Design Concept of the Day: Varsovia

September 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

Varsovia-Concept-Car-01A Polish luxury EV, perhaps for passengers with a germ phobia: one of the more interesting touches on this Warsaw-design proposal is its ‘antiseptic’ dirt-repelling, hydrophobic surfaces within its plastic-free mobile office-style interior. The Varsovia concept’s main point is its cabin configuration and the kitting-out with large AV screens, full connectivity and teleconferencing equipment, plus mood sensors for ambient settings, but it is a range-extended EV with a claimed all-electric range of 350km and total range of 800km with its engine-generator activated. To be launched at a major motor show next year, apparently; more details here. Good to see a start-up looking beyond the usual, predictable supercar formula; good too to note another example of electromobility integrated into ground-up design and as an integral part of a something-different-from-the-mainstream proposition.

  • Ericsson has come up with a detailed discussion, well worth a read, of five tech trends shaping innovation – all of which have automotive [and electromobility] implications. First up is the cloud and 5G; no.2 is self-managing devices and the Internet of Things; no.4 is the reshaping of networks, i.e. via semiconductors and quantum computing; no. 4 is the ‘tactile internet’ – VR, haptics, audiovisual interaction, robotics – and no.5 is developing privacy and security. Check out also Ericsson’s 10 Hot Consumer Trends for 2016: there’s a handful of interesting pointers and stats from its ConsumerLab on smartphone and internet usage, lifestyle network effects and notes on the speed of technology adoption: “early adopters are less important”, they say, due to the increasing speed of mass-market take-up.
  • Speaking of which: NVIDIA is teaming up with Chinese tech giant Baidu on AI for a cloud-to-car autonomous car platform – an “end to end” architecture – developed for both Chinese and global carmakers. Sounds like a powerful partnership; more here.
  • Another reason to love Copenhagen: the district of Frederiksberg is to host what’s said to be the first commercial V2G system. The local gas, water and heating supplier [yes, district heating] Frederiksberg Forsyning is running 10 Nissan e-NV200 vans on its fleet and each can be plugged in & send electricity back to the grid on demand. Data from these vans will be studied to better-understand the potential for integrating EVs into the electricity network for grid-balancing. More here.
  • And in London: variable effects of policy interventions to improve air pollution, according to this paper from Kings College. A general decrease in NOx and NO2 2010-2014, but increased NOX on roads seeing more buses and HGVs; small particulates (PM2.5s) down but larger PM10s up; very different outcomes on different routes. All in all, much room for improvement, more measures to remove dirty diesel vehicles…

Pre-Tokyo round-up…

October 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

ligier ez10Both Nissan and Mercedes-Benz are about to unveil autonomous concepts at the Tokyo Motor Show, but in the meantime… driverless shuttle buses are about to go on trial in San Francisco. The idea is that these will act as last-mile solutions to/from transport hubs, and it’s the first application of the French-built EZ10 in the USA. Trials are already underway in Finland, France and Switzerland; more at EasyMile (a partnership with the Ligier Group).

