Tag Archives: car

Meanwhile, they’re testing flying cars in Japan

If you asked people 40 years ago what they expect for 2020, staying home and social distancing wouldn’t have made it too high on the list. But you know what would have? Flying cars — and that’s exactly what a Japanese company is trialing.

Credits: SkyDrive.

It’s not exactly The Jetsons, but the century-old dream of flying cars is finally starting to take shape. Toyota-backed SkyDrive has carried out a successful, albeit small-scale test where a single-passenger vehicle was showcased.

SkyDrive featured the SD-03 — the smallest electric VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicle in the world. According to the company, the flying car has 8 rotors that help it fly safely even in the event of a motor failure.

The single-seat vehicle took off early in the evening and circled about for 4 minutes, hovering some 2 meters above the ground. For now, the car can fly for 10 minutes at most, but according to SkyDrive, they’re aiming for 30 minutes of fly time, which would already offer real-life potential.

“Of the world’s more than 100 flying car projects, only a handful has succeeded with a person on board,” Tomohiro Fukuzawa, who spearheads the company, told The Associated Press. “I hope many people will want to ride it and feel safe.”

“We want to realize a society where flying cars are an accessible and convenient means of transportation in the skies and people are able to experience a safe, secure, and comfortable new way of life,” he added.

Of course, actually achieving that goal is still a ways away, although we’re on the right track. In principle at least, VTOLs could be much quicker and safer than other flying devices including helicopters, but actually making them practical is a much more challenging issue.

For starters, their autonomy needs to be increased substantially, and it’s not entirely clear how that will happen. Secondly, SkyDrive hasn’t offered any details about the potential price of such a device. As cool as it is, it needs to be at least somewhat affordable to be used, realistically speaking. There’s also the matter of capacity: a one-seat car isn’t exactly a car, and although SkyDrive is also working on a two-seater vehicle although that one hasn’t been showcased yet.

For now at least, the progress is encouraging. It wasn’t smooth sailing for SkyDrive: three years ago, the first test drive went poorly. Now, the issues seem to have been addressed (in part thanks to funding from the likes of Toyota and the state-owned Development Bank of Japan).

It might seem like flying cars are little more than an expensive pipe dream, but that was also the vibe when technologies like cars or airplanes were first introduced. It will take a while, but the Japanese government seems to be determined to support this endeavor. They’re still in the very early stages, but in a year like 2020, we’ll take everything we can get. Early-stage flying cars don’t even sound that bad.

Electric car.

Europe is now home to over one million electric vehicles

Europe can boast one million electric vehicles.

Electric car.

Image credits Mike / Pixabay.

A huge sales increase in the first half of the year propelled the European market over the one-million-electric-vehicles mark, reports industry analyst EV-Volumes. This is the second market to pass the benchmark after China (which did so in 2017), which is a much larger market (so EVs have a small market share). The US is still lagging behind, but estimated to pass the one-million-mark later this year.

Grid-fed vroom-vrooms

Roughly 195,000 new electric cars were sold in Europe during the first half of this year, EV-Volumes reports, representing a 42% increase from last year’s sales profile. The figure includes fully electric cars and vans, as well as plug-in hybrids, which can travel a short distance off a battery before switching to a conventional engine, sold in the European Union as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Norway.

Among all countries in Europe, Norway recorded the largest sales numbers of such vehicles with 36,500 sold EVs and 37% of new registrations. It’s also true that the country’s market does benefit from generous government incentives aimed at EVs. Germany, however, seems poised to overtake Norway by the end of the year for total sales.

The Netherlands and Denmark also saw good growth in sales of electric vehicles. The UK remained the runt of the litter, with 30,040 EV sales and seeing only “moderate” growth — sales of fully electric cars dipped by 6% but plug-in hybrids surged by 50%. EV-Volumes estimates this sluggishness was owed to a lack of compelling models from domestic manufacturers, Ford and Vauxhall.

The analyst further estimates that sales of EVs in Europe will reach 1.35 million by the end of the year.

“A stock of one million electric vehicles is an important milestone on the road to electrification and meeting emission targets but it is of course not enough,” said Viktor Irle, a market analyst at EV-Volumes.

Europe, however, seems determined to bet on EVs. Late last year, international energy company E.ON and Denmark-based e-mobility service provider CLEVER detailed plans to roll out 10,000 charging stations and an ‘electric highway’ across the continent. Sweden also unveiled the world’s first fully-electrified road, and several countries (including France, Norway, and Scotland) are poised to ban the sale of new fossil-fueled vehicles in the close to medium future.

Kalashnikov presents retro-futuristic electric car

The gunmaker which created the iconic AK-47 machine gun touts its new car as the Russian response to Tesla.

What do you think?

In the early 1930s, a 14-year-old child in Russia hitchhiked almost 1,000 km to reach the town of Kurya, where he would get a job at a tractor station. He would go on to develop a passion for tinkering, mechanics, and weaponry. The 17th of 19th children, he would go on to develop several iconic weapon designs, including the AK-47, which would go on to sell over 100 million firearms and become, by far, the most mass-produced weapon in history.

The man’s name was Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Today, the Kalashnikov Concern has little in common with Mikhail and his legacy, apart from borrowing his name and selling his designs — and, in fact, the company might be looking to change its own legacy and dabble in a new field: electric cars.

At a new military fair, the company revealed a vehicle prototype: the CV-1, a retro-futuristic car inspired by a Soviet hatchback from the 1970s. The CV-1 packs a 90 kilowatt-hour battery and a modern electric engine. According to Kalashnikov, the car has a range of 217 miles (or 350 km) — a respectable figure, though it hasn’t yet been demonstrated.

The company touted its prototype as the Russian response to Tesla, although it wasn’t able to point towards any specifics where it fares better than the American company.

