Monday, December 10, 2018

Autonomous Cars - Are They Realistic?

We are getting waaaay out in front of our skis. There is a LOT to discuss about autonomous cars:

First point is that by far the best autonomous cars are ELECTRIC. So, if we see a lot of autonomous cars - most of the cars on the road will be electric.

Second point is that before we see Level 5 (FULL autonomous) cars, we will see MOST cars with Level 2, or Level 3 STANDARD.

Third point: autonomous cars need to be "learning" - and therefore they have to A) "talk" to each other, and B) they need to share ONE DATABASE.

Fourth point: we can barely get this to work on LIMITED ACCESS highways, that have bright painted lines. Making the jump to full autonomy on ALL KINDS of roads / highways, in ALL conditions - is a QUANTUM increase in complexity.

To illustrate this fourth point: take a gaming computer - these are right at the cutting edge of performance - and ALL it has to do is render a PRE-MADE 3D MODEL. An autonomous car has to take the inputs from 8-12+ different sensors - and it has to "build" a moving 3D model, AND it has to do all the vectors of their motion - a FOURTH DIMENSION - in the blink of an eye.


AND it has to "decide" the best route, AND the second best route, AND MAYBE even the third best option - CONSTANTLY.

Fifth point - it probably needs to have a FULLY REDUNDANT set of backup hardware - AND / OR it needs a really robust "algorithm".


Seventh point: in what world will our government have a consistent and effect set of regulations? The insurance companies have to be onboard, too.


To sum up - we first will have to have a majority of cars on the road to be electric, and we will have to have a majority of cars / vehicles to have automatic safety function, that backup the driver - as STANDARD equipment.

Then, and only then - we will need a shared open source database of all / most cars, so that each vehicle gets as much advantage as possible - of driving in any / all conditions as close to perfect as possible.

The goal is - obviously - much better vehicle safety. Lets be realistic about how / when this can happen.

Predetermined routes is an important step. And the driver's role is wholly transformed - they go from being 100% responsible, to being a passenger.

And how do we enter the desired route? Have you gotten 100% accurate GPS routes, all the time?

People WILL do these things - and more - in their moving cars:



Have sex

Watch a movie

Do work

Saturday, January 23, 2016

We NEED an Open Primary

An OPEN PRIMARY would go a long way toward fixing our democracy!

Here's how it could work:

Everybody votes for Everybody who is running - RANK them all from 1 to umpteen.

The person with the most #1 votes and the person with the most #2 votes then run against each other in the election; no matter which party they are in.

  • This would stop the primaries being only for the "base" of the parties.  

  • It would allow independents or smaller parties to get votes from anybody not in their party.  

  • Any questions of who is "electable" are allayed and it encourages ALL candidates to try to appeal to ALL voters.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Living Within the Cycle of Life

Recycling plastic is quite problematic. We really need to eliminate all disposable plastic - because plastic is almost permanent. Recycling plastic is difficult and energy intensive with very little value. Styrofoam in particular is nasty.

Plastic is entering the food chain. Which is terrifying.

Disposable plastic is an oxymoron.

We need to make junk mail a rare thing. Literally, we are cutting down forests - only to mail it to people who immediately throw it out. Junk mail is at least 90% of the mass of what gets delivered to my house - and it is a chore to stick it into the recycling. What an utter waste of trees, and water to make the paper, and energy all through the process - only to bulk up the mass of recycled paper stream.

We need to use refillable containers for as many thing as possible. I buy most of my beer in growlers - half gallon glass jugs that get returned and reused. The beer is keg beer and it lasts 3-5 days typically.  We need to use refillable containers for everything - like shampoo, ketchup, juice, milk - you name it!

Aluminum is a perfect thing to recycle. Glass is also fine.

We have to think about the full life cycle - the entire system - of everything we do. 

We cannot throw anything "away" - because there is no "away".

Reduce. Reuse. Compost. Recycle.

I.E. No waste at all.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

VW e-Golf Compared to Nissan Leaf & Other EV's

We own both an e-Golf and a Leaf, and I have a little experience with the i3, as well, as my brother owns one.

