Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Department of Energy Gives Contract to Solar Roadways

Over the years, there has been talk about making solar roads, but never before has the Department of Energy been so confident in the idea as they appear to be now. The DOE has even awarded a $100,000 contract to the Solar Roadway company, which will allow them to build the "first ever Solar Road panel."

The panels, which are 12 x 12 feet could be embedded into roads and serve a number of purposes. When shined upon, they would generate clean electricity. They also contain LED lights which could alert drivers to changes in road conditions, accidents ahead and even work as travel lines. Embedded heated elements could potentially prevent snow and ice build-up on roads. The panels are made from solar cells and glass and are meant to be an alternative to petroleum-based asphalt.

While each panel costs about $7,000 to make, a single four-lane, one mile road of Solar Panels could provide enough power to take up to 500 homes off-grid. The company's founder, Scott Brusaw, says that if the entire United States interstate highway system was covered in these panels, it could fulfill the country's energy needs and create an “intelligent highway that will double as a secure, intelligent, decentralized, self-healing power grid which will enable a gradual weaning from fossil fuels.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Traveling Across the Border? Don't Take Your Laptop

Traveling Across the Border? Don't Take Your Laptop

Despite a lawsuit from the ACLU, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has put some new rules and regulations in place, regarding crossing the United States border with laptops and other electronic media storage devices. The rules, similar to those placed by the Bush administration, will "enhance transparency, accountability and oversight of electronic media searches at U.S. ports of entry and includes new administrative procedures designed to reflect broad considerations of civil liberties and privacy protections." Or so says the DHS website.

Under the regulations, border officials have the right to seize and search your laptops, flash drives, and MP3 players without warning. They can keep the laptop or other items for up to thirty days and must keep the owner informed of what is happening with the search's progress. It is believed by the Association for Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) that an image of the laptops' hard drive is taken and stored for an undetermined amount of time.

So what should you do if you're planning to cross the border? Whether traveling for business or pleasure, chances are there are important files you will need for your trip. Here are several ways to be prepared, just in case your laptop is subject to the search and seizure:

  • Store your files in other locations. Put them on an external hard drive or disc, or even use an internet-based storage system such as Good Docs. This way you can access your files any time and will always have more than one copy around.

  • If your laptop or the information stored on it is important to your job, let border agents know verbally, if not in writing. According the ACTE, you will retain more of your legal rights this way.

  • Consider a Laptop Rental. A laptop rental can be delivered to your destination. Not only will you avoid the hassle of dealing with border agents, but you avoid having to carry extra equipment when you travel. Renting a laptop also eliminates the potential for loss or damage while traveling.
In the last ten months, only 46 laptops have seized by border patrol agents, but as with anything, it's always better to be safe than sorry!

Monday, September 14, 2009

New TomTom Car Kit for iPhone

According to TomTom's website, they will begin selling a new Car Kit for iPhone at some time in October. The kit will work for both the iPhone and iPod touch, along with other third party GPS applications.

So what does the Car Kit have to offer? A number of things including its own GPS receiver that, according to NaviGadget, works a lot better than the one already on the iPhone. It also includes a microphone and speaker for hands free calling, allows your phone to charge while driving, and streams music to your car stereo.

Unfortunately, the kit won't currently feature TomTom's iPhone app. The app, which sells for $100 in the United States, can currently be purchased through the iTunes App Store. There is no word on whether or not TomTom will add the app to the Car Kit bundle in the future.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

BMW's Vision EfficientDynamics Concept Car

BMW's Vision EfficientDynamics Car

BMW's new Vision EfficientDynamics car is high-performance and environmentally friendly. The concept car, soon to be on display at the 2009 Frankfort Motor show, doesn't just get 63 miles per gallon of diesel and have the ability to go 31 miles in all-electric mode, it can also go from zero to sixty miles per hour in about 4.8 seconds or less. BMW promises a 2+2 sports car with a three-cylinder diesel plug-in hybrid powertrain that tops out at 155 miles per hour.

