Marking 30 years of belting up

January 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

volvo-seatbeltcopyStarting with a slight diversion, but today we are marking 30 years since the introduction of compulsory seatbelt-wearing in the UK. Volvo – which  introduced the three-point safety belt as we know it over 50 years ago (pictured) – has commissioned a survey on car safety to celebrate this anniversary. Its 1,200-odd respondents would largely welcome high-tech safety innovations, with over half wanting all-round cameras and 45% pedestrian protecting systems; over half would be happy to be driven by autopilot, and over a quarter would go in a completely autonomous car. More here.

  • The Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, the German Aerospace Centre) is researching an automated valet parking system at the railway station in Braunschweig. It’s the first step in operationalising its Application Platform for Intelligent Mobility (AIM). and its first tests on public roads; more at Green Car Congress.
  • The number of teenage drivers has fallen 15% in the US state of Michigan over the past decade, reports Detroit News (the total number of drivers has fallen 1.3% in the same period). The paper cites anecdotal evidence to suggest that high insurance costs, the cost of driving lessons and higher petrol prices are factors, as well as fear of driving and the availability of other ways to get around, but also the use of mobile internet; it quotes Michael Sivak of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute as saying: “virtual contact through electronic means reduces the need for actual contact among young people.” His 15-country study (2011) with Brandon Schoettle “found that the percentage of young drivers was inversely related to the availability of the Internet”, and that young people are choosing to live in cities such as San Francisco and New York where there is good public transport. More here at the UMTRI Research Review, October-December 2011; a subsequent update (July 2012) has seen the trend continue.
  • Ride-share service/app Lyft has announced its expansion into Los Angeles, neighbourhood by neighbourhood; some debate on regulation and background checks on members. More at TechCrunch. Plus a reminder from Grist that it’s really not a new idea – nice piece about the long-running low/no-tech informal ‘slugging’ system in Washington, DC. And incidentally, I love these photographs by Alejandro Cartagena of  ”car-poolers” (working people grabbing a lift with colleagues in the back of pick-up trucks) in Mexico – evocative social commentary, and another example of economy-driven informal shared transport networks which have been around nearly as long as motoring itself.

Concept of the Day: Peugeot VLV (1942)

January 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

peugeot vlvDid the name of the in-the-works Peugeot VELV ring a bell? Seems it’s a re-run of an earlier idea: an electric microcar developed covertly during World War II. The original Voiture Légère de Ville (‘VLV’, Light City Car) had a range of 50 miles though a top speed of just 20mph, but it had a state-of-the-art steel monococque construction plus neatly folding roof and doors; just a handful were made, according to the blurb by RM Auctions, which has one on sale next month.

The extensive collection of the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum in Madison, Georgia, up for auction, is testimony to the fact that the microcar is by no means a modern idea. The auction catalogue lists nearly 400 tiddlers to go under the hammer, from familiar Heinkels, Messerschmidts, Goggomobils and Isettas to the rarer Voisin Biscooter, a ‘woody’ Biscuter station wagon and various Velomobile cycle-cars – it makes fascinating reading, here.

  • Smart cities: expensive, high-energy to build from scratch, say commenters in this Guardian Sustainable Business piece – retro-fitting existing urban centres may be a better strategy. Interesting snippet about Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City, though – the aim there, it seems, is to keep private vehicles outside, and use an electric fleet in the centre. Details at the City’s website suggest some sort of an EV-share or short-term rental scheme – plus autonomously-guided pod-cars, which will operate in dedicated ‘tunnels’.
  • The Sixth Sense Transport project, led by Southampton University, is looking at smartphone use and ‘tagging’ of vehicle numberplates for social networking, sharing of travel information and data, and thus smarter ways of using vehicles, such as liftsharing, better connections with public transport, more energy-efficient distribution systems and fleet logistics and soforth. It’s also looking at applications in tourism, and a demo project is underway in Edinburgh whereby tourists can access information about museums and monuments whilst in tagged taxicabs. The first stages of an ‘internet of cars’, they say.
  • Daimler, Ford and Nissan have joined forces for fuel cell development in a bid to reduce R&D and engineering costs. They’re now citing 2017 as the target-date for production vehicles, a two-year push-back from earlier forecasts.
  • Researchers at Loughborough University are developing emergency ‘lane-change’ manoeuvring in autonomous vehicles, in addition to braking; more here.