“The car is competing with Tesla because it’s currently a successful electric vehicle project,” says Kalashnikov representative Sofia Ivanova. “We expect to at least keep up with it.”

Kalashnikov has long been trying to expand its brand, launching several products, from a line of clothes to umbrellas, but few have truly been successful. Coming up with a viable prototype is noteworthy, but finding the funding and edging on the market is a whole different ball game. Also, it’s not exactly clear which market Kalashnikov wants to tap into.

A country with vast hydrocarbon resources and little to no concern for the environment, Russia is an unlikely place to start an electric car venture. Add in a relatively low income per capita and no legislation to favor electric cars, and you end up with what seems to be a recipe for disaster. So presumably, Kalashnikov would like to sell cars in different countries — but the nostalgia aspect of the car is unlikely to appeal to many people in the West.

Will the project gain any traction, or will it tank? Kalashnikov hasn’t released any specific information about the production or sales of the car so, for now, only time will tell.

Driver sleeping.

Your car’s vibrations are making you a lousier driver — by lulling you to sleep

Just 15 minutes in a car makes us sleepier, affecting our ability to drive. After 30 minutes, this effect has a “significant impact on your ability to stay concentrated and alert,” researchers warn.

Driver sleeping.

Image via Pexels.

According to a new paper published by researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, cars themselves may be a significant threat against our ability to drive safely — some 20% of fatal car accidents today involve driver fatigue, they explain, and, according to their research, the vibrations we experience in cars makes us sleepier, posing a major risk for motorists everywhere.

Snooze cruise

“We know 1 in 5 Australians have fallen asleep at the wheel and we know that drowsy driving is a significant issue for road safety,” said Professor Stephen Robinson, paper co-author. “When you’re tired, it doesn’t take much to start nodding off and we’ve found that the gentle vibrations made by car seats as you drive can lull your brain and body.

The team worked with 15 volunteers who were placed in a virtual driving simulator. The test pitted each participant against a monotonous, two-lane highway. It wasn’t the actual driving experience that was central to this experiment, however — what the team wanted to see was what effect car vibrations have on the volunteers’ alertness levels.

The simulator was installed on a platform that could vibrate on different frequencies. Each volunteer was tested twice, using the same 60-minute driving scenario, once with vibrations at low frequencies (4-7 Hz, the same range you’d experience in a car) and once with no vibrations (as a control test).

To gauge participants’ alertness, the team monitored their heartbeat. The researchers explain that tiredness induced by vibration makes it harder, both psychologically and physiologically, for people to perform mental tasks. In order to compensate, the body’s sympathetic nervous system alters the rate with which our hearts beat. So, by looking at each volunteer’s heart rate variability (HRV), researchers were able to gain an objective measure of how drowsy they were feeling as the test progressed.

Driving simulator.

The simulator rig used in the study.
Image credits RMIT University.

During the vibrating test, volunteers started showing signs of drowsiness roughly 15 minutes in. By the 30 minute mark, they showed significant drowsiness and required substantial effort to maintain alertness and cognitive performance. The effect was progressively stronger as the test drew on, peaking at 60 minutes.

Co-author Mohammad Fard, an Associate Professor at RMIT, said that the results warrant further research into the effect of these vibrations on people. One of the first areas that should be investigated is whether their effect is consistent across different demographics, he adds — as the current experiment used a relatively tiny sample size.

“We want to study a larger cohort, particularly to investigate how age may affect someone’s vulnerability to vibration-induced drowsiness as well as the impact of health problems such as sleep apnea,” he said. “Our research also suggests that vibrations at some frequencies may have the opposite effect and help keep people awake.

“So we also want to examine a wider range of frequencies, to inform car designs that could potentially harness those ‘good vibrations’.”

“To improve road safety, we hope that future car seat designs can build in features that disrupt this lulling effect and fight vibration-induced sleepiness,” added Robinson.

The paper “The Effects of Physical Vibration on Heart Rate Variability as a Measure of Drowsiness,” has been published in the journal Ergonomics.

car sun

Hot cars left in the sun reach temperatures deadly to infants in under an hour

car sun

Credit: Pixabay.

At 160°F (71°C), you can safely fry an egg. That’s the kind of temperature you can find not just on the surface of a frying pan, but also on a car’s dashboard. According to a new study, it takes under an hour for a car left in the summer sun to reach this kind of ungodly temperature. In that same time, an infant accidentally left in the car can easily suffer heat-related injuries or even die.

Just this year, there have been six recorded cases of infants who have died after their parents left them in the car in the United States. On average, 37 children die annually because of such incidents from hyperthermia — a condition due to failed thermoregulation that occurs when a body produces or absorbs more heat than it dissipates (when the body warms to above 104°F and cannot cool down).

More than half of such unfortunate cases are due to one of the parents or caregivers forgetting about the child in the car while shopping for groceries.

Jennifer Vanos, lead study author and assistant professor of climate and human health at UC San Diego, wanted to find out just how long it takes for a car to reach deadly temperatures inside. She and colleagues used three pairs of identical vehicles: silver mid-size sedans, silver economy cars, and silver minivans. Each car was moved from direct sunlight to shade for different periods throughout three hot summer days in Tempe, Arizona. The temperature outside was around 100°F (37°C).

The tests were designed to mimic a shopping trip. After one hour, which is about the time to get groceries, the researchers measured the temperature both inside the vehicle’s surface and ambient air.

For vehicles parked in the sun during the simulated shopping trip, the average cabin temperature hit 116°F (47°C) in one hour. Dashboards averaged 157°F (69°C), steering wheels 127°F (52°C), and seats 123°F (50°C). In the shade, temperatures were significantly lower but still dangerous, with interior temperatures close to 100°F (37°C) after one hour. Dashboards averaged 118°F (47°C), steering wheels 107°F (41°C) and seats 105°F(°C).