  • Report from the EU’s Joint Research Centre notes that EV sales rose to over 70,000 last year (incl. PHEV, range-extended and fuel cell vehicles, with all-electric cars accounting for 65% of that number) and the total is coming up to 154,000. Conclusion is that the EU is witnessing “a transition from testing and experimenting with EV towards full-scale EV commercialisation”, but that market support, incentives and policy measures are still important until electric vehicles become mainstream choices. Sum-up here.
  • Meanwhile, another report claims that the EU’s 2020 goal of a 95g/km CO2 fleet average can only be met by deployment of EVs running on electricity; it assesses the benefits of EVs, PHEVs and range-extended vehicles versus fuel cells, and concludes EVs for short distances, FCEVs (fuelled with hydrogen produced by renewable-electricity hydrolysis) for longer trips. More here, full paper here.
  • A project to keep an eye on, based at Lund University, Sweden: Uniti is an EV prototype said to “question the logic of city mobility”, balance advanced tech and “human-centric design”, and to be “a serious contender for a much-neeed disruption in the automotive industry”.  Not much more than that to go on at the moment, but the Uniti team has an interesting open-source and patent-free approach to encourage the development of more sustaimable vehicles, and development is underway in LU’s new ProLab facility of a 15kW city car with a 150km range. Analysis of best vehicle configuration, production methods and materials is also being carried out, as well as whole-lifecycle impact analysis; so far, it’s been confirmed that the car will be a tandem two-seater with an interior including hemp and flax fibre biocomposites. Advanced HMI, customisable experiences and ”learning’ technologies are hinted at, and they’re aiming to get a first car built in late 2017. More here and at the project website.
  • A pro-hydrogen piece at The Conversation: OK, admittedly the current longer range of fuel cell cars vs. BEVs is a bonus, but I’m still not convinced on a well-to-wheel whole-lifecycle analysis in terms of energy consumption involved in producing (and storing, and distributing, and having a supply infrastructure for) hydrogen, at least in (relatively low-mileage) passenger vehicles. Trucks, freight, coaches, long-distance and heavy-duty stuff, yes. Good point about hydrogen production’s role in grid-buffering. What’s struck me here, however, is the idea that fuel cell cars are “a better match with existing habits”. Perhaps this is what we should be questioning as much as the fuel itself.
  • Nice map here showing the movements of the on-demand DriveNow cars in Berlin over a 24-hour period…

Geneva round-up (2): Things autonomous

March 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

rinspeed smallI’ve already written about the Rinspeed Budii (modified BMW i3; electric powertrain itself unchanged) but it was good to get a sit inside and see the robot arm – enabling driving from either side when in DIY mode – in action. All made possible, and the room to accommodate this is created, by stripping out the mechanical steering for steer-by-wire. Along with airbags, much of the dashboard and other front-bulkhead safety-related structure, too, as one can do for a show concept, but we won’t quibble as it looked good and made its point about what may be possible.

giugiaro geaOn another tip, the ItalDesign-Giugiaro Gea was a considerably larger self-chauffeuring, app-controlled limousine: with four electric motors (one driving each wheel) giving a total 764bhp, reports Autocar. And on a different note altogether, the Italian-American ED Design TorQ: an autonomous – and windowless – high-torque e-racer. Which begs the question of who, in a race of driverless cars, wins? The one with the most intuitive human-machine interaction, apparently; it’s all to showcase V2X/V2V products and AI systems on offer from a technology provider anyway, but a fully-working prototype is under development to demonstrate ‘swarm intelligence’ and other advanced safety-related wares.

ed torq

Autonomous vehicles, and other EV-related news

February 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

IMG_0329IMG_0301Some more pictures from Greenwich yesterday (further to those posted on Twitter), and the launch of the GATEway project (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment). The eight sensor- and radar-guided Meridian electric vehicles (developed by a firm called Phoenix Wings) are going to shuttle all around the Greenwich Peninsula for two years, picking people up and dropping ’em off between the O2 arena, North Greenwich tube station and soforth. The research, including collecting feedback from the general public, will be led by TRL.

