July 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
Not just a show vehicle, Mercedes-Benz’s Future Bus is up and running on trials in Amsterdam, on a 20km route between Schipol Airport and Haarlem. OK, it’s not electric (yet) – it’s based on a diesel-driven Citaro – but it is a very advanced and exciting technological platform/experimental testbed. Key feature is the CityPilot, semi-autonomous guidance using camera and radars, which is said to result in smooth and predictive progress which lowers fuel consumption and emissions, at least. Design-wise, it also represents a step forward in making bus travel attractive, with its three-zone passenger compartment, highly-styled seating and lighting, monitor screens and stripped-down driver interface. Let’s hope it’s more functional and performs better in real-life than London’s latest efforts. Mercedes is launching a battery-electric drive system for city buses in 2018, anyway (opening up further interior design possibilities, it notes, due to the lack of an engine in the rear). Full details here.
- And more bus news: the TOSA electric bus – the first wireless articulated trolleybus in production, I believe – is now in service on the airport run in Geneva. This features ABB’s flash-charging technology, which delivers 400kW in a 15-second top-up boost, plus supercapacitors in the charging points to help even out demand on the local grid. 12 buses have been ordered by the city for its Line 23.
- It’s been tried before with apps like PlugShare and platforms such as TesLoJuice, but Renault’s looking into the plug-sharing thing now: it is trialling ‘Elbnb’ in Sweden, an app through which EV owners/operators can offer/share their charging facilities. More here. Indications from my UK research are that this kind of sharing hasn’t really taken off to any extent beyond the occasional emergency calling-upon someone nearby with a plug socket, not least because owners’ private chargers tend to be slow-chargers, but I’d be interested to hear any reports/thoughts otherwise…
- Seat’s doing the start-up thing: its Martorell facilities are to host an ‘acceleration programme’ for five selected mobility-related businesses, in partnership with digital mentorship scheme Conector. Applications are invited… This is, for Seat, “aligned with our vision for the future of the company to promote a mobility ecosystem”, says President Luca de Meo. Interesting to see how the Volkswagen Group’s Spanish division has been having a bit of a promotional push lately (wonder why?) and how it’s being repositioned as innovation/design central.
- Ford is teaming up with tequila-maker Jose Cuevo to use its agave fibre waste and develop bioplastics: their use is being explored for wiring harnesses, HVAC units and storage bins, in place of petrolchemical plastics, and the material created so far is said to be durable and lightweight. Ford notes that it’s also already using soy foam, castor oil, wheat straw, kenaf fibre, cellulose, wood, coconut fibres and rice hulls in its vehicles. More here. (Ford has also just invested in 3D mapping start-up Civil Maps, as part of its autonomous vehicle R&D)
- Nice round-up of state of play re. electric planes here. Concerns me that these city-hoppers could easily become the preserve of the elite while the rest of us struggle down below with surface transport (hello, Southern Rail), but I suppose the 1% have to get around and do their business somehow… And better little electric planes than fuel-guzzling jets and helicopters.
- Latest report from Frost & Sullivan on mobility: new digitally-driven services could reduce the number of cars on urban roads by 20 million a year globally by 2025, they say. IoT tech and on-demand access, integrated and fully-networked, mean fewer, more efficient journeys, reducing journeys in private cars by a potential 360bn kilometres a year.
- Pull-outs from the SMMT’s Motor Industry Facts 2016: over 32million cars currently on the UK’s roads; a record 2,633,533 new cars registered in the UK in 2015; 72,772 ‘alternative fuel’ vehicles registered 2015, comprising 45,045 hybrids, 17,785 plug-in hybrids, 9,934 all-electrics and, um, 11 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. And 66,311,917 new cars registered globally in 2015. All of which suggests that (to repeat a familiar point), cars aren’t just going to go away any time soon, so we better hurry up and make ’em cleaner.