In a nutshell: the e-Golf is a better car than the Leaf in most respects, and the coasting and regen steps are the best. But the Leaf has better EV aspects; like the location of the charging port, and CHAdeMO is available, while CCS is not (where I am in Massachusetts, anyway).

My family of four is tall, and we are much more comfortable in the e-Golf. The downside is it sits lower and the getting in and out is a bit more effort. The rear legroom in the e-Golf in particular is better, because the foot wells are deeper than the Leaf, which has some battery cells below the rear floor.

The two features that the e-Golf have that is better than any EV on the market are the free wheel coasting, and the 4 levels of regen available by "shifting" - and the direct heating windshield defroster. The former is what every EV should have, in my opinion. The latter is a great concept, but as implemented in the e-Golf is a bit anemic for ice and freezing rain, and is only good for moisture in a cold rain. The idea is that direct heating is MUCH more efficient, but the e-Golf's version needs more oomph.

The Leaf has the best location for the charging port, and it has a light on the inside to see it in the dark. It has an optional lock to keep anyone from disconnecting you until it is charged. The e-Golf stays locked all the time, and only when you unlock the car, can you release it - so it is NOT easy to use on public EVSE's unless you stay with it. The Leaf also has the three blue lights in the center of the dash at the base of the windshield so that the state of charging can be seen from a distance.

Being able to use the CHAdeMO quick charging is great - we have not used it a lot, yet, but we can use it. The total lack of CCS stations is a major lack, for both the e-Golf and the i3.

Driving the e-Golf is far better than the Leaf - handling and steering is great. The e-Golf chassis is more solid feeling and the fit and finish is better. The Leaf has stronger acceleration, even though the motor is slightly less powerful - it must have lower gearing. The Leaf brakes are strong, but the body rolls a bit more, and occasionally the stability control kicks in by dragging a rear wheel brake - this is a bit too heavy handed, in my opinion.  The e-Golf has a tilt and telescope steering wheel, while the Leaf only tilts.

The Leaf S we have came with 16" Bridgestone Ecopia EP422 and these are excellent low rolling resistance tires, and so far I have been able to get lower energy consumption in the Leaf. My best average for a charge is just under 205Wh/mile (measuring the charge at the wall and using a corrected odometer reading). I "shift" into neutral and the Leaf simply flies along on the gentlest down slopes.

The e-Golf has a better claimed Cd, and I tend to concur, but this advantage is undone by the unremarkable stock Continental tires. My best consumption in the e-Golf is 212Wh/mile. I hope to be able to try some low rolling resistance tires at some point, to see what the e-Golf is capable of.

I have driven the e-Golf five times above 100 miles on one charge (best at 110 miles), and I have driven the Leaf three times farther than 100 miles (best 111 miles). My 90 day average (not every charge) on the e-Golf is 138.8MPGe, and for the Leaf it is 139.8MPGe.

The stereo in the e-Golf is much better, though that is top-of-the-line vs base model. On the other hand, the Leaf has a USB input that works with any MP3 player, and the e-Golf requires a proprietary cable. (In theory it comes with two style iPod cables, but ours only came with the older 30 pin version.) The e-Golf has an SD slot so you can put your MP3's on a big SD card, and use that; but it requires 400x400 JPG's for the cover art.

A couple of niggles with the e-Golf: the HVAC always resets to 72F; no matter where you left it. Grrrr ... This is annoying. It only has the two front seats heated. When you unlock the car to release the charging cord, it resets the charger's display that showed the kWh for the previous charge. Having to unlock the car to be able to pull the connector is quite annoying, and makes proper etiquette at public stations very difficult.

The Leaf has all five seats heated, and the steering wheel is heated - my spouse is a HUGE fan of the heated steering wheel. Our Leaf S has a resistance heater, which sucks some serious wattage in the winter. Our worst total range was ~60 miles last winter; which was cold and very snowy.

The e-Golf has adaptive creep. If you stop, and then release the brake - nothing happens. If you accelerate very lightly after coming to a stop, it continues forward after you release the accelerator pedal. I like this feature. The Leaf has "normal" creep, which is sometimes annoying. Both have a certain amount of hill hold, which is great - no drifting backward on hill starts.