A hypothetical 2-year old boy’s body temperature was then modeled using the ambient conditions recorded during the experiments. The team found that the child’s temperature could reach levels that make him susceptible to hyperthermia and heatstroke in about an hour if the car was left in the sun and just under two hours if the car was parked in the shade. Internal injuries due to hyperthermia may surface at temperatures below 104°F (40°C) and heatstroke survivors can incur brain and organ damage.  

Vanos told me that there are a couple of caveats that ought to be considered. She and colleagues had to make many assumptions, “such as what the child was wearing, the size of the child, gender, and the age.” As such, the body temperature values may be under- or over-estimated. However, the researchers ran multiple trials across different cars and solar conditions that all suggested a high risk of organ damage or even death in highly heat sensitive toddlers.

“This inherent inter-person variability makes it difficult to predict an absolute threshold of heat injury or death, and that can make it difficult to provide directed messaging or firm conclusions as we just don’t know, and will never know, such information for toddlers. This is because it’s unethical to complete a research study of that nature (monitoring core temperature in extreme heat conditions) on children, which is why many body temperatures threshold estimates come from adults and animal-based study. But we know that infants, toddlers, and children are more vulnerable to heat for physiological and behavioral reasons,” Vanos told ZME Science.


When I asked her if there’s anything we can do to keep our cars cool during hot summer days, Vanos reiterated that it would still be dangerous no matter what we did.

“In summertime heat in Arizona, it’s impossible to keep a car cool when it’s parked. Of course, as many know, shade helps a lot to keep the car less hot and keep metal and plastic from heating up. Thus, seeking shade for your car can help, and many people already do that. Supporting initiatives to bring more shade into cities over hot open parking lots via trees, solar panels, and shade sails can also help, and the vegetation can help cool the air as well. We want people to remember though that parking in the shade is better but can still result in lethal heat levels after ~2 hours of time being conservative. Given that most deaths are caused by a child being forgotten or locking themselves in a car for extended hours (3-8 hours), shade will not save a life,” Vanos said.

Some of you reading this might find it horrific that some parents are so careless as to trap their children inside a scorching hot vehicle. The truth, the researchers say, is that it could happen to anyone, simply because of the way human memory works or, rather, how it can be hijacked by other activities. Memory failure can easily occur when a routine behavior, such as driving the same route to work, is interrupted by a novel activity, such as an emergency call.

“Memories fail. Likely the biggest mistake someone can make is assuming that this can’t happen to them, and even the most perfect of parents can make mistakes. This narrative has repeated itself time and time again – the forgotten child, which is responsible for 54% of deaths. But there are options. General Motors has started to put sensors in the back seat as an indicator if a child is left, and many new devices or apps are becoming available for reminders.  Many people are unaware of the number of lives needlessly lost per year, and we are hoping that our study can further the conversation, support life-saving initiatives, support technological adoption from car manufacturers, and advance new policies that allow people to save children and pets from hot vehicles if they believe they are in danger without legal consequences,” Vanos concluded.

3D-printed car.

World’s first mass-produced, 3D-printed car is electric, looks cool and costs under $10K

Three-dimensional printed cars will soon find their way to driveways and cul-de-sacs all across the world as the first mass-produced vehicle of its kind aims to revolutionize the auto industry.

3D-printed car.

Image via Polymaker.

Cars are a pretty big investment. They are also quite necessary for some and quite desirable for others. So why not keep the second part but drop the price? That’s what Italian-based electric car company XEV and 3D-printing material company Polymaker want to achieve with a tiny but adorable car called the LSEV.

“XEV is the first real mass production project using 3D printing,” said  Dr. Luo Xiaofan, co-founder and CEO of Polymaker, during a recent press conference at the 3D-Printing Cultural Museum in Shanghai.

“By saying real, I mean there are also lots of other companies using 3D printing for production. But nothing can really compare with XEV in terms of the size, the scale, and the intensity.”

According to CNBC, the printed car will weigh just around 450 kgs (992 pounds), takes just three days to print, and will bring you back under $10K. The secret behind this price tag, Polymaker says, lies in the 3D printing process itself. The company managed to shrink the number of plastic components that go into the vehicle from 2,000 to just 57. This makes it much faster and cheaper to print, but also lighter than any comparable vehicle. Apart from the chassis, seats, and glass panes, every visible part of the car was 3D-printed.

It does come with limitations, however — this isn’t a sports car. It’ll do up to 43 mph (around 70km/h), and a single charge will cover about 93 miles (150km). Not good if you’re trying to cross the border to Mexico in a hurry — but really handy when you have to zip about through a crowded city. The vehicle’s relatively small dimensions also help in this regard.

People seem to agree with me: as XEV reports, they’ve already received 7,000 orders for their car, despite the fact that production should start sometime in the quarter of 2019.

“This strategic partnership between XEV and Polymaker leads to a revolutionary change in automotive manufacturing,” writes Polymaker. “It is possible that similar changes, related with 3D printing technology, will happen to every aspect of manufacturing very soon.”

New Finnish invention allows cars to easily detect black ice in real time

You might have not even heard about it, but black ice can be quite dangerous on the road. Now, researchers from Finland have developed a system which, they say, allows drivers to detect it in real time and adjust their driving accordingly.

Warning sign for icy pavement in Quebec, Canada. Credits: Gaspé / Abdallahh / Wikipedia.

Black ice, sometimes called clear ice, is a thin sheet of ice on a surface, especially common on roads and bridges. According to the World Meteorological Organization, it is “a thin ice layer on a fresh or saltwater body which appears dark in colour because of its transparency.” As the WMO says, it’s not really dark, it’s transparent, which makes it seem dark on the surface of the road.