July 15, 2016 § Leave a comment
Just a note here to pick up on something a few of my interviewees/research subjects reported re. the BMW i3: its sat nav only showing charging points from the Chargemaster network. Of course, these drivers should by now have picked up the updates since our conversations, but just in case [i.e. low-mileage drivers who don’t charge away from home & very rarely use the navigation, so may not have checked into the system lately], I’ve clarified this with BMW, and here’s a statement as to what i3 drivers should be able to see:
“Regardless of the age of the model the car should receive auto updates… We have dynamic data feeds from Chargemaster and ChargeYourCar to ensure that all points are included and any new, removed or updated points are sent to BMW once a week. With Chargemaster, as they are our ChargeNow partner, we are also able to display the status of these points (available, in use, partially in use, out of service) and this status data is updated every 15 minutes, unless a customer clicks into the BMW Online additional info whereby the status is updated every 3 minutes.
“We also have manual data feeds from PodPoint, ecarni, RCN, Source London and Ecotricity. We update this info on a regular basis, more so if the networks are making a significant number of changes or updates. Ecotricity is often one that customers ‘believe’ they do not have included as this was only added recently in approx. Nov 2015 [my emphasis].
“With regard to vehicle updates, the car refreshes its charging point POI [point of interest] data telematically (over-air) once a week assuming it stays within a 300km homezone. If, however, the car is driven outside of this zone it requests an immediate update for a new 300km radius zone based on its new position, up to 5000 POI points. If a customer searches charging POIs at a destination outside of the homezone it triggers a pull-down of fresh data of up to 20 charging POIs at that destination. Also, if a customer searched charging point POIs along a set navigation route, this would also trigger a pull-down of up to 100 charging POIs along the route within a width of 750m.”
As much as anything else, this serves to very usefully illustrate the pace of change and the ongoing welcome developments in information/data provision and related services. But for i3 drivers still not seeing the full data from all the providers, it’s suggested that your local BMW dealer will be able to help.
Hope this is useful and of interest – Farah
July 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
Beijing-based ‘clean energy’ company Hanergy has unveiled four solar-powered EV concepts, each featuring its thin-film, lightweight PV tech applied over roof and bonnet. The four, revealed at an event in Beijing, are said to “acquire power directly from the sun” and “do not depend on charging posts”: they’re said to generate 8-10kWhrs of power a day (based on 5-6 hours of sunlight) giving a range of about 80km, though they can be externally topped up as well.
The rather unique-looking vehicles [sorry, can’t find official-issue pics of these individually] are Hanergy Solar R (a sporty RWD two-door, with extra solar cells in its door panels); Hanergy Solar O (a city car, said to come with two rechargeable e-scooters in its boot); Hanergy Solar L (a gullwing-doored MPV said to weigh just 700kg); and Hanergy Solar A (an angular two-door with extra fold-out panels). Optimistic as these concepts may sound, there’s certainly some viable tech here which could prove useful for range-supplementation, if not to completely power a long journey in the near future. Report and snaps from the event, showing the cars more clearly, at China Car News.
- Much indignation in the UK EV world this week as Ecotricity announced its introduction of a £5-per-20min* fee for use of its Electric Highway rapid-chargers. Free for Ecotricity home energy customers, though… My thoughts: it is entirely unrealistic to expect ongoing free use of facilities which have been expensive to install and maintain, as well as free electricity for one’s motoring. However, the cost-per-mile analysis now puts use of these chargers in an unfavourable position re. diesel, and makes it unfeasibly expensive for PHEV drivers to have a quick zap-up (so they’ll be on the motorways using their ICE instead). Most worryingly for me, though, is that access to the chargers will now be only via smartphone app (iPhone, Android) rather than via RFID tag or on-the-spot credit card payments, which is going to cut down on accessibility and rule out usage by EV drivers who don’t wish to have a smartphone (and such people do exist – I’ve interviewed them). Predictably, operators of other networks and PAYG systems are meanwhile rubbing their hands and also keeping a very close eye as to how this pans out. One positive thing for all-EV drivers, though, is the lessening likelihood that they will be ‘Outlandered’, of course. *Subsequently amended – £6 per 30min the deal now, it seems.
