Reading: / Multiple Choice Type Question (MCQ) / Part 7

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-5 which are based on Passage1.


Computerized design, advanced materials and new technologies are being used to produce machines of a type never seen before.

It looks as if it came straight from the set of Star Wars. It has four-wheel drive and rises above rocky surfaces. It lowers and raises its nose when going up and down hills. And when it comes to a river, it turns amphibious: two hydro-jets power it along by blasting water under its body. There is room for two passengers and a driver, who sit inside a glass bubble operating electronic, aircraft-type controls. A vehicle so daring on land and water needs windscreen wipers, but it doesn't have any. Water molecules are disintegrated on the screen's surface by ultrasonic sensors.


This unusual vehicle is the Raccoon. It is an invention not of Hollywood but of Renault, a rather conservative French state-owned carmaker, better known for its family hatchbacks. Renault built the Raccoon to explore new freedoms for design­ers and engineers created by advances in materials and manufacturing processes. Renault is thinking about startlingly different cars; other producers have radical new ideas for trains, boats and aeroplanes.

The first of the new freedoms is in design. Powerful computer-aided design (CAD) systems can replace with a click of a computer mouse hours of laborious work done on thousands of drawing boards. So new products, no matter how com­plicated, can be developed much faster. For the first time, Boeing will not have to build a giant replica of its new airliner, the 777, to make sure all the bits fit together. Its CAD system will take care of that.

But Renault is taking CAD further. It claims the Raccoon is the world's first vehicle to be designed within the digitised world of virtual reality. Complex pro­grams were used to simulate the vehicle and the terrain that it was expected to cross. This allowed a team led by Patrick Le Quement, Renault's industrial-design director, to "drive" it long before a prototype existed.

Renault is not alone in thinking that virtual reality will transform automotive design. In Detroit, Ford is also investigating its potential. Jack Telnac, the firm's head of design, would like designers in different parts of the world to work more closely together, linked by computers. They would do more than style cars. Virtual reality will allow engineers to peer inside the working parts of a vehicle. Designers will watch bearings move, oil flow, gears mesh and hydraulics pump. As these tech­niques catch on, even stranger vehicles are likely to come along.

Transforming these creations from virtual reality to actual reality will also become easier, especially with advances in materials. Firms that once bashed every­thing out of steel now find that new alloys or composite materials (which can be made from mixtures of plastic, resin, ceramics and metals, reinforced with fibers such as glass or carbon) are changing the rules of manufacturing. At the same time, old materials keep getting better, as their producers try to secure their place in the factory of the future. This competition is increasing the pace of development of all materials.

One company in this field is Scaled Composites. It was started in 1982 by Burt Rutan, an aviator who has devised many unusual aircraft. His company develops and tests prototypes that have ranged from business aircraft to air racers. It has also worked on composite sails for the America's Cup yacht race and on General Motors' Ultralite, a 100-miles-per-gallon experimental family car built from carbon fibre.

Again, the Raccoon reflects this race between the old and the new. It uses con­ventional steel and what Renault describes as a new "high-limit elastic steel" in its chassis. This steel is 30% lighter than the usual kind. The Raccoon also has parts made from composites. Renault plans to replace the petrol engine with a small gas turbine, which could be made from heat-resisting ceramics, and use it to run a generator that would provide power for electric motors at each wheel.

With composites it is possible to build many different parts into a single compo­nent. Fiat, Italy's biggest car maker, has worked out that it could reduce the number of components needed in one of its car bodies from 150 to 16 by using a compos­ite shell rather than one made of steel. Aircraft and cars may increasingly be assem­bled as if they were plastic kits.

Advances in engine technology also make cars lighter. The Ultralite, which Scaled Composites helped to design for General Motors, uses a two-stroke engine in a "power pod" at the rear of the vehicle. The engine has been developed from an East German design and weighs 40% less than a conventional engine but produces as much power. It is expected to run cleanly enough to qualify as an ultra-low emissions vehicle under California's tough new rules.


Questions 1-5

Choose the appropriate letters A-D & write them in boxes 1-5 on your answer sheet.

1.   How does the Raccoon cross water?

A.    It swims.

B.    It raises its nose.

C.    It uses hydro-jets.

D.    It uses its four-wheel drive.


2.    What is Renault most famous for?

A.    startlingly different cars

B.    family cars

C.    advances in design

D.    boat and train design


3.    Why will Boeing not need a replica of the 777?

A.    It can use computers to check the design.

B.    It already has enough experience with plans.

C.    It will only need to upgrade the replica of the previous model.

D.    It can make sure all the bits fit together.


     4. How did Renault test drive the Raccoon?

A.   over rocky terrain

B.   in actual reality

C.   over French country roads

D.   in virtual reality


5.   Which of the following is NOT mentioned as an ingredient of a composite?

A.   oil

B.    resin

C.    glass

D.    steel