It tends to form on relatively dry roads and the fact that you can’t really see it makes it quite dangerous. For walkers, this introduces a risk of slipping, and for drivers, it significantly increases the risk of skidding and subsequent accident due to the unexpected loss of traction. Some newer car models feature some detection and warning systems, but scientists from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland believe they can revolutionize such detection systems.

Credits: VTT.

The system they designed allows slippery road conditions to be detected extremely accurately, and at much lower costs than currently existing warning systems. It’s easy to implement, it can be installed as a part of software already existing in the vehicles, and it can also benefit cars which don’t even have the system, as long as they are capable of data sharing, and are equipped with a tracking system. In other words, cars with the physical detection system can also communicate the information to other cars, issuing warnings in real-time or even before — to help plan routes and avoid streets with icy patches.

“The driving optimization system we have developed is the only one capable of recognizing the driver’s input in economical driving, taking also into account factors independent of the driver, such as weather conditions, traffic jams and vehicle-related differences,” says Jarmo Leino from EEE Innovations Oy, the company that developed the service.

Researchers say that this could not only make the roads safer, but they could also help reduce consumption during cold spells. Their pilot data showed that savings up to 20% in fuel consumption can be reached, in addition to improved road safety.

So far, the technology is only offered for heavy traffic use and is tailored for truck fleets, but Leino says that they will expand it to private drivers in all parts of the world.

“Our goal is to make all heavy vehicles moving slipperiness sensors and to refine the gathered data into valuable information, to benefit all traffic users and other parties,”  Leino concludes.


Teaching smart cars how humans move could help make them safer and better

Computers today can’t make heads and tails of how our bodies usually move, so one team of scientists is trying to teach them using synthetic images of people in motion.

Google driverless car.

Image credits Becky Stern / Flickr.

AIs and computers can be hard to wrap your head around. But it’s easy to forget that holds true from their perspective as well. This can become a problem because we ask them to perform a lot of tasks which would go over a lot smoother if they actually did understand us a tad better.

This is how we roll

Case in point: driverless cars. The software navigating these vehicles can see us going all around them through various sensors and can pick out the motion easily enough, but it doesn’t understand it. So it can’t predict how that motion will continue, even for something as simple as walking in a straight line. To address that issue, a team of researchers has taken to teaching computers how human behavior looks like.

When you think about it, you’ve literally had a lifetime to acquaint yourself to how people and other stuff behaves. Based on that experience, your brain can tell if someone’s going to take a step or fall over or where he or she will land after a jump. But computers don’t have that store of information in the form of experience. The team’s idea was to use images and videos of computer-generated bodies walking, dancing, or going through a myriad of other motions to help computers learn what cues it can use to successfully predict how we act.


Hard to predict these wicked moves, though.

“Recognising what’s going on in images is natural for humans. Getting computers to do the same requires a lot more effort,” says Javier Romero at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen, Germany.

The best algorithms today are tutored using up to thousands of pre-labeled images to highlight important characteristics. It allows them to tell an eye apart from an arm, or a hammer from a chair, with consistent accuracy — but there’s a limit to how much data can realistically be labeled that way. To do this for a video of a single type of motion would take millions of labels which is “just not possible,” the team adds.

Training videos

So they armed themselves with human figure templates and real-life motion data then took to 3D rendering software Blender to create synthetic humans in motion. The animations were generated using random body shapes and clothing, as well as random poses. Background, lighting, and viewpoints were also randomly selected. In total, the team created more than 65,000 clips and 6.5 million frames of data for the computers to analyze.

“With synthetic images you can create more unusual body shapes and actions, and you don’t have to label the data, so it’s very appealing,” says Mykhaylo Andriluka at Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, Germany.

Starting from this material, computer systems can learn to recognize how the patterns of pixels changing from frame to frame relate to motion in a human. This could help a driverless car tell if a person is walking close by or about to step into the road, for example. And, as the animations are all in 3D, the material can also be used to teach systems how to recognize depth — which is obviously desirable in a smart car but would also prove useful in pretty much any robotic application. .

These results will be presented at the Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition in July. The papers “Learning from Synthetic Humans” has been published in the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition.

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City to ban all diesels by 2025, mayors announce

Four major cities are taking up the fight on air pollution by clamping down on diesel engines. The ban should come into full effect by the middle of the next decade.

Image from the Public Domain.

Diesel engines will be banned from Paris, Mexico City, Madrid, and Athens sometime in the next ten years to promote cleaner transport such as alternative vehicle use or old-fashioned walking and cycling. The announcement was made at the C40 conference in Mexico.

Diesels were originally promoted by governments as test runs showed they released lower levels of CO2 and other harmful emissions. But, this type of engine has (rightfully) come under a lot of flak recently, particularly in urban areas, after it became apparent that manufacturers faked the results (you can read about it here). They have been linked to nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emissions, which can build up in huge quantities in cities.

Fine PM, such as PM2.5, can pass into the bloodstream and contribute to heart or lung conditions (both acute and chronic), even death. At ground levels, NOx emissions can lead to ozone build-ups, causing breathing difficulties even for those without a history of respiratory problems. The WHO estimates that around three million people each year die due to exposure to outdoor air pollution.

In some cases, such as London, citizen groups have taken matters into their own hands. Environmental groups have championed their case and appealed to courts for clean air standards and regulations. Mayor Sadiq Khan has proposed an expansion of the planned Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, and campaigners are pushing for him to phase out all diesels from London by 2025.

“In the UK, London’s mayor is considering bolder action than his predecessor, proposing an expansion to the planned Ultra-Low Emission Zone. This is welcome but we want him to go further and faster,” said ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews.
“And it’s not just London that has this problem, we need a national network of clean air zones so that the problem is not simply pushed elsewhere.”

Keen on preventing such troubles at-home, mayors from four other cities with long-standing air pollution problems have pledged to use their executive power to limit the use of diesel engines. The four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and “commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles”.