- The folks at Zap-Map have now added the new Tesla Destination Chargers (slower than Superchargers) to their increasingly comprehensive charging map database; also, for FCEV drivers, hydrogen pumps (only 15 of those so far in the UK, though).
- BMW showed a grid-connected static home energy storage system – using second-life i3 batteries – at the EVS29 event in Montreal; more here. No word on when such a product will be ready to market.
- Nice feedback from the BlueIndy EV-sharing scheme in Indianapolis after nine months: 2, 100 registered members, 21,500 separate trips made, 230 cars and 74 operational sites (another 25 under construction), 70% of owners with annual membership and the rest less frequent users – going to and from the airport is a popular journey. Interesting thing is that users (average age 42) fall into three groups, with one portion being ‘service workers’ – low-paid people using the cars to access employment opportunities, which suggests a growing role for car-share in increasing mobility options for marginalised/low-income groups. Other users tend to be couples substituting for a second car, and occasional management-level businesspeople, apparently, and the scheme is now aiming to target students.
- On that note, BMW/Sixt’s DriveNow on-demand car-share has now opened in Brussels, its 10th European city (it’s also in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Vienna, Copenhagen, Stockholm and, if we can still call ourselves European, London). Latest stats from the scheme include: over half a million journeys in Germany each month; average journeys between 8-15km and 20-40 minutes; over 600,000 customers. 20% of the fleet is now electrified.
- Report for the LowCVP and IMechE from the Institute of Transport Studies (ITS), University of Leeds, calls for strategic policy interventions – needed if potential for cleaner, cheaper, lower-energy car travel is to be achieved through combination of connectivity, [less importantly] automation, and vehicle-sharing. ITS reckons that vehicle-infrastructure comms can improve energy efficiency as well as improving journey times and road safety; impact will depend on further innovation in system design; full automation could help reduce practical difficulties of recharging/refuelling, and that much work needs to be done on increasing car-shares. It warns that autonomous vehicles may, however, lead to increased traffic and energy demand. Full report – Automated vehicles: Automatically low-carbon? – available here.
June 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
Lots of column inches last week devoted to the Rolls-Royce Next 100 and Mini Next 100 concepts – interesting vehicles, of course – but this prototype took my fancy too. Olli is a 3D-printed autonomous-driving 12-seater shuttle bus, built by Local Motors, showcasing the IBM Watson IoT cloud-based cognitive computing/vehicle connectivity platform (including speech commands, speech-to-text communication, and 30 embedded sensors). Its design, developed in a crowdsourcing process, is by Edgar Sarmiento from Bogota, who will receive royalties as/when the vehicles go into production. Testing is to start in Washington DC with further trials to follow in Miami-Dade and Las Vegas; more Ollies are being made at the LM HQ in Phoenix. Olli is conceived as part of an ‘ecosystem’ including consumer smartphone apps, and can be shared, chartered and otherwise summoned as well as operating on pre-determined routes; it’s proposed for campus-type environment or developments but also to fill in the gaps in a city’s established transit infrastructure.
Anyway, the BMW group reveals: the Mini Vision Next 100 is a nice little thing, showing some more of the BMW Group thinking: it’s designed to be an on-demand, shared-service EV, which will adapt to the driver’s tastes and preferences, provide a kind of concierge service, bring itself to the user (or take itself off to park), and remain fun to drive. Full details on its design here, but further notes on it are that it has a high recycled-material content inside, including cellulose-derived trim. The Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 is more of a flight of fantasy, a fully-autonomous (without even a steering wheel) proposal for the future ultimate luxury car, again electric-drive, with a virtual assistant.
Both cars – and the BMW Vision Next 100 (see previous post) – are the expression of BMW’s “six central hypotheses for individual mobility in the coming decades, based on key megatrends and future projections.” These six are: Mobility is becoming versatile (new forms and modes of mobility); Connectivity is becoming second nature; Mobility is becoming tailor-made; Technology is becoming human (including adaptivity, learning); Energy is becoming emission-free; Responsibility is becoming diverse (the CSR bit).