  • And further to this… Autonomous vehicles could cut car ownership rates by 43%, according to researchers (Schoettle & Sivak) at UMTRI (University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute). Identifying a lack of ‘trip overlap’ in multi-car US households, autonomous cars able to ‘go home’ to be used by someone else could bring car ownership down to an average 1.2 vehicles per household. However, each car’s mileage could increase by 75%, not including the extra passenger-less mileage it might do on its way back to base. Interesting stuff…
  • Kia’s Trail’ster concept car – revealed at the Chicago Auto Show this week – is a sported-up SUV-alike Soul with added hybrid power: an electric motor driving the rear axle to give AWD. The motor (35hp, 100lb ft) allows for 25-30% increase in fuel economy in city driving and 5-10% on the highway, apparently, supplementing the front-driving 1.6 turbo petrol engine to give a total 220hp/285lb ft).
  • The Frazer-Nash/Ecotive Metrocab RE-EV taxi has been licensed by Transport for London and the first examples are going on trial. This delivers an overall 98mpg/less than 50g/km, has a range of 560km, and is said to save a cabbie £20-£40 a day; its powertrain combines a 1-litre petrol engine with two electric motors and a generator, and it is also externally-chargeable with a zero-emissions mode.
  • And illustrating exactly why electrification is important… children (carrying certain genes) exposed to urban air pollution are at increased risk of ‘brain inflammation’, cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative changes, including lower IQ and short-term memory loss, akin to early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and even Parkinson’s diseases, according to a study from (very polluted) Mexico City. Summary plus links/references here.
  • The Volkswagen Group has bought an entire portfolio of fuel cell patents from Ballard, reports Green Car Congress. Yet Volkswagen of America has also announced a $10million investment in EV-charging infrastructure, in partnership with BMW USA and ChargePoint.

News round-up: EV batteries, digital platforms, driverless cars, diesel and more…

January 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

bosch battery second lifeBosch, BMW and energy supplier Vattenfall have kicked off their second-life battery/energy storage project. An installation of 100 used EV batteries (from i3 and ActiveE prototypes) at Vattenfall’s site in Hamburg is to integrate with a 2MW power station and explore the storage of 2MWhr-worth of energy (enough to power 30 four-person households for a week, apparently). The 10-year project – to be operational by the end of next year – is to explore the integration and management of the batteries, their storage capacity, and their ageing/degradation. More here.

  • The first Symbio FCell-converted hydrogen fuel cell range-extended Renault Kangoo ZE vans have been delivered to a fleet in West Normandy; their range is nearly doubled by the on-board fuel cell. More here.
  • Discussion on Google’s Project Ara modular smartphone platform at Car Design News: this kind of thing could be scaled-up for vehicle interiors and in-car connected services, allowing for updates and personalisation of services, for example.
  • Siemens is developing an algorithm to better predict the availability of car-share vehicles within integrated multi-modal route-planning; this will join its SiMobility Connect platform. More detail here.
  • Big report from the ICCT (International Council on Clean Transportation) suggests that over a quarter of gasoline/diesel fuel use on the Pacific Coast could be substituted by lower-carbon fuels by 2030. It modelled eight potential scenarios and sees a role for electricity, hydrogen and natural gas alongside ethanol and biofuels (and electric rail) in different proportions according to policy and incentives. Yep, no one answer or solution.
  • Porsche’s ‘Pajun’ sports saloon (shrunken Panamera) is to come as an EV only, reports suggest. It’ll be positioned as a Tesla Model S rival. And reports also – at the other end of the car market – of an Opel Karl/Vauxhall Viva EV.
  • Research from MTV (3600 respondents) found that ‘millennials’ – contrary to many recent claims – are pretty fond of driving after all; 75% would prefer to give up social media for a day than their car, apparently. More here. Adds to a growing sense that the contribution of this age-group to ‘peak car’ (if indeed this exists or is ongoing) is short-lived or even a bit of a fallacy?
  • …but driverless/autonomous vehicles may actually even cause congestion, according to research from Imperial College, London reported at CityLab (again); if acceptable levels of comfort are to be reached, lots of stop-starting and delays/snarl-ups at intersections, models suggest.
  • And more from Imperial College: deprived and ethnically-diverse neighbourhoods (in the UK and Netherlands) bear the brunt of poor air quality from traffic emissions, especially PM10s and NO2. Reported here.
  • In a not-unrelated move, the London boroughs of Islington and Hackney are to introduce a near-£100 diesel surcharge on already-expensive residents’ parking permits (reported here). Much debate as to whether Euro 6-compliant diesels (the latest) should be exempt and whether this blanket policy is too blunt an instrument; tempered in the media, perhaps, by a rather damning and difficult-to-argue-with report on diesel (“The Great Car Con”) from C4’s Dispatches.