“It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic,” said the city’s mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera.

“By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs.”

Paris has already laid down some groundwork on the issue. Cars registered before 1997 are already banned from entering the city. The Champs-Élysées is closed to traffic once every month, and a 3-km long stretch on the Seine — once a two-lane motorway — has been recently pedestrianized. The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said that they will continue to “progressively ban the most polluting vehicles from the roads” of Paris.

“Our ambition is clear and we have started to roll it out: we want to ban diesel from our city, following the model of Tokyo, which has already done the same.”

Manuel Carmena, Madrid’s mayor, has spoken in support of cleaning city air saying it’s intimately tied with our efforts of tackling climate change. All in all, these four mayors seem to be set on cleaning the air, and they have their sights set on diesels.

Which is a big deal, because if major cities go down this road, they will set a powerful precedent for others to follow suit. Carmakers, too, are likely to understand this and push for the development of hybrid and electric cars even more than before. Hopefully, this time somebody will double-check their results before the WHO has to issue another grisly statistic.

Unsettling sculpture showcases how humans would look if we evolved to survive car crashes

There can be little doubt that our way of life is very different from the conditions out bodies have evolved to live in. But how exactly would we look if our bodies were instead designed to survive today’s dangers? The Transport Accident Commission (TAC) and Melbourne based artist Patricia Piccinini have the answer…or part of it, at least, in the form of the strapping Graham.

Image credits TAC

Meet Graham. He has no neck, so he can’t break it. His flat face and boar-like head protect his face and eyes, he has airbags between his ribs and his knees bend in any direction. But why would anyone do this? Graham is an interactive sculpture developed by a trauma surgeon, a crash investigation expert and a Melbourne artist as part of Towards Zero, a Victorian road safety campaign. And according to the TAC, this strapping gentleman is perfectly adapted to survive one specific scenario — car crashes.

“People can survive running at full pace into a wall, but when you’re talking about collisions involving vehicles, the speeds are faster, the forces are greater, and the chances of survival are much slimmer,” said TAC CEO Joe Calafiore.

“Cars have evolved a lot faster than humans, and Graham helps us understand why we need to improve every aspect of our roads system to protect ourselves from our own mistakes.”

Graham will be on display at the State Library of Victoria until the 8th of August, before touring the rest of Australia. If for some reason you don’t want to go to the land down under, fret not; you can view Graham in his full 360-degree silicone, fibreglass, resin and human hair splendor online.

And I gotta say, after looking him over for a few minutes, I’m kinda glad I’m not crash-proof.

Aeromobil wants to have their latest prototype flying car commercially available by 2017

Slovakian company AeroMobil just unveiled their newest prototype flying car in Brussels. The company CEO Juraj Vaculik announced that the company plans to have the vehicle, dubbed the AeroMobil 3.0, commercially available by 2017.

Promotional image of the AeroMobil 3.0

The advantages of a flying car are obvious: first and foremost, it’s awesome. Also it could be used in emergency situations where road infrastructure doesn’t allow regular vehicles to move fast enough.

For domestic users, it could cut commute times and allow for better medium-distance mobility. Slovakian company AeroMobil has been working since 1989 to build such a vehicle, and their most recent release is the 3.0 model.

AeroMobil 3.0 is the latest in a series of experimental prototypes that the Slovakian company has been toying with. The design brings several additional features and design improvements over older vehicles, and the company hopes to have it commercially available by the end of the year. One such improvement could be the passenger limit — currently, all of the company’s prototypes allow for two passengers, but Vaculik hinted this could change, calling the 3.0 the “first product in a series of innovative vehicles.” However, the company hasn’t released any details of future designs.

You can see the vehicle in the Justus Lipsius bulding in Brussels, were it will be on display until August 1st.


Autonomous mini-rally car learns to drift — this is more important than you think


Credit: YouTube

Self-driving cars are all the rage in 2016, as businesses and people alike have started to take them more seriously. Right now, there are no purely self-driving cars on the road that you can buy, apart from Tesla roadsters that feature the semi-autonomous Autopilot.

When self-driving cars finally take off, they first should be safe. But right now, there’s no guarantee they are. Sure, these cars will cruise flawlessly on a highway and can even manage in busy traffic, but it’s in those crucial, split-second moments when something bad could happen that driving skills matter.

“Fully autonomous transport will require absolutely reliable navigation systems, major changes in highway infrastructure, and traffic control that’s synched to the vehicle, plus new fueling, insurance, financing, and manufacturing paradigms,” said Vivek Ghosal, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Economics, who studies the automotive industry.  “Yes, we have prototypes, but the operationalizing of autonomy is still far away.”

Imagine road conditions changing fast, from nice and smooth to muddy, or some lunatic cuts your lane at 100 mph. Can you count on a self-driving car to act better than your reflexes as a seasoned driver and, well, a human being that in that instant rallies all efforts to conserve itself? I wouldn’t count on it, just yet. But we’re getting there, and I have no doubt in my mind that self-driving cars are the future.

It takes time and a lot of hard work before that happens, though. One team from Georgia Tech is trying to make self-driving cars safer by teaching them to drive more aggressively, for instance.

They made an EV model car that only weighs 21 kilograms and is about 1 meter wide. Despite it’s only a fifth of the size a car should be to house a human, the mini rally car can dash to up to 100 km/h. It’s expendable, but scalable nature makes it a great proof of concept.

The Georgia Tech researchers devised a novel algorithm that works sensibly different from those currently used. Instead of splitting control and planning, the software combines them in real-time.

The downside is that this is very intensive on the computing hardware, but inside the rally car’s aluminium casing sits a quad-core processor and a massive Nvidia GTX 750ti GPU, as well as 32 gigs of RAM. The monster GPU does most of the heavy lifting which involves simulating 2,560 possible trajectories in parallel.