- The Hubject project (integrating charging infrastructures across Europe in a single platform) is collaborating with mapping providers HERE to provide real-time information on charging point status – fully-automated updates across the network on occupancy, availability etc. More here.
- Nissan is researching a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) powered by bioethanol, natural gas or multiple fuels: in this first automotive application of SOFC tech, the fuel reacts with oxygen in a reformer to create hydrogen, which then reacts in the fuel cell stack to produce electricity as per a conventional hydrogen fuel cell. The e-Bio Fuel Cell is said to give cruising ranges similar to those of petrol-powered cars alongside the driving experience of an EV. Sounds complex, and of course, there’s the issue of the source of the ‘bio’ ethanol, but Nissan’s pointing to region-specific applications where this can provide cleaner transportation within an existing fuel supply infrastructure, and an “ample power supply” to suit a wide range of needs, such as refrigerated deliveries. Some commenters are also suggesting that this could negate the need for hydrogen production/supply for fuel cell vehicles.
- Latest Navigant Research report on urban transport: car-sharing, with a growing proportion of EVs on fleets, is a growth trend, boosted by an increase in one-way on-demand services and underpinned by network connectivity. It expects almost all major manufacturers to be offering some kind of shared service by 2025, and customers are expected to use on-demand vehicles alongside ride-hailing services such as Uber. The shared fleets are also the key arenas for introducing autonomous-driving elements [i.e. for getting a car to come to you, or for parking itself when you’ve finished]. This is a familiar – and rather idealised – picture now, but more detail in this handy digest by Forbes.
June 13, 2016 § Leave a comment
Adaptive City Mobility, a Munich-based programme funded by the German federal government, has unveiled a simple, low-cost EV for taxi services, vehicle-sharing, logistics and tourism applications. The City eTaxi is a lightweight quadricycle-type three-seater with Plexiglass doors and a ‘backpack’-style luggage compartment, and is designed for battery-swapping in a fully-networked fleet context. Van and pick-up variants are further proposed. Field trials are to start in Munich. An aspect of the concept is that fleet operational costs could be subsidised by advertising, and a business model is proposed involving battery leasing, energy sales and other services; the aim is for the vehicles to remain in more or less continuous deployment without downtime. More here and here.
- More Munich: the city’s first ‘E-Sharing Station’ has opened for hire of EVs, electric cargo bikes, bicycles and scooters. It’s based in a solar-panelled facility on the new-build Domagkpark housing development, which appears to have been designed from scratch with a view to reducing car-dependency (and car ownership rates) of its 4000-odd residents – particular attention has been paid to bicycle parking and storage. More here.
- Zipcar is adding 50 Volkswagen Golf GTE plug-in hybrids to its on-street fleet in London – 40 in Westminster, 10 elsewhere. “With dedicated charging stations”, apparently, for their reserved parking bays – no chance of these being shared with other EV users. Rental rates are from £7 an hour, all-electric range is a claimed 31 miles, more than enough for nipping about the city, should you need to.
- Daimler does stationary energy storage: it has established a new division called Mercedes-Benz Energy GmbH, incorporating its wholly-owned subsidiary Accumotive, which will build both automotive and industrial static storage systems, highly-scalable. The new division has ambitious plans for global expansion and partnerships, seeing a diverse range of applications for the tech, and expects rapid growth, reports Green Car Congress.
- A fuel cell vehicle-sharing scheme is starting in Munich: Hyundai is providing 50 ix35 FCVs to BeeZero, backed by Linde AG, with an element of real-world trial and infrastructure-building. More here.
- And Europcar has bought up Spanish car-sharing/tech start-up Bluemove, merging it into multi-modal platform Ubeeqo, in which it has a majority stake. Bluemove has 47,000 users in Madrid, Seville and Malaga, reports Intelligent Mobility Insight, and will soon launch in Barcelona and Valencia.
