Design Concept of the Day: zoox Boz

December 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

zooxbozNot so much a car as a new mobility paradigm, according to start-up zoox – a small company grounded in the design/animation/creative industries, so it’s come up with a nice-looking and well thought-out proposal for an autonomously-guided and platooned EV. Thinking with the proverbial clean-sheet approach, zoox’s Boz is bi-directional (works both ways, push-me-pull-you style), and in an autonomous set-up, doesn’t need headlights (direction is indicated to other road-users via external LEDs),windscreens, steering wheel, pedals or even a dashboard, enabling it to act solely as a cocooning pod for comfortable, fully-wired business transport.

It is remotely controlled from a central operating HQ (zoox draws the comparison with air traffic control and aeroplane autopilot systems), a hub to which vehicles will also return for cleaning, servicing and battery-swapping (appropriate in this context rather than recharging, as the vehicles are expected to be in service 24 hours a day). It’s conceived as an on-demand, pay-per-use vehicle for city use and ‘last mile’ transport, to be summoned taxi-style via a smartphone app, rather than a privately-owned product. Construction is from carbon composite components in easily-swapped or updated modules, manufactured using 3D printing tech; drive is electric/compressed-air hybrid.

Zoox has come under fire from some quarters for its lack of engineering background, and the fact that it’s looking for funding for ’boutique’ production, but whether or not this particular concept is only vapourware, it’s no big leap of the imagination to suggest that some of the most innovative, experimental and even influential proposals for new-system automobility could well be coming in future from outside the conventional, traditional automotive sector. Full lowdown (well, sort of: not that much on the concept itself beyond some pretty drawings and a bit of blurb) here at zoox’s pages.

  • Zoox refers to a useful study from Columbia University appraising the outlook for autonomous vehicles: Transforming Personal Mobility (2013). Download  it here.
  • In the here-and-now, Fiat’s aiming to undercut Daimler’s Car2Go in the car-sharing game (whilst offering two more seats than in the Smart Fortwo) and is launching its Enjoy fleet – of 500s – in Milan. No subscription fee, 25 euro cents a minute, free parking and free entry into the city centre (otherwise subject to a five-euro daily charge). It’s signed up Italian oil/gas firm Eni to take part, for starters, reports Automotive News Europe, which cites research from Frost & Sullivan suggesting that 26 million people will be car-sharing by 2020 (up from the current 2.3 million), 15 million of these in Europe (up from today’s 1 million). It’s not all about altruistic sharing, though – ANE quotes Fiat-Chrysler’s Europe chief Alfredo Altavilla as saying it’s “the quickest way to get customers into our cars”, and notes that Fiat will be offering Enjoy users discounts if they subsequently make a purchase.
  • Handy review from Embarq on the state-of-play in the car-sharing market here.
  • Haven’t spotted them yet myself, but there’s a pair of BYD electric buses now in action in London. These single-deckers have a 155-mile range, and will be trialled till August 2016. Six more will join them in service early next year. More here.

Prototype of the Day: Spark-Renault SRT_01E

September 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

spark-renault-formula-e-carThis is Renault’s entry in the FIA Formula E Championship for electric vehicles: the single-seater Spark-Renault SRT_01E. The ten-round international series kicks off in September 2014, with ten teams and 20 drivers; Renault is to make the first 40 cars for it, but other manufacturers will get involved later. Renault is responsible for the car’s electric drivetrain, system integration, performance optimisation and safety; McLaren Electronic Systems for development, production and assembly of the powertrain and electronic controls; Williams Advanced Engineering for battery design; Dallara for the monocoque design and construction; and Spark for the suspension, aerodynamics and assembly. The car’s motor delivers 200kW/270hp tothe rear wheels, though in the races, will be limited to 133kW/180hp with a ‘push to pass’ transient mode for overtaking; its body meets conventional F1 regulations, and it’s good for 0-62mph in three seconds though top speed is limited to 200km/h for safety on the urban circuits it will race on. Total weight is 800kg. More here.