Each of these trajectories corresponds to the next 2.5 seconds of motion calculated for the car’s velocity. This entire process is re-computer 60 times every second.

Here’s how it fared in a test run where it was tasked with the obvious goal of not crashing while keeping the speed as close as possible to 8 meters/second.

There were some near-misses and actual crashes, as you can see, but according to IEEE the researchers have since made an update which reportedly made the algorithm a lot better.

For all of you developers, Autorally has been released as open source on Github, so anyone can improve the design or fork.


The world’s first 3D printer supercar looks stunning, has amazing specs and is eco-friendly

It can reach 100 km/h (60 mph) in 2 seconds, it has a 700 horsepower engine, it weighs 90% less than traditional cars, it has less emissions and it’s 3D printed – it may very well be the car of the future.

Despite technological developments, the automobile industry has remained relatively stagnant in the past few decades. Sure, you have new models coming out every year, you have more and more computers in cars, but the manufacturing process and the emissions caused by production and driving have remained relatively unchanged. But 3D printing has the potential to change all that and revolutionize all that, despite not living to its potential until now.

Kevin Czinger, founder and CEO of a company calledDivergent Microfactories (DM) presented his disruptive innovation, a spectacular car called Blade.

“Society has made great strides in its awareness and adoption of cleaner and greener cars. The problem is that while these cars do now exist, the actual manufacturing of them is anything but environmentally friendly,” said Kevin Czinger, founder and CEO of Divergent Microfactories.

Blade reportedly has 1/3 the emissions of an electric car and 1/50 the factory capital costs of other manufactured cars. It’s also fundamentally different from other 3D printed cars we’ve presented; the company doesn’t 3D print the entire car, but instead it prints aluminum ‘nodes’ that are fitted together like Lego blocks. The main reason why they do this is to reduce pollution and the environmental impact of producing the car. This also makes the car much lighter than existing vehicles which reduces fuel consumption and makes it much more resilient to the wear and tear of everyday driving.

“Divergent Microfactories is going to unveil a supercar that is built based on 3D printed parts,” Manny Vara of LMG PR said. “It is very light and super fast — can you say faster acceleration than a McLaren P1, and 2x the power-to-weight ratio of a Bugatti Veyron? But the car itself is only part of the story. The company is actually trying to completely change how cars are made in order to hugely reduce the amount of materials, power, pollution and cost associated with making traditional cars.”

The entire body of the car is composite, with the chassis alone being made of  70 3D printed aluminum nodes which are then manually assembled together – a process that takes about 30 minutes.

“The body of the car is composite,” Vara tells us. “One cool thing is that the body itself is not structural, so you could build it out of just about any material, even something like spandex. The important piece, structurally, is the chassis.”

So far, an unknown number of cars has been produced, and an official price hasn’t been announced, but don’t worry – DM also wants to revolutionize the manufacturing process by democratizing it. Their goal is to make the technology available for others as well and enable small entrepreneurial teams around the world to set up their own microfactories and build their own cars. These microfactories will further innovate the product, while limiting emissions and pollution.

The car is not electric – its 700-horsepower engine can use either compressed natural gas or gasoline.

Photos by: Business Wire


The latest Toyota hydrogen car, the Mirai. Image: Toyota

Toyota releases all its 5,680 hydrogen car patents for free

Major automaker Toyota announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that it would release all of its nearly 6,000 patents pertaining to hydrogen car technology royalty-free for the next five years. Officials most likely hope that this sort of move will encourage other auto manufacturers and capital to invest in the hydrogen economy.  Of the nearly 6,000 patents, about 1,970 are related to the in-vehicle fuel cell stacks, 290 surround the technology of high-pressure hydrogen tanks needed to safely transport the fuel, and 70 relate to hydrogen production.

The latest Toyota hydrogen car, the Mirai. Image: Toyota

The latest Toyota hydrogen car, the Mirai. Image: Toyota

Toyota isn’t the first major auto maker to make such a bold move. In fact, they might as well taken inspiration from Tesla Motors which also released all its patents royalty-free last summer. Both hydrogen and electric cars have failed to win over customers past early adopters and rich eco enthusiasts, and both companies hope that this way there might be enough incentive to get the ball moving. A smart player knows that you need to make the pie bigger, so that even if you get a small slice, it’s still a lot bigger than what you had before.

Before electric and hydrogen cars can take off, however, they first need to settle some of their major issues. Most importantly, infrastructure. Both vehicles need custom filling stations to meet their needs, else customers won’t be able to leave their suburban neighborhood. There’s also an issue concerning their eco friendliness. While both types of cars have zero emissions during operation, their life cycle says otherwise. Hydrogen is mainly made from refining methane in an energy intensive process that burns fossil fuel. The same can be said about the electricity that charges the batteries for the electric car; batteries which are made from toxic materials, also manufactured in an energy intensive process.

Yes, there are many hurdles ahead, but I for one salute Toyota’s initiative. What kind of progress would the world see if everything was “open source”? I’d leave that to you to answer.

via ThinkProgress

This is the world’s first 3D Printed Car

3D printing is changing our lives – we’re seeing it already. Basically any household item can be 3D printed, and cheaper; in medicine we have 3D printed bones and even skin, you can get a 3D printed tattoo, 3D printed fossils for education, you can 3D print houses cheaply and quickly and even rocket parts – NASA is actually 3D printing rocket engine parts! Now, it’s time for cars. Would you drive a 3D printed car… or, in other words, would you download a car?

3d printed car

The Strati.

When Jay Rogers drove away from the International Manufacturing Technology Show and toured Chicago, a few heads turned, but nobody was really impressed much. The car looked nice and all, but you wouldn’t be shocked by it; unless, that is, you knew the car actually came out of a printer. Meet the world’s first 3D printer car – the Strati.