CES: BMW ChargeForward trial and Home Charging Services

January 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

bmw solar carportBMW is to trial grid-balancing, grid optimisation and cost-efficiency with Pacific Gas & Electric Company in its i ChargeForward Program, and is looking to recruit up to 100 i3 drivers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The 18-month program, to start in July 2015, will look at managed/deferred charging (controlled via smartphone app), and also at second-life battery applications – eight used Mini E batteries (with a remaining 70% capacity) are to be repurposed into a static solar system at the BMW tech office in Mountain View to store energy and return it to the grid. The i ChargeForward app to be trialled includes informing drivers that – due to peak grid load – charging will be stopped for up to an hour (unless they opt to continue). Also at CES, BMW demoed its i Home Charging Services, a development (pictured, in solar carport) using the Wallbox Pro to automatically charge a vehicle from cheaper off-peak power or the house’s own domestic solar electricity when available; it also showed a concept static home energy storage system using repurposed i-car batteries. More on all the above here in handy rundown; full BMW CES presskit here.

  • Toyota announced at CES that it’s doing its bit to shape the future of mobility as hydrogen-driven, and has made over 5,680 of its fuel cell-related patents royalty-free, including those for technology in the new Mirai saloon; around 1,970 of these are related to fuel cell stacks, 290 with high-pressure hydrogen tanks, 3,350 with fuel cell control system software and 70 to hydrogen production and supply. “By eliminating traditional corporate boundaries, we can speed the development of new technologies and move into the future of mobility more quickly, effectively and economically”, said Bob Carter, Senior VP of Automotive Operations, Toyota Motor Sales USA. Patents will be available to automakers, fuel cell component suppliers, energy companies and firms developing/making fuel cell buses and industrial vehicles such as forklift trucks; applications for non-transportation applications “will be evaluated on a case by case basis”. Toyota’s release also refers to “the company’s aggressive support for developing a hydrogen-based society”. Indeed. More detail here.
  • Audi has confirmed that its autonomously-driven A8 will go on sale in 2016: the tech will only be operating at up to 60kph and for parking manoeuvres, but this is indicative of the incremental introduction of self-driving vehicles. More here. Audi demoed its A7 Piloted Driving Prototype at CES, having had it guide itself from Palo Alto, California, to Vegas. And Volkswagen is also doing the automated-parking thing – and taking it a stage further with the e-Golf. It’s wired one up for inductive charging, and you can remotely position the car on the induction plate to maximise its uptake; more here.
  • Here’s the kind of emerging service which could aid electromobility: Powertree Services has launched (in San Francisco) rental of parking spaces in apartment buildings with hook-up to rooftop solar panels for EV-charging. Drivers can charge their cars at their own building or other Powertree facilities, building owners/freeholders can earn money from the rental of parking spaces (and rooftop space). (Via Treehugger).
  • Chip-maker NVIDIA is gunning for the autonomous car market, reports Transport Evolved, which quotes CEO Jen-Hsung Huan as saying: “Mobile supercomputing will be central to tomorrow’s car. With vast arrays of cameras and displays, cars of the future will see and increasingly understand their surroundings. Whether finding their way back to you from a parking spot or using situational awareness to keep them out of harm’s way, future cars will do many amazing, seemingly intelligent things. Advances in computer vision, deep learning and graphics have finally put this dream within reach”. NVIDIA’s Drive PX ‘deep learning’ system enables auto parking space location and parking – and for the owner to later summon and ‘meet’ their car at an arranged location.


