Concept of the Day: Local Motors/IBM Watson Olli

June 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

olliLots 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.

mini-vision-next-100Anyway, 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.
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Concept of the Day: ACM City eTaxi

June 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

ACM_CITY-eTAXI_frontAdaptive 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.

Design Concept of the Day: Renault Oura

June 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

Renault Central Saint Martins 1

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.

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