While most cars have thousands or tens of thousands of car parts, the Strati only has 49 parts. The entire creation process, from design and to the actual printing took four and a half months. However, since the design is basically done and the entire process can be further improved, new models could take as little as six weeks to make, with the actual printing lasting less than 24 hours – quite a quick turnaround. The key here is simplification. Rogers explains:

“If you can make a vehicle out of one material, you can massively reduce the number of parts.”

3d printed car

Printing a car.

Of course, not all the parts can be printed – like the engine, tires and suspensions – but the rest of the car is made from the same material, a carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic, which Rogers says has the same strength as midgrade aluminum.

This is just a prototype, but Rogers believes that the car can actually hit the road in less than 12 months; it’s not clear now what the cost will be, but we’re probably dealing somewhere in the $20,000 price range. The price could become lower and the process has a low environmental impact, provided that the car is produced locally. This is actually one of the key elements of the design – you can tweak it.

You can have a basic design which you can use, but you can also adapt it; prind a warmer car for Alaska, one more suitable for the heat in Spain, one that emphasizes safety or speed… you can adapt it in any way you want.

So, would you download a car?



Power and Economy in a Sedan


Photo: carphotos.com

Power and efficiency can seem like contradictory qualities in a vehicle.  A big truck may have lots of towing power but relatively poor fuel economy for that long trip to the lake, making such trips more expensive for the driver.  On the other hand, a tiny hybrid coupe may have a driving range that ranges from California to Texas, but with little power to accelerate up mountain roads, it can feel like a less than satisfactory compromise.  Luckily, a new crop of sporty yet economically sound vehicles has arisen in recent years.  They appeal to the driver’s heart as well as her head with great acceleration, handling, and braking, while also having modest price tags, great reliability, and strong fuel economy.  The Scion tC is a great example of this vehicle category.

How to Appeal to the Driver’s Heart

When many drivers first shop for a new vehicle, they are likely to want a car that catches their attention.   How does that happen?  A vehicle that has a unique look, perhaps with an aggressive stance or sleek lines, is a good starting place.  A driver might look for a car that has the potential to be fast, handle well in differing conditions, and stop quickly.  A powerful engine and a great transmission are two building blocks for such performance that bring a grin to a driver’s face.  A modestly priced but innovative sedan like one of the offerings from Scion might have some of the following specifications to deliver that kind of performance:

  • 2.5 Liter engine
  • DOHC 16 valve 4 cylinder
  • Close to 180 horsepower
  • 172 foot pounds of torque at 4100 RPM
  • Six speed manual or automatic transmission

Any car that purports to have a performance-oriented ride will also have an anti-lock brake system with brake assist for its disc brakes.  That makes drivers a bit more comfortable as they accelerate smoothly on a curvy road, knowing they can stop quickly if a dangerous situation arises.

Building the Perfect Ride

A good suspension will help make a smooth and steady ride through all kinds of conditions.  That includes windy roads, rough roads, and slick conditions.  Potholes, off camber curves and other drivers can all be forces to which a driver or vehicle must react.    Multiple components come together to make that perfect ride for any situation:

  • Front Macpherson struts
  • Rear wishbone suspension
  • Front and rear stabilizer bars
  • Electronic power steering

Of course, the perfect ride also demands stability control and traction control. When all of those elements come together, the feeling of the car moving down the road is truly a joy to behold.

Saving Money the Easy Way                                                          

Buying a new car is not inexpensive, but buying the right car can make a lot of economic sense. The suggested retail price is one factor. Drivers will also factor in the future costs depending on overall mechanical reliability. A vehicle with 36 month warranty on most components beyond normal maintenance and a 60 month warranty on the drive train is easy to feel good about.  Getting a combined 26 miles per gallon is great for a car that actually has some power and style. The combination of those factors can make the driver confident in the choice she has made.


Flying car takes off in Slovakia


(c) Aeromobil

Merging road cars with airplanes into a two-in-one  purpose vehicle may seem like a SciFi endeavor, but how truly crazy is this idea? Although we’re far from seeing people hovering to work in a Jetson’s-like craft or mid-air traffic jams like in the Fifth Element, some people believe street-legal cars that can both run on the road and fly represent an emerging market. Today the market for such initiatives is practically zero, but in the following decades things may change. For instance, we’ve already seen some very interesting working ideas, like the Terrafugia and PAL-V. The latest to join them is the Aeromobil 2.5 , the culmination of Štefan Klein’s decades worth of work.

Klein is the co-founder of Aeromobil and the company’s chief designer. He has worked before  on projects for Audi, BMW and Volkswagen at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Slovakia.  His latest creation,  a prototype of the Aeromobil 2.5 recently took off from a Slovakian airport.


(c) Aeromobil

The car or airplane, whatever you want to call it for now, sports  a Rotax 912 engine that helps it go 124 mph and a range of 430 miles, weighs 992 pounds or less than a Ford Fiesta, and features an aerodynamic design to help with lift. When on the road, the Aeromobil looks like a rocket on wheels, but when in air-mode the vehicle folds its wings and is able to generate lift required to fly as demonstrated in the video below.

