More autonomy from Volvo

October 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Volvo’s moving a stage closer towards autonomy, in several senses. It’s to fit a traffic jam assistance system in production cars in 2014, adding to existing adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping tech to enable a car to automatically follow the vehicle in front in slow-moving traffic. Autonomous Driving Support works at speeds up to 50kmph, and is activated by the driver pushing a button; it will steer the car as well as brake and accelerate it, maintaining a safe gap from the vehicle ahead. It can be overridden at any time, of course, and is a step towards implementation of the full SARTRE ‘platooning’ system. And it is integrated into Volvo’s upcoming self-developed Scalable Product Architecture, the underpinnings of the next-generation models which mark the company’s rebirth since its sell-off by Ford.

  • Londoners – want a free domestic 16-amp EV charger? The Low Carbon London programme (funded by the OLEV/Plugged-In Places government scheme) is handing out free chargers to individuals and businesses willing to take part in a trial and have their charging behaviour monitored. The research, by UK Power Networks, is to study demand on the national grid and build up a picture of potential peaks. Some additional on-street points will also be supplied to Source London. More at just-auto, and you can apply at Low Carbon London.

Smart parking, smarter cities, EVs and taxis…

October 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you drive, at some point, you gotta park. Siemens is leading a smart-parking project in Braunschweig, Germany, using the Streetline Inc. ‘Parker’ smartphone app to make available real-time information on space availability, and to track parking patterns and habits to inform City parking policy. Drivers will be able to remotely monitor how much time is left on the meters and to pay remotely. Sensors and networking kit will be installed in selected areas. Similar schemes using the Streetline app are ready underway in Reno, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Washington DC, reports Green Car Congress.

  • Learn more about this kind of tech at the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Smarter Cities show in Leeds, 9th/10th November at the City Museum and part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science; details here.
  • A small trial fleet of EVs is going into operation at Heathrow Airport, to be used by Heathrow Airport Limited, British Airways, LSG SkyChefs andGate Gourmet in their on-site duties. The fleet includes the Nissan Leaf, Peugeot iOn, Vauxhall Ampera and Renault Kangoo ZE, and whilst it ain’t going to solve the problem of aeronautical CO2 emissions, it’s a step in a positive direction, surely… There are around 700 electric tugs (the little trucks that pull the baggage trolleys) already in use at the airport, and consultants to the programme see the potential for electric cargo loaded and pushback tractors as well.
  • Who’s mourning the death of Manganese Bronze and the particulate-spewing black-cab taxis? Not Hilton at Autocar; I certainly don’t agree with him on everything (or indeed, share his politics) but he does make a good point in that, whilst attention may be focused on reducing C02, you can’t ignore the local effects of other pollutants and their contribution to air quality.
  • And on a similar note: London minicab firm Green Tomato Cars is buying a fleet of 50 all-electric BYD E6 estates. Zero tailpipe emissions. These 75kW five-seaters have a range of 186 miles, can do 87mph and will go into action next spring. Hopefully they’ll go south of the river without whinging, as well…

Logistics tech, car-to-car communications, EVs and in-car ethernet…

October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Not a car thing as yet, but logistics tech which could be applied to the fleets of the future: the two-year ERTOC project (Efficient and Reliable Transportation of Consignments) has developed a prototype management system to optimise both cost-savings and fuel economy/vehicle emissions. A collaboration between Ricardo, GS1 UK, Unipart Logistics, IRIS Technology and Coventry University, part-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, ERTOC enables study of sustainability throughout the supply chain of delivery services. Using an open architecture, route planning, data on individual journey/load efficiencies, real-time fuel consumption, efficiency of loading and suchlike can all be inegrated, tracked and monitored. The system uses an in-cab Android tablet for driver info, networked to the fleet management system and a central data hub. More here.