  • An energy storage demo project, exploring the use of end-of-life EV batteries, is under development at the Future Technology Centre (a partnership with Gateshead College) in north-east England.  Commissioned by Zero Carbon Futures in collaboration with SR Technology Innovations and tadea, it has come up with a demo unit that can store energy from solar panels for domestic power, EV charging, feeding back into the grid or managing power supplies to minimise exposure to peak tariffs. The unit will be trialled at the centre, where various low-carbon vehicle technologies are under development, and its potential assessed.
  • And KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) is actually going into small-scale production of lithium-ion batteries for electric commercial vehicles and for energy storage, at the same time developing technologies for licensing. More here.
  • A big urban transport trial in Barcelona: 400 people are to test the SUPERHUB smartphone app which gives multi-modal service information and route guidance. The EU-funded three-year SUPERHUB project is already being tested in Helsinki, and a trial in Milan will also start this month. SUPERHUB incorporates route options and modes including local trains, underground trains, cycling and private vehicles, and calculates CO2 production in each case.
  • Johnson Controls is displaying a compact  48-volt micro-hybrid system at the Frankfurt Motor Show, said to deliver up to 15% fuel savings and to power an air conditioning system and other anciliaries at lower cost than a full-hybrid set-up thanks to increased regenerative braking capacity over earlier micro/mild hybrid technologies. More here.
  • The Volkswagen Group is promising 14 electrified – EV or hybrid – vehicles on sale across its brands by 2014, and is “electrifying all vehicle classes”, according to CEO Prof. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, speaking at the Frankfurt Motor Show. More here.

Design Concept of the Day: Moretti EGS

May 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

morettiIt’s Friday, so let’s be indulgent with a pretty pic of a retro-style sports car. Only a CAD rendering, I’m afraid, but it is (theoretically) an EV and the work of Coventry University vehicle design student Brian Males (a Slovakian). It’s described as “a modern reinterpretation of the 1954 Moretti 750 Grand Sport”, says Car Body Design, which has a full gallery of images plus video (nice archive footage of the original in action on, I think, the Mille Miglia). Males reckons that, to ease the transition to electric mobility, you’ll need an emotional, human factor to appeal to car-buyers, perhaps including imperfection, nostalgia, sexuality.

  • Who’s buying EVs, and what do they do with them? OK, buyers are mostly men, aged 30-50, well-educated and high-income, living in/near cities, and in households which have more than one car. They’re mostly using their EV for commuting, and some studies have found that owners are now driving more, and in some cases, taking the EV instead of public transport. Big literature review from the Norwegian Centre for Transport Research here (via WNYC and @Sust_Mobility – thanks).
  • Thoughtful report from Sustainable Mobility (@Sust_Mobility, France) on transport in peri-urban areas (outskirts of city centres, not quite out in the ‘burbs). Trams, bikes, EVs and car-sharing… Some useful factoids, stats and snippets of info: for example, SNCF (French train co) has a website for car-poolers to team up for journeys to/from its stations in the Île-de-France regional network, and is testing in-station terminals to enable last-minute lift-share arrangements;
  • EV charging, four times faster and $2000 less expensive: Saeid Haghbin of Chalmers University, Sweden, has developed an integrated motor drive and on-board charger concept, with a patented rotating transformer for power transfer. It’s lighter, more compact and lower-cost to make than existing units capable of full recharges in two hours. More (including link to his PhD thesis) here (via inhabitat).
  • More detail on the news that Porsche is to offer hybrid versions of every model, with a next-generation plug-in hybrid powertrain to debut in the Panamera in 2016, from Autocar; Porsche is working on induction charging, too, apparently.
  • Renault SAS is to team up with Spark Racing Technologies to build the cars for the FIA Formula E race series. The 42 e-powered single-seaters supplied to participating teams will be named “Spark-Renault” .
  • Volvo’s ramping up production of the V60 Plug-In Diesel Hybrid in response to demand: up from 150 to 282 cars a week from the Torslanda production lines, with target production of 10,000 in 2014. Most demand from Holland, Belgium and Italy, it says. Oh, and Mitsubishi’s doubling production of the plug-in Outlander to 4000 a month, too.
  • BMW hosted a Sustainability Hackathon for app developers at its US tech HQ in Mountain View, California: winning app is to help EV owners needing to charge at an already-occupied facility. More at Hybridcars.
  • On a similar note, nice story at Green Car Reports on how Nissan wants to collect data streamed from LEAFs for app development, vs privacy concerns.
  • The University of Missouri is developing a ‘convection cell’ lithium-metal battery said to be lighter and lower-cost than lithium-ion. More at Green Car Congress. And another opposed-piston, sleeve-valve engine under development, from Pinnacle Engine: initially intended for two-wheelers, but automotive applications in mind (again, more at GCC).
  • Source London has now installed its target 1300 public EV charging points, and is putting out a tender for operators to take over the network. More at Fleet News. A new network’s been launched in Manchester, too. Oh, and a 200-EV trial is starting in Malaga (EV Fleet World).
  • More on the falling-out-of-love-with-cars/crisis in car culture discussion/panic/opportunity from CNN’s Futurecast event (via @jeckythump and @talitrigg – cheers).