- More from Spain: SEAT, Volkswagen Group Research & the Universitat Politecnica de Cataluna are establishing a research & innovation hub for urban mobility in Barcelona. CARNET – Cooperative Automotive Research Network – is to look at and trial tech solutions and concepts, including multimodal stations and ‘microcities’ for city transport, a ride-sharing platform and an app for finding parking spaces, reports Intelligent Mobility Insight.
- Apple is entering the world of independent power producers (IPPs), reports elektrek.com: this is selling excess electricity from its own rooftop solar arrays, via a new division called Apple Energy. This would feed into the local supply system, probably for ancillary services – such as vehicle charging. Shows how a new ecosystem/model of renewably-fuelled microgrids is emerging; elektrek also names Google, Ikea and Walmart as playing this game.
- Route Monkey is developing an app and online portal for EV users for route-planning, turn-by-turn directions and identification of charging points en route, with real-time journey and battery data. Route times can be calculated including recharging times. The R&D is supported by a grant from Scottish Enterprise, and is with consumers and small fleets in mind.
- Transport for London is trialling a pilot alert scheme with Twitter for direct notifications of delays on key services – the first live travel info partnership with Twitter for instant direct-message notifications in this way. It’s an opt-in via the existing TfL overground, rail, Central Line and District Line feeds (Intelligent Mobility Insight).
- BMW is supplying 100 i3s (all-electric) to the Los Angeles Police Department; interesting note here is not just that smog-bound LA has a 50% guideline for EV procurement by fleets in the city, rising to 80% in 2025, but that the suite of ConnectedDrive services and data management were key selling points. More here.
- Kia is working with UC Irvine on a smart-grid study, looking at V2G smart-charging algorithms, predicting vehicle charging demand and behaviour, and further evaluating vehicles’ impact on the grid. It’s supplying six Soul EVs. More here.
June 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
Renault recently sponsored a project with industrial design students at London Central Saint Martins to develop an interior for a future autonomous car. Winning concept – presented last week at an event during Clerkenwell Design Week – was Project Oura, a ‘wearable’ vehicle with gesture controls and VR displays, beautifully animated. Runners up were a little less out-there but equally impressive: SYEO (Share Your Extra Office), a mobile work-pod, and Phantasy, a three-wheeled commuter vehicle with configurable interior, were both practical and realistic near-future proposals, very well-executed. The awards were presented by Renault’s VP of exterior design Anthony Lo, who spoke for a while before the announcement of the winner; he told me that (no surprise) Renault is preparing a concept for this autumn’s Paris motor show. I’m going to hazard a guess now that this is going to have some sort of autonomous capability/feature. More on the student projects, anyway, at Car Design News.
Other notes & jottings to get back up to speed with recent developments:
- Some insight from the ‘Cité Lib by Ha:mo’ mobility service trial in Grenoble, France: at the 18-month mark in this three-year Toyota-partnered trial, 1000-odd people have signed up for on-demand use of the i-Road and COMS mini-EVs. The vehicles are used more during the week and in commuting hours, average trip length is 5km and 45 minutes, most journeys are one-way and the most frequently-used locations are by the train station. Average users are 36-year old males in white-collar jobs, though 14% of users are students; 43% subscribe to other public transport services, 54% cycle 2 or 3 times a week, 41% cycle every day – and 74% also own at least one car. No data yet on any reductions in town traffic/congestion as yet, but feedback generally positive that this is A Good Thing, it seems. More here.
- Toshiba has developed a contactless induction charging system for electric buses and is starting trials of a 45-seater at Tokyo airport; the bus has an 89km range and takes 15min to charge, and it’s pointed out here that this is well-suited to shuttle-type activities between fixed locations. And in Paris, 23 Bollore Bluebuses are going into service on the city’s first all-electric bus route.