  • Honda is demonstrating V2X-enabled cars and motorbikes at the 19th World ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) Congress in Vienna this week. The ITS-enabled vehicles can pick up info on hazards, roadworks, congestion and weather conditions ahead, communicate data on position and conditions to other ITS vehicles in a convoy, and car drivers will be warned when an ITS-equipped motorbike is approaching from behind in their blind spot. More at Green Car Congress.
  • Technologic Vehicles has the low-down on the Courb C-Zen, an electric two-seater which looks set to go onto share-fleets and other such schemes. There’s a little pick-up truck version called C-Top, too. And on the subject of car-shares: EIB (European Investment Bank) has just loaned the Bollore Group – maker of the BlueCar EV – 75million euros to expand the Paris Autolib scheme.
  • Nissan intends to fit electronic ‘steer-by-wire’ in selected Infiniti-range models within the year. No mechanical linkages and potentially no steering wheel, as this could work with a joystick; there will be a back-up mechanism, however. More here and here.
  • Trials are underway in the Netherlands of a wirelessly-charged electric bus; the eMoss takes advantage of ‘opportunity charging’ to get a quick zap-up at its stops, and can run continually for up to 18 hours. More details here.
  • In-car ethernet is key to reducing vehicle weight, reports Wired. Cost savings, too.
  • And how excited should we be getting about this petrol-from-air story? Neat way to use up carbon dioxide, perhaps, if it can be done in an energy-efficient and cost-effective process. But is perpetuating petrol usage really ‘the’ answer?

Talkin’ ’bout a revolution…

October 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Blog post by Dr Gregory Offer, Imperial College London, at Engine Technology International: the revolution’s a-coming, he says, in the shape of autonomously-driven vehicles. “It will become possible to do a full day’s work while traveling in a mobile office. The disruptive nature of the revolution will put some out of jobs, but it will also generate new openings elsewhere. Car clubs with autonomous vehicles might become the norm, requiring regular servicing, cleaning and managing, and owning a car outright might be a luxury only the rich indulge in”.

Offer adds that we may see an increase in demand for transport services, making efficiency gains and electrification even more of a priority, and that “for the industry, it is a vision to aim for as we sow the seeds for one of the next great revolutions that will free drivers from the chains of the steering wheel and enable them to enjoy unprecedented levels of mobility.” But all this could lead to unemployment, says John Naughton in the Observer. Naughton cites a book called Race Against the Machine, which looks at the impact of digital technology on employment. (Pic: from Ricardo, of the SARTRE road train/platooning trial; thanks to headlineauto).

  • With intelligent transport systems come new possibilities for enforcement: directly automated issuing of fines, for example, plus the chance to report offenders and a witness scheme in the event of an offence or accident – “asking the surrounding vehicles to act as electronic witnesses”, says a spokesman for the Information and Communications Technology Security Group, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. More on that here, full report in¬†INTELLIGENT TRANSPORT SYSTEMS. Volume: 6. Number: 3. Page: 270-281 (September 2012).
  • Automakers are going to have to go open-source for their in-car connectivity kit to save development costs and keep up with the latest tech and consumer demands. Says Jim Zemlin (of the Linux Foundation). More at Wired.
  • Is the greenest street in America on Chicago’s West Side? A newly-resurfaced 1.5-mile stretch of Cernak Road features photocatalytic cement (absorbs nitrous oxides from traffic fumes), plus 95 different species of native plant, shrub and treelife irrigated by rainwater runoff, pedestrian ‘refuges’, solar-powered lighting and wind turbine-powered info booths; bike lanes come soon. More at Grist.
  • Liftshare saw a 50% increase in ‘invitation to share’ messages between members on its website in its promotional Liftshare Week (1st-5th October). The organisation has lately been working with firms including BT.

Mitt and micro-motoring, fine-tuning for efficiency

October 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Bizarre ‘revelation’ about Mitt Romney – was he once an advocate for micro-motoring and vehicles like the Opel RAKe (pictured)? Apparently so. The New York Times says that back in May 2006, as Massachusetts governor, the would-be POTUS “was chatting with his Montana counterpart about his vision for an energy-efficient car of the future – lightweight and narrow, with tandem-style seating, so that two vehicles could drive side by side in one highway lane.” Montana governor Brian Schweitzer said: “He was getting animated about all these little cars”, and promptly told him that Republican voters weren’t going to like that idea much.

The NYT notes that since then, Romney has ditched his other environmental campaigns too, as well as making a last-minute reversal on a climate change pact. And those “little cars”? Well, as Romney’s wife’s got ‘a couple of Cadillacs’, kept at their different houses, and he has a Mustang and a Chevy pick-up, we can only assume that his tandem-seaters were intended for the common folk and 47-percenters.