The drivetrain consists of direct-injection, 1.5-liter, 163-hp, three-cylinder turbodiesel to two electric motors (one per axle), a set of lithium-ion batteries and a software controller for a combined total of 356 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed dual-clutch transmission sends power to the rear wheels using only the diesel engine power. The hybrid powertrain consists of a hybrid system on the rear wheels that operates along with the diesel engine and a hybrid motor on the front wheels that operate on battery power alone.

The cars' sleek curves give it a definite progressive look. It measures 181.1 inches long, 74.8 inches side, and 48.8 inches tall; weighs 3076 pounds; and it has 5.3 cubic feet of luggage space. Its engineers say the body is lightweight in design and execution. The shell and suspension are rendered in aluminum. The roof and doors are made of polycarbonate glass that lightens and darkens according to the climate it's in. The seats are framed in Kevlar. It features LED lighting inside and headlights and taillights are linked to ambient lighting that shift in color and intensity based on the condition outside.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Soap Bubbles to Decrease Drag of Future Cars

Bubbles Decreasing Drag in Future CarsWe've heard a lot of different ideas about different fuel types to use instead of gas and other things we could use to make cars work better and pollute less. But could something as small as the bubbles from your soap actually be enough to decrease the drag in your car? The Engineers at Mira, an automotive research company in Nuneaton, UK seem to think so.

According to the studies by Mira, helium filled soap bubbles are helping to improve fuel efficiency. The 3-millimeter bubbles swirl around cars in a wind tunnel. The bubbles have a natural buoyancy due to the helium in them. If left to themselves, the bubbles will simply float in place, neither rising nor falling. Therefore, any movement in their position can be directly attributed to the air flow around the car.

According to aerodynamics specialist and lead developer of the soap bubble system Angus Lock, "There aren't any tools in use today that can give such insight into what's going on in the fluid around a vehicle."

Two of the biggest factors consumers are considering when buying a new car these days are fuel economy and carbon emissions. This being the case, aerodynamics have become a more important factor to car manufacturers. Instead of reworking a car's drive train or the entire engine, cutting a vehicle's air resistance is usually cheaper.

Although it sounds great, the bubble technique isn't exactly a new idea. People have used the bubble technique to see how air flows around different structures. However, Mira uses a 12 camera system to get intricate details about the bubbles and how they move. The system captures the movements of the bubbles which can be transformed into 3D images for later analysis.

The gold standard for looking at a cars aerodynamics is still full-scale wind tunnel tests. "It is simple to try out new ideas for improving streamlining by simply swapping parts of the car in the tunnel." , Lock says. Sensors in the tunnel measure how the car interacts with the air rushing past it.

One problem, according to Lock, is that they can not visualize the whole field around the vehicle which means you don't know what is behind those forces. Using the bubble tracking method, the speed and direction of the air flow can be captured. This makes it more useful than existing tracking techniques such as injecting smoke trails around the car.

The infrared camera system from Vicon that Mira uses is the same kind typically found in a motion capture studio for video games and movies. Mira pushes the cameras to their limits in order to track the light reflected from the bubbles. "We are are thinking about what we can do to the bubbles to make them easier for the cameras to see," says Lock.

One idea the team is considering is building a machine able to produce larger bubbles. These larger bubbles would have to be filled with a mixture of helium and air in order for them to achieve natural buoyancy. Another machine Lock's team is working on is one that produces more bubbles as well.

Even though computer simulations are as sophisticated as ever, finding different ways to show complex air flows visually is a critical part in understanding aerodynamics. Finding ways to accomplish this in large wind tunnels is also very valuable. According to Alex Liberzon of Tel Aviv University in Israel, "You can not solve everything completely in space and time on a computer. Simulations do not capture the full complexity of wakes and other features, which can exhibit large changes in behaviour caused by very small changes."

Fuel efficiency is one of the biggest concerns for people all over the world. In recent years people have been working extremely hard on finding better ways to power not only our cars but also everything else we use. With techniques like the bubble technique, we are just that much closer to finding a solution.