Design Concept of the Day: Mercedes-Benz F 015

January 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

merc f015Its full name is “F 015 Luxury in Motion”, but I can’t quite bring myself to type that in a headline. Anyway, this Merc concept, on show at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (more news from CES to follow), is an autonomously-driven four-door monospace lounge-saloon, longer and roomier than the S-Class, with a CFRP/steel construction said to give a 40% weight reduction, and furnished with four rotating armchair-type seats. These can be swivelled for face-to-face contact, set up for working or for entertainment, and swing outwards by 30 degrees when the doors are opened for easier climbing-in and -out. The cabin’s described as “a digital arena”, with six screens on the instrument panel, rear and side panels, controlled by touch-screen, gesture or even eye-tracking and using laser-projection and LED displays.
It can be ‘driven’ manually, it seems, but this camera- and sensor-equipped car’s in constant contact with the outside world and can be commanded to operate fully-autonomously (there’s a pedestrian-detection system with automatic braking, of course, though this, spookily, involves projection of a virtual zebra-crossing and the broadcasting of a message that it’s safe to cross. Not sure I like the sound of cars issuing instructions). Says Daimler chairman Dr Dieter Zetsche, “we have a master plan (my italics) in place to take the big leap required getting from technically feasible to commercially viable.” Dr Zetsche also makes the very salient point that, by 2030, given the expected growth in the global mega-cities, “the single most important luxury goods of the 21st century are private space and time… autonomously-driving cars by Mercedes-Benz shall offer exactly that.”
Also notable is the F 015’s plug-in hybrid powertrain, with hydrogen fuel cell plus pair of electric motors; it’ll have a range of 684 miles (124 miles in all-electric mode) and can do 0-60mph in 6.7 seconds, reports Autocar – which quotes Dr Zetsche as saying: “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.” Luxury in Motion for those who can afford it, at least.
  • News on the Detroit Electric SP.01 Lotus-alike (£100,500 starting price): to go into production in Leamington Spa for 2016, reports Autocar, just in case you were keeping tabs on this one.
  • Some more thoughts on ‘peak car’ from Scott LeVine, looking at driver licencing amongst young men in particular: the decline in their driving (both in terms of mileage driven and licence-holding) appears to have stabilised; there appears to be little correlation between reduced driving/internet usage and attitudes to environmental concerns; economic factors are an issue (including low pay, employment rates); the more difficult driving test and cost of lessons are off-putting; still a lot of questions unanswered, basically
  • And some more detail (via the abovementioned S LeV) in a report for the RAC Foundation (Berington and Mikolai), using the Understanding Society data: young adults’ licence-holding correlates with age, education, economic activity status, individual income, living arrangement, housing tenure and rural/urban locality; reported mileage relates to age, commuting, economic activity status (more pronounced effects for women), individual income and area type, with one of the most important correlates being whether they drive to work. Not driving (despite having a licence) is associated with having low socioeconomic status/being unemployed, remaining in education, living in London and in shared accommodation. The report also points out the growing phenomenon of “emerging adulthood” – staying in parental home/studying for longer, later marriage/children/home ownership, etc, “important structural changes in the way that young adults make their transition from school to work” – and the impact of intergenerational financial support (i.e. having affluent parents who pay for driving lessons). It suggests looking further into the link between lower driving and the expansion of higher education since the 1990s; and whether there is actually a shift in lifestyle and preferences that will mean this generation’s lower driving rates will continue as they age, have children and soforth.
  • Trend-reporting from Ford for 2015, looking at Generation Z (born 1993-): they’re digitally-savvy, socially-conscious, into sharing rather than tying themselves into soon-to-be-obsolete tech, don’t like carrying stuff (keys, wallets etc) and are looking at a convergence of transport and communication, amongst other claimed insights in the Looking Further With Ford 2015 report, outlined and linked-to here.
  • And a report by John Urry et al (incl. folk from the Centre for Mobilities Research and Liveable Cities teams at Lancaster University) for the government’s Foresight Future of Cities project. This outlines historic urban growth and suggests five possible future scenarios – High-Tech City, Digital City, Liveable City and Fortress City (surveillance, etc) – hydrogen-fuelled, shared/on-demand driverless cars and slow-moving microvehicles feature in the first three projections, related to changes in commuting/working patterns, localism, virtual communication and soforth. The fourth scenario is the Mad Max social/infrastructural breakdown… But could larger cities see a mixture/combination of these by district?



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