  • Other news: The BBC’s looking at “campus cars” – low-range, lightweight buggies, usually electric – for short-range local use based around a site such as a university campus or business park. Short film, featuring the Californian Local Motion Light Speed Vehicle, here.
  • BMW is collaborating on an EU-funded project to develop ‘webinos’ – open-source, web- and browser-based applications for cross-platform communication – and to build a vehicle API. A demo car is at a trade show in Munich this week; more at Wired.
  • Carbonfibre’s going mainstream: Ford has developed a CFRP (carbonfibre reinforced plastic) bonnet which weighs 50% less than a steel equivalent. It’s part of a plan to reduce its vehicle weight by an average 340kg by the end of the decade. More here.
  • It’s the little details: adjustable cylinder honing can give a 3% fuel efficiency gain in piston engines, say researchers from the Frauenhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology. Their honing tool contains tiny piezo actuators which can create ‘imperfections’ in the cylinder bore, which then offset static distortion during production and assembly, and thermal distortion when the engine is operating. This reduces internal engine friction and lubrication needs, as well as prolonging cylinder life (AutoTech Daily).
  • And in EVs, new control algorithms can double the speed of lithium-ion battery charging, increase battery efficiency, enable the use of more powerful motors, allow for a lowering of their weight and give potential cost reductions of 25%. The University of California, San Diego, has been funded by the US DoE to work on developing the concept in partnership with Bosch. Release posted here.
  • A Finnish start-up called Scarlet Motors has signed a technology/R&D partnership deal with Helsinki’s Metropolita University of Applied Science to develop an electric sports car. Metropolita is the team behind the E-RA (Electric RaceAbout) prototype which has set speed records on ice and at the Nurburgring Nordschliefe.
  • The UK’s first all-electric car club, E-Car, has launched at its first location in Milton Keynes. More at Next Green Car.

Concept of the Day: Toyota Smart INSECT

October 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Insect = Information Network Social Electric City Transporter in this context, but this single-seater EV is a little bug-like in its appearance. Developed from Toyota’s earlier COMS concept, this one has voice-recognition, facial-recognition and motor sensor technologies to identify the driver and predict their behaviour, opening doors, setting destinations and functions such as the audio system and lights. It’s supported by the cloud-based Toyota Smart Centre and incorporates smartphone navigation and communication with the driver’s home for remote operation of devices such as heaters, air conditioners and door locks. An obvious application is its use by disabled drivers or the elderly. It’s on display this week at CEATEC Japan 2012, a tech show in Chiba City.

  • Toyota’s trialling the COMS in a programme called Ha:Mo (“Harmonious Mobility”) in its Toyota City complex. Ha:Mo is a multi-modal service offering short-distance EVs, provision of park-and-ride for users’ own vehicles and guidance on appropriate public transport options. The EVs will be booked and accessed via smartphones and ID cards from four locations, and their charging (as well as that of users’ own EVs or plug-in hybrids) will be monitored; e-bikes could be added later. More here at Green Car Congress.
  • Nissan’s showing a self-parking LEAF at CEATEC 2012; the NSC-2015 can be guided remotely by smartphone to find a suitable parking space and put itself in there, thanks to 360-degree cameras – and can then be called back to fetch the driver. More here.
  • San Francisco-based peer-to-peer car-sharing scheme Wheelz is extending to four more university campuses. Students rent their cars to fellow scheme members via smartphone apps or a website, using RFID cards for access to the vehicle. “Car ownership is no longer a priority for millennials; this generation cares about convenience and access,” says Wheelz CEO, Jeff Miller. “We’ve built and refined our service on college campuses because today’s students are at the forefront of the shared economy.” Release here. Zipcar has invested in the scheme, whose rivals include Getaround and RelayRides.
  • Volvo has signed an MOI with the Car 2 Car consortium over V2V and V2I communications; a demo of telematics services using roadside units will take place in Vienna later this month. Car 2 Car is funded by companies including the European car-makers; the tech’s planned for debut in 2016.
  • IBM is teaming with ESB Networks in Ireland to create a fully-integrated smart card and cloud-based EV recharging and billing scheme, linked to the national grid and informing its electricity distribution. More here.
  • Detailed summary of California’s recently-passed autonomous car bill here.

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