Could the car still kill buses and trains? Shared and autonomous cars vs. public transport

January 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

RoutemasterThought-provoking reads of the day – could the ‘sharing economy’ kill off public transport and mass transit systems? It sounds paradoxical, but “micro-transit” – ride-sharing, i.e. in a formal municipal system whereby drivers get credits and incentives for filling their empty passenger seats – could make transit agencies such as bus companies “obsolete”, says veteran transport consultant Ken Schmier, creator of the NextBus app popularly used in a number of US cities. More at NextCity (via Grist).

And in parallel, a blog post at Mother Jones – drawing on a longer piece by Felix Salmon at Reuters –  suggests that driverless vehicles could be superior to rail in developed areas. Autonomous cars (subscribed-to rather than privately-owned) which arrive on demand to fetch you (and other people going in the same direction) save on parking, expensive fixed infrastructure and energy, is the argument. An alternative to the ‘post-car’ train of thought (sorry) – we’re not going to be getting out of cars as such, just using and accessing them differently. (*Update: a further MoJo blog post in response to reader comment).

  • Slightly off-topic, but interesting: Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, is co-ordinating a European research project on urban sound planning. 14 doctoral students will work with city authorities, acoustic consultants, architects and research institutes to look at noise control, soundscaping and their impact on urban planning. Traffic/transport planning, as well as low-noise road surfaces, acoustic screening and soforth, will be part of this, as well as input from behavioural science and psychology. Cities in which research will take place are Berlin, Antwerp, Rome – and Brighton & Hove. More here.
  • Something I missed in the news from CES: Volvo has developed a retro-fit option for post-2010 models to enable owners of existing cars with the 7in Sensus screens to upgrade to the latest Ericsson cloud connectivity via smartphone with Android, giving Google Maps, the Parrot Asteroid app store and music-streaming from apps including Spotify. Dealers will offer this from May though no word on price as yet. I expect dealer-fit retro-fits like this will become more widely available as manufacturers seek to keep owners ‘in-house’ and away from third-party providers – it’s a whole other potential revenue stream (no pun intended) for them as well as a marketing channel (eek). Excellent rundown of The Auto Tech That Mattered At CES from Wired Autopia, including third-party portals (there’s a word I haven’t used for a while) and parking navigation.

Transport planning, the PSA air-hybrid, fuel cell collaboration and crowd-sourcing

January 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

hybrid-air_zoomCompressed-air hybrid tech isn’t a new idea, but it looks as if PSA Peugeot Citroen could be the first major European manufacturer to make a go of it. This week PSA unveiled a powertrain concept it’s calling Hybrid Air, said to represent “a key step towards the 2l/km car by 2020” (over 140mpg). This supplements a petrol engine with a tank of compressed air for energy storage, which drives a motor via a hydraulic pump – a solution half the weight of a battery-electric hybrid system and much simpler and cheaper to produce. The tank is filled or ‘charged’ under regenerative braking, and the car is capable of using air power alone for 60-80% of the time at speeds of up to 43mph; fuel savings of 45% are cited. In the Peugeot 208/Citroen C3, it could bring emissions down to 69g/m and fuel consumption to 97.4mpg. (Incidentally, when it comes to air cars, it’s worth keeping an eye on this little lot).

PSA has also been showing off developments including its new global modular vehicle platform, selective catalytic reduction (SCR) for diesel engines which reduces nitrous oxide emissions and gives 2-4% fuel economy enhancements, a mild-hybrid solution called Eco-Hybrid (petrol and diesel) promising 15% fuel economy improvements; the latest iteration of the VelV electric quadricycle; and a plug-in hybrid concept called HYdole, good for all-electric running 80% of the time, a range of 500km and 30g/km. More about all of these here.

  • More from the Transport Planning Society (an active participle in that name?) about the letter to the Transport Secretary: the 32 named transport professors expressed concern over whether currently proposed infrastructure investments will deliver the employment and economic growth that they claim, the need for integrated land-use and policy, a “lack of understanding  of how investment in cities and the new range of smart growth policies can deliver economic and environmental benefits”, and “a lack of clarity over big questions such as how we fund transport”. Letter itself here.
  • Interesting piece on Local Motors and its crowd-sourcing design philosophy at Green Car Design. Potentially more influential is the company’s focus on niche products and localised/regionalised solutions, however, with manufacturing from suitably-tweaked kits in ‘microfactories’ – a return to the old days of CKD car-making but with a 21st century twist.
  • BMW and Toyota have signed formally binding agreements, further to an earlier MOU, for joint development of a fuel cell system (including hydrogen tank, fuel cell stack, motor, batteries etc.), joint development of architecture/components for “a sports vehicle” (probably Celica/Z4 replacements, first concepts to come late 2013) and joint R&D of lightweight technologies including reinforced composites. They will also collaborate on next-gen lithium-air batteries, and developing standards/codes for a hydrogen supply infrastructure.