I have only driven my brother's i3 REx briefly, and it's strong regen on the accelerator is totally counter to how I have learned to ecodrive, over the last 7+ years. My brother is a bit over 6'-6" and he has a 38" inseam - and the i3 has more front legroom than any other vehicle he has ever driven. He has put a light-duty hitch on it, to carry a bicycle rack, and he carries lots of carpentry tools; though the largest (a portable wet saw) won't fit in through the hatch, and has to be angled in through the passenger side doors. He has driven it ~89.5 miles on a single charge, and then he got ~40MPG on the REx, on a ~140 mile trip.

We have ~9,200 miles on our 2015 Leaf S, and we have had it since October '14. We have ~5,400 miles on our 2015 e-Golf and we have had it since February '15.


There are two i MiEV's in our family, and I just got to drive my Mom's for pretty good drive.  It also has great legroom and headroom in the front (though not as cavernous as the i3) and the backseat is also pretty good.  My son (6'-6"+) sat along side me in the front, and my Mom (who is ~6' tall) sat in the backseat.

It is a much more basic car than the Leaf and the e-Golf, and it is the smallest motor at 49kW.  Still pretty peppy from a stop, and the steering is very nimble.  With a great big hatch, and the rear seats folded flat, it is a workhorse.  The dash is anything but modern, and it needs a dedicated range remaining gauge.

Nothing fancy on the shifter, but it works like the Leaf - easy to "shift" into neutral and into B mode for more regen.  The front tires were "low" at ~36PSI and ~38PSI, so I didn't get to see how it really could coast.  I pumped them up to 45PSI, and my Mom likes how it rolls.

The Eco mode is only when you're desperate - it knocks the power down to ~17kW (if I recall correctly) so it is a snail, and only useful in stop and go traffic when you need to stretch your range.  The front seats are heated, but that's it for winter amenities.  The heater is resistance, and apparently gets a big help if you insulate it.

The i MiEV has unusual tire sizes (narrow on the front, and normal on the back.  There are 2 or 3 brands / models to choose from for all seasons, and 1 brand / model for winter tires, that are sold in the US, anyway.

It is a basic electric car - seats four, and is easy to drive, and is very practical.  If you are very tall, and you want an electric car, and cannot quite step up to the i3's price, then give the i MiEV a look.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Coal - How is This Still a Thing?

Coal - How is This Still a Thing?

We blow up mountains.  Which poisons the water.
We pay other human beings to go down deep underground to dig it out of the ground.  We rent their lungs and their backs.
We ship it.  Which spreads dust all over.
We "wash" it.  Which requires chemicals.  Which poisons the water.  Ooops - we spilled it!
We burn it.  Which changes the climate.  Which produces mercury pollution.  Which produces deadly pollutants, and acid rain.  Which produces fly ash.  Which has spilled.  Which poisons the water.

Coal ruins the land. 
Coal ruins the air.
Coal ruins the water.
Coal causes climate change.
Coal kills miners.

Coal kills.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Other Effects of Climate Change

The sun will be around for approximately another 5 Billion years; at which point it will expand outward to about where Jupiter is. Until then, we can predict the general trend. It is a fusion reactor, all fueled up and pumping out the energy, transmitting it for free - and it is the single largest source of energy - that already supports all life everywhere, all the time.

The moon orbiting the earth is the other major source of energy, and eventually, the ocean tides will dampen the earth's oscillation (equal and opposite to the moon orbiting) - until the moon moves away from the earth too much to stay in orbit, and it flings away ...

The earth's tectonic plates will be affected by the melting ice caps and the warming oceans, too. This is because the mass of the ice caps presses the earth down under them, by a fair bit. Antarctica is being pressed down by almost 1/2 mile. Warmer water is less dense, and it will be spread out more (covering more land) so it will exert slightly less pressure on the earth under it, and this cannot help from changing the forces on the tectonic plates.

Also, the mass of the ice caps, and large mountain ranges, affect the gravitational pull of those areas of the earth - and they raise