It’s important to note that the Aeromobil runs on conventional fuel, so it can be re-fueled at any gas station. Combined with its compact size and mass, the Aeromobil is   indistinguishable on the street, apart from its weird shape and the fact that it can fly…

At the moment, the company is looking for investors and partners, but what kind of market is there? Klein is obviously an innovator and forward thinker, but isn’t he too ahead? It may take a long while before such vehicles are deemed air worthy, and are granted the necessary permits to both fly and drive on the street like any other regular car. The Aeromobil and other similar projects need to start from someplace, and we’re definitely following their progress with great interest.

car crash

Self-braking system for cars could save countless lives

car crashThere were 5.4 million automobile crashes on U.S. roads in 2010, killing 33 000 people and injuring more than 2.2 million, according to survey released by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The death toll around the world is much higher. While cars  have been designed to be a lot safer by making them more crash resistant in the past decades, there is still a lot of room for improvement. A new research conducted by scientists at  Virginia Tech’s Center for Injury Biomechanics sought to determine the effectiveness of a proximity warning and a self-brake system potentially employed in motor vehicles. Their findings suggest that serious injuries could be cut in half were such a system be in use today, while many accidents could be potentially averted altogether.

The researchers Clay Gabler, a professor of biomedical engineering, and Ph.D. student Kristofer Kusano, studied a safety systems based on a sort of radar that signal the driver when it is approaching in dangerous proximity to another vehicle. When the the distance between the two cars becomes too narrow, an audio beep signals the driver to slow down or commence braking. Another system offers braking assistance if the driver responds to the warning by applying the brakes, while another type attempts to bring the car to a halt with a huge braking force if the driver has not hit the brake pedal 0.45 seconds before the sensors predict that there will be contact.

To this end, the scientists went through  5000 car crash records, complete with information such as photographs and diagrams of the crash scenes, police, driver, and occupant statements, and vehicle damage assessments,  and inputted the data into a computer simulation where 1400 crashes were recreated. After the safety systems were put in place, findings showed that the electronic safety systems would slow cars down enough to cut the number of serious injuries in half and avoid 7.7 percent of rear-end collisions altogether.

“Even if the driver is distracted and does nothing, a system of this type would brake forcefully enough during that final half second before impact to slow a car traveling at [72 kilometers per hour] by about [10 to 12 km/h],” says Clay Gabler, who is also assistant director of the Center for Injury Biomechanics. “That might not seem like a lot,” he says, “but the aim is to reduce the energy of a collision. And since kinetic energy is related to the square of velocity, this change in speed reduces the likelihood of serious injury by about 35 percent. That’s huge.”

The findings were reported in the journal IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems.

via IEE Spectrum

Cambridge Design Partnership

Hypermiling car can travel 1,325 miles on a gallon of gas

Cambridge Design Partnership

Cambridge Design Partnership

Gas prices have sky rocketed during the past five years, and so far it seems to know only one trend – upwards. As such, fuel efficiency, besides keeping environmental pollution to a minimum, has become a sort of priority for today’s automobile manufacturers.

Captioned above is a hypermiling concept car, developed by Cambridge Design Partnership, which its engineers boost it can travel an astonishing 1,325 miles on a single gallon of gas, and, yes, driving it is an eleven year old girl. The vehicle was driven by the Cambridgeshire girl at the annual Mileage Marathon Challenge at Mallory Park, just recently.

The car, which doesn’t seem to have been given a name, was designed and engineered with the purpose of promoting technology and engineering to students, and children alike.

Test driver Kitty Foster, 11, of Kings School, Ely said of the test drive, “When I told my parents how far this car could go on a gallon of fuel they were absolutely amazed! It wasn’t too hard. The Go system helped me use as little fuel as possible. It monitored the car’s performance, which helped us know when to stop the engine and start coasting.”

The car uses a unique system, Cambridge in-house engineering, called the Go System, which is crucial to the car’s success. It provides real-time GPS tracking information, monitors the car’s performance and regulates the engine to maximize fuel efficiency.

“The GPS information made a big difference and added 150 mpg. The whole car was great fun to drive. It’s good to see cars getting more environmentally friendly, and I’m really pleased we’ve done so well in the challenge’, said little Kitty Foster.

Cambridge Design Partnership used elements from its own lightweight oxygen concentrator, as well as other in-house technologies, to create the unique car. The oxygen generator system was originially developed to treat injured soldiers, but in the car it is powered by an innovative micro-diesel-engine. Nothing was spared to optimize the car for a perfect autonomy with the smallest possible fuel consumption. It even features low-friction tires to increase mileage.

The wacky looking automobile is still in R&D stage, and as it currently looks it in no way suitable for real roads, but the conclusions and experience Cambridge scientists have drawn might lead to real fuel efficiency solutions in the near future. Although, some of you might argue that if you strap some pedals and a chain to this car you’ll be able to reach 100% autonomy – fuel water and food. That’s another story, though .

Stephen Lamb, the MoD project leader from CDP added: “This is about more than just an ultra-eco-friendly car. This supports what our technologies can achieve.”

“We quickly realized that our R & D work for the MoD, creating an oxygen generator, was highly applicable to the Mileage Marathon Challenge. Both required an extremely efficient system that used very low power and could run off diesel. Now I just need to figure out how to make my own car get the same kind of mileage!”

Future cars could be partially powered by their bodywork

Parts of the car’s bodywork could double up as it’s batter in a not so far away future; at least that’s what the people involved in the 3.4 million project believe. They are working on a prototype that can store and discharge electrical energy; the material is also light and very hard.

Ultimately, this will not only double the battery, but it will make cars lighter, more compact and more energy efficient, allowing drivers to travel longer distances without having to recharge. Furthermore, the material could also be used in different fields, such as mobile phones or computers, so they wouldn’t need a separate battery.

“We are really excited about the potential of this new technology. We think the car of the future could be drawing power from its roof, its bonnet or even the door, thanks to our new composite material. Even the Sat Nav could be powered by its own casing. The future applications for this material don’t stop there – you might have a mobile phone that is as thin as a credit card because it no longer needs a bulky battery, or a laptop that can draw energy from its casing so it can run for a longer time without recharging. We’re at the first stage of this project and there is a long way to go, but we think our composite material shows real promise.”, said The project co-ordinator, Dr Emile Greenhalgh, from the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London

You can find a demonstration and additional details here.