Design Concepts of the Day: Michelin Challenge Design winners

January 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

e-linkdolphinpoly_plusThe theme for the 2013 Michelin Challenge Design was “Half! Lightweight with Passion” – looking at the relationship between design, light weight and fuel efficiency – and three winners have been selected from over 900 entrants. Jorge Biosca, a design consultant and freelance modeller (with an MA in automotive design from the University CEU San Pablo, Valencia, and a degree in mechanical engineering, came up with eLink, a six-passenger vehicle with adaptive camber control. Liu Shun and teammates Gao Zhiqiang and Chen Zhilai, students at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China, created Dolphin, powered by maglev DC motors and constructed of transparent glass and carbonfibre. And Song Wei Teo (an industrial design graduate from Singapore, now studying automotive design at Coventry University) developed his PolyPlus concept around the use of affordable, tough and easily-moulded vacuum-formed plastics. These three concepts, and the work of 12 other finalists, is on display at the Detroit Auto Show. More on the Michelin Design Challenge 2013 here, plus a nice picture gallery at Car Design News.

  • Debate of the day – road pricing and tolling (and trolling, too, inevitably). A group of academics has written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to argue the case for pay-as-you-go driving, and that spending money on new roads will only increase congestion. More at the Telegraph. All particularly pertinent at the moment – in my corner of the world, anyway – given the ongoing campaign to save Combe Haven from destruction by the ill-thought-out Bexhill-Hastings link road.

Design Concept of the Day: Honda Gear

January 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

honda-gearInspired by fixed-gear push-bikes, apparently: the Gear Concept Study Model, a three-door hatch smaller than the Jazz/Fit, is simple, utilitarian and aimed at Gen-Y-ers. It’s potentially customisable, connected and cheap, too. On display at the Montreal Auto Show (cool Canadians are probably more hip to this sort of thing than Detroiters, I guess), it’s the work of Honda R&D Americas, whose design director Dave Marek says: “it’s practical but fun… everything that young, discerning urban buyers would want in a car”. Less fuddy-duddy than the Jazz/Fit, certainly, and I like the nod to the original 1972 Civic in its styling.

  • Those young buyers are going to want a connected and eco-friendly car, it seems – a new survey from McKinsey has come up with some (more) evidence to suggest the kids are still interested in cars, as long as they’re clever ones (including EVs, or shared cars). Some comment from a McKinsey partner here at Detroit News – rather than being a status symbol, “car ownership today is more a symbol of independence and an advanced life style”.
  • Daimler has formally created a subsidiary called Daimler Mobility Services GmbH to consolidate car2go, the moovel mobility platform and other services from one base in Stuttgart. It’s aiming for 500,000 car2go car-share customers by the end of the year, and moovel – tested so far in Stuttgart and Berlin – will be rolled out in other cities. “Intelligent parking solutions” coming soon, too. Full release here.
  • The Durham Energy Institute (Durham University) is appealing for EV drivers to take part in research using domestic solar/wind micro-generators to recharge. More here. Interesting thing is that this study involves anthropologists as well as researchers from the engineering and computing faculties – a more holistic approach than just looking at the technical practicalities.

BMW testing long-range e-mobility; more Detroit NAIAS

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

bmw_ActiveeMore e-mobility data for BMW: a test with 15 ActiveEs and long-distance commuters in the Leipzig area, in partnership with Technical University Chemnitz and Stadtwerke Leipzig and funded by the federal Bavaria-Saxony government. Drivers doing 40-100km a day are invited to take part if they have the facilities to install a charging unit at home or in their workplace. There will be five test phases of 12 weeks each, and BMW is to look into the regenerative braking function in particular. Leipzigers can, as far I can interpret with my schoolgirl German, apply to take part and find out more here.  (Google Translate? Pah!).

  • Over at Car Design News, meanwhile, they’ve just launched the 11th Interior Motives Student Design Awards: budding car designers are invited to submit concepts to the brief of ‘The Connected Car’, thinking about the use of virtual reality, selectable driving modes and interior functions, and communication with the outside world as well as a private interior. More clues as to the future of motoring beyond the show cars in Detroit.

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