- Quick round-up of more auto OEMs’ recent activities in the new mobility sector: BMW’s iVentures division has invested in California/SF Bay Area carpooling app Scoop – which partners with major employers in the area – to add to its portfolio of digital mobility services and platforms. More here. Meanwhile, Volkswagen has taken a stake in taxi-hailing app (and Uber/Hailo rival) Gett; Toyota is collaborating with Uber itself, and Daimler is funding a mobility start-up ‘accelerator scheme’ in Stuttgart.
- Research from the European Climate Foundation underpins a statement from the EU Platform for Electromobility project that any future renewable energy directive “should actively promote the electrification of transport”. For cars and vans alone, it reckons electrification (including hybridisation) would generate up to 1.1million net jobs in the EU by 2030, and cut CO2 emissions by up to 93%, NOx emissions up up to 95% and particulates by up to 95% by 2050. More from Transport & Environment. T&E is also continuing to campaign against EU biodiesel policy, pointing out this week that 45% of palm oil imported to Europe is used in vehicles.
- More research on CNG: better used in power stations instead of coal or fuel oil, than for vehicles, according to a paper from Rice University which sees no benefits in terms of GHG emissions. It puts a hybrid petrol-electric Honda Civic as having lower (by 27%) well-to-wheel emissions than its CNG counterpart, and a CNG bus emitting 12% more CO2e than a diesel version. More details, references here.
- BMW has developed some autonomous-driving robots for one of its production facilities, powered by second-life i3 batteries which will last for an eight-hour shift. Recycled parts from cars helping build the next generation, autonomously… more here.
- [note to self] Oh, someone else using MLP theory to talk about transitions to electric vehicles… Anyway, Nilson & Nykvist are modelling scenarios for uptake and suggesting governmental/policy interventions including investment finance for fast/rapid-charging, durable incentives for uptake, consumer/business education, and support of structural and technological changes within auto industries.
March 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
Well, we were wondering why the BMW stand at the Geneva show was somewhat lacking in drama or surprises, and now we know: the big reveal was saved for this week and a special event in Munich marking the company’s centenary. To celebrate the big 100, BMW has revealed a concept reflecting ‘sheer driving pleasure of the future’, looking at trends and tech for the decades ahead. Main objective was for this vehicle not to be anonymous, but highly-personalised to suit each driver’s needs, with seamless interactions between human, machine and surroundings. Yet it had to still be driver-focused, and offer an ’emotional’ mobility experience, despite using advanced AI (with more humanised interactions) and new materials, including intelligent and networked materials created by 4D printing.
Design started with the interior, a roomy dome, with wellbeing a priority and, inevitably, autonomous elements: Ease mode, with ambient lighting and atmosphere when the driver can sit back, and Boost, a more dynamic DIY mode in which the car’s software – the ‘Companion’ – ‘learns’ about the driver and their style and preferences to support accordingly. The interface features what BMW terms ‘alive geometry’ – a 3D display set into the instrument panel and areas of the side panels, consisting of nearly 800 moving triangles giving gestural, often peripheral, information to the driver. Effectively, the whole windscreen can serve as a giant display, the head-up display working in parallel to an analogue dashboard, and BMW describes it as involving the driver “in a form of preconscious communication, where an intuitive signal predicts an imminent real-time event.” The Companion can also signal to other road-users the status of the vehicle (automated or not) and communicate to, for example, pedestrians that it is safe to cross.
BMW points out that most of its fabrics are recycled or renewable, with components such as the side panels also made from residues from carbonfibre production. It expects in the future for the use of less wood and leather, and no leather is used inside the Vision Next 100. No word on its powertrain, but at this stage in the game, I think we can safely assume that it’s (conceptually, at least) electrified. Full lowdown & much more detail from BMW here. Conclusions? However advanced its tech and interfaces are, and its ability to communicate with the outside world, the Vision Next 100 is still very much a car, and a personal one at that: for all its work on mobility services, BMW certainly doesn’t envisage this core part of its business going away any time soon.