Concept of the Day: Höweler + Yoon Architects “Boswash 2030”

May 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

18_the_reverse_commuterArchitects Höweler + Yoon, winners of the Audi Urban Future Award 2012, have been working with the company and met last week for a third City Dossier Workshop at the 2013 Ideas City Festival in New York. The panel discussion looked at their vision of “Boswash 2030″ – a practical mobility solution for the 53-million person conurbation between Boston and Washington DC. Audi’s sales and marketing chief Luca de Meo says:  “We want to understand and we want to listen. How can we improve the quality of life in cities? And what does premium mobility mean in the urban spaces?”. Boswash 2030 involves, inevitably, networked vehicles with autonomous capabilities, with cloud-stored data used for seamless traffic flow and navigation, but also facilitating multi-modal transport and sharing of vehicles from cars to pedelecs and electric motorbikes to overcome the ‘last mile’ issue and other gaps in connections. The researchers explored these gaps and hitches in integration by describing four typical types of urban traveller – the there-and-back  ‘reverse commuter’, the ‘straphanger’, the ‘road warrior’ and the ‘cast-away’, the latter struggling with poor public transport between districts.

Höweler + Yoon say: “Switching and sharing have emerged as key strategies for urban mobility in the Boswash region. Switching will become increasingly important as no single mobility system will be able to meet all of our needs, and we will increasingly need to switch from various modes: private car to shared bike, to shared car and public transit subway system. Sharing is already a prevalent means of using resources, including music, information, bikes and cars. Mobility will increasingly be shared between multiple users and communities of users”. More at the Audi Urban Future Initiative website (sadly over-designed, slow-loading and quite difficult to use – hopefully not an indication of any future transport provision from the brand).

Other titbits today:

  • Nano-materials containing germanium + lithium-ion batteries = a doubling of typical EV range plus recharging in minutes, say a team from the University of Wollongong; more at the Illawarra Mercury (via Autoblog Green).
  • Finland is pushing to be a major supplier of hydrogen for transport: a new roadmap report outlines the country’s export plans, including hydrogen from forestry biomass and from reformed natural gas. More here. The country’s car and bus transport could become energy-independent, it suggests.
  • Mobilities is a whole academic discipline crossing design, social science, geography, economics, the arts… with, as its name suggests, a focus on movement and transport. List of presentations from this week’s #Mobilities13 conference at the Mobile Media Lab, Concordia University, Montreal here.

Concept of the Day: Audi Urban Future Initiative Extreme Cities Project

May 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

audi future cities projectAudi’s Urban Future Initiative, a collaboration with Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, has presented its Extreme Cities Project in New York this week. There are five hypotheses for the megacities of 2050: Transgeneration Capacity, whereby generational boundaries are blurred, and better access to services and communication enables care beyond an extended family network; Asymmetric Mobility, involving multi-modal transport, digital and virtual communication instead of traditional commuting patterns; Complexity, entailing an immense (and vulnerable) concentration of knowledge in dense urban centres; Migration, whereby people move freely and frequently to live and work in other world cities; and Generosity, with lots of community projects such as collective gardens. A more positive set of outcomes than Digiland etc. (see previous post). Full lowdown here (and more to follow from the Ideas City Festival, New York, tomorrow).

In other news today:

  • “Lifecycle emissions of electric vehicles are significantly lower than those of conventional alternatives when using low-carbon power generation and could be further reduced through the recycling of batteries”: new whole-lifecycle analysis by Ricardo-AEA for the Committee on Climate Change, in an extensive report (pro-nuclear) on reducing the UK’s carbon footprint for 2050. Available for download here.
  • Are e-bike sales (up 22% 2010-2011) eating into European car sales (down 2%, and a further 8% in 2012), asks Forbes? Electrically-assisted bicycle sales are expected to reach 1-1.2million in Europe this year, says Navigant Research. Having had one zoom past me whilst I was struggling in low gear up Clyde Road last night, I can see the appeal…
  • Road traffic fell in the UK again last quarter: down 2.3% compared to January-March 2012, though we still covered a long 74.7billion vehicle miles. Car traffic down 1.9% (59.6billion vehicle miles), light goods down 1.9% (10.4billion), heavy goods down 3.8% (3.7billion). Larger decreases were seen on rural and urban roads (down 2.5 and 2.9%) than on motorways (0.7%). Full report here.
  • The Elio two-seat, three-wheeler, a 1.0-litre lightweight to be built in Shreveport, Louisiana, goes on sale next month in the US from $6,800, and 13,000 have already been ordered, reports Autoweek.

