet operators are spending the $2,995-$3,695 each (for orders over/under 100 units) to retrofit this system to their trucks. Owner/operators can buy one for $5,995 including installation, and the system is now a factory option on Volvo trucks.

The technology has also been deployed in materials-strength testing rigs that can stretch and relax a specimen with up to a few thousand pounds of force, 10 times faster than a mechanical test rig. I expect the basic concept to be deployed in other applications where people or delicate things need to be moved through a high vibration or harshness environment. And I cling to the fervent hope that some bold-thinking, deep-pocketed automotive trailblazer will throw down the durability development budget to bring this suspension to market on a car. Paired with today’s affordable road-sensing equipment, an air-suspended, electromagnetically controlled suspension is the best solution I’ve seen to providing fully active ride control. Mr. Musk, are you listening?

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