Concept of the Day: Digicars at the Design Museum

May 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

digicarsOne of four future ‘United Micro Kingdoms‘ on display at the Design Museum, London, the Digiland UmK features a series of remote-controlled microcars in which riders can buy a series of services as well as differing levels of privacy and performance. Citizens of this county – Digitarians – are dependent on digital tech and market forces, subject to total surveillance, data logging and tracking, and the electric Digicars are standing room-only, basically-equipped transportation appliances which constantly calculate the most economical route, over which “every square metre of road surface and every millisecond of access, at any moment, is monetized and optimised”. Mind you, this still sounds more attractive than the Bioliberals‘ Biocar, and I’m not sure about the Very Large Bike of the Anarcho-Evolutionists, either (no story-telling, please, and I do hope bloody hippy drumming isn’t involved)… Great fun and thought-provoking stuff from Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, tutors/professors at the Royal College of Art and University of Applied Arts, Vienna, respectively,  who “interrogate the cultural and ethical impact of existing and new technologies and how they alter the way we live”, according to the Design Museum website, and “use elements of industrial design, architecture, politics, science and sociology to provoke debate around the power and potential of design. UmK challenges assumptions about how products and services are made and used, through reinterpretations of the car and other transport systems”. Review at the Observer. Oh, and by the way, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has been talking with Google about autonomous-driving (“autopilot”, he likes to call it) tech, reports Automotive News.

  • More on the kids-losing-interest-in-cars meme at just-auto: Professor Dale Harrow of the Royal College of Art agrees with Prof. Juliet Schor (research interests: sustainable consumerism) that in the short to medium term, there is evidence to suggest that Gen Y’s not so keen. However, this isn’t holding true in developing markets, and once young Westerners grow up and have families having their own car may become a priority anyway. Harrow mentions increased customisation and the product-to-services shift as future auto industry preoccupations.
  • Story on BMW’s Connected Foresight project at Autoblog Green; basically, developing a suite of driverless/driver-assist technologies (do we see a theme emerging this evening?) which will enable travellers to safely stay in social media contact whilst crawling in the stop-start traffic of the congested mega-cities of the future. BMW’s new DesignWorks Shanghai think-tank has a dedicated Apps Lab, too.
  • No surprise here, but Californian EV start-up Coda Automotive (assembling nondescript-looking Chinese-developed budget saloons) has filed for bankruptcy. Company’s hoping to go into energy storage instead now, apparently; more here.
  • Sounds as if Better Place is on its way to a worse one; Renault-Nissan appears to be bailing on the battery-swap idea, with only the Fluence EV featuring the tech in selected markets (Israel, Denmark), and the Zoe, Kangoo and other ZE models to have their own staying-in-to-charge batteries.  CEO Carlos Ghosn told  Energiwatch that “when you look at the overall trend, we must conclude that replaceable batteries are no longer the main path for electric vehicles… We believe that people want flexibility in the technology, and we can see that the demand is for rechargeable standard batteries… there may also be large companies, where they have a huge fleet of cars, and do not want to wait for charging. But it will not be the majority of the market, and going forward, our focus is on the charging technology.” Battery-swapping may still have relevance in the fleet/van sector, however; Green Car Reports has the lowdown and video on the GreenWay project in Slovakia, for example.
  • Car-sharing in Toyota City: the Ha:Mo (‘harmonious mobility’) trial is up and running with three COMs micro-EVs and a fleet of e-bikes now available to commuters linking-up with a nearby train station for  ‘last mile’ purposes. Nice pic at Green Car Congress.
  • Another intriguing report from Green Car Congress about work at MIT to extend an algorithm for car-sharing (ie reserving a Zipcar vehicle) for detailed multi-modal journey planning, calculating the most time- and energy-efficient routes. Prof Brian Williams and research student Peng Yu say that the algorithm could also be used for range optimisation in plug-in hybrids and EVs, and see it as a human-machine collaboration which could also work with robots (they’re in talks with Boeing).

Concept of the Day: Buick Riviera

April 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

buick riviera shanghaiGM’s Buick has revived the Riviera nameplate (again: there was a 2007 concept using this name) for a plug-in hybrid developed by Shanghai GM and GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Centre. This one previews the styling of future Buick products – now largely targeted at the Chinese/Asian market, hence the PATAC design – and features the characteristic ‘waterfall’ grille. Fuel-saving features include aerodynamic lines plus active grille shutters and diffusers, and wireless charging; it can run in all-electric or hybrid modes though there’s no more detail than this yet on the powertrain. In a nice touch, however, the concept’s charging port (it can be recharged via a traditional cable or wireless ‘sensory panel’) echoes the traditional Buick ‘porthole’ window. Further features include 4G mobile internet access, voice- and gesture-recognition controls, forward active safety monitoring with 10 cameras and a full suite of active safety/driver assist systems. Wouldn’t bet against something like this going into production. More here.

  • Some more Shanghai news. Nissan’s Chinese-market sub-brand Venucia, a JV with Dongfeng, has come up with an EV concept: a city car called Viwa (pics here). It’s claimed to be the first of a number of new upcoming Venucia EVs, featuring existing Nissan e-drive tech, and to have “a driving range which meets the daily requirements of Chinese customers”. Venucia is also to start pilot-testing its e30 in Guangzhou and Dalian this year; more on that here. And BMW, meanwhile, is to make  EVs in partnership with Brilliance, to be sold under a new ‘Zinoro’ brand-name, reports Automotive News.
  • Detroit Electric has unveiled the Lotus Elise-based SP:01 in Shanghai; like the Tesla Roadster, but faster, and with a four (or optional five-) speed gearbox as standard (two-speed auto also available). Orders have already been taken, says Autocar.
  • And at (my) home here in the UK: Hyundai has joined the London Hydrogen Partnership to “develop a plan for fuel cell vehicles” and plot the roll-out of refuelling stations in the city. It is now delivering its iX35 Fuel Cell (in a production run of 1000) to public and private fleets and demonstrating it to the European Commission. The iX35 Fuel Cell – a small crossover – has now completed over two million miles-worth of testing in total in Europe, Korea and the US, and the headline stats for it are a 369-mile range per tankful of hydrogen, a top speed of 100mph, and 0-62mph in 12.5 seconds.

And the big research story (so far) this week:

A study by Ricardo-AEA for the RAC Foundation and the UK Petroleum Industry Association has a pessimistic forecast for electric and plug-in hybrid car sales in the UK: unlikely to meet the government’s targets for 2020. The EU target of an average 95g/km of CO2 is feasible, however, thanks to improvements to diesel and petrol engines. An annual sales figure of 200,000 plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles is expected for 2020, taken from an average of 14 different forecasts, but the actual numbers from this report are vague. Market share of hybrids is expected to be anywhere between 5-20% by 2020 and 20-50% by 2030, the latter accounting for anything between 400,000-1million cars; for plug-in hybrids, 1-5% (2020) and 15-30% (2030), and 300,000-600,000 sales; for ‘pure’ EVs 1-5% (2020) and 5-20% (2030), and 100,000-400,000 sales; and for range-extended EVs, 1-2% (2020) and 5-20% (2030) with sales of 100,000-400,000. Whichever way you look at it, even the more conservative figures still represent a fair amount of vehicles (at least compared to today’s numbers), but basically, there’s no clear consensus.

Conclusion of the report: “In the longer term, the likely mix of technologies is extremely difficult to predict. The speed with which plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles achieve significant market shares is highly dependent on their total cost of ownership in comparison to that of more conventional alternatives. This is, in turn, dependent on factors such as oil prices, further battery and fuel cell cost reductions, and government policies.” Comment from Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation: “Estimating future sales of electric cars is not quite like sticking the tail on the donkey, but not far from it. There are so many variables to factor in that even those paid to predict the future of low-carbon vehicles cannot agree on what is in store. The only common ground amongst the experts is that we are unlikely to see as many electric cars sold as politicians might like.”

The RAC Foundation makes the point that advances in battery technology and purchase price are key factors, and says that a target of an average new-car 60g/km should be set for 2025 to incentivise development. The director of UKPIA, Chris Hunt, notes that, including range-extenders and engines in hybrids, 60% of vehicles in 2030 will still feature the ICE, and said: “The key conclusions of the publication are that conventional petrol and diesel cars are expected to remain the dominant technology in the overall vehicle fleet until at least 2030.” As Mandy Rice-Davies (she of Profumo scandal infamy) once said: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”.

  • Ah, but on the other hand… the IEE (Innovation, Electricity, Efficiency, an institute of the Edison Foundation: yes, you can see where they‘re coming from) reckons one in ten light-duty vehicles, including cars, could be electric in the USA by 2035. “Even under the most conservative scenarios” that means five million American EVs, and possibly as many as 30 million. More, including link to download full report, here. Worst-case scenario is a 2% market share, best-case 12%, depending on advances in battery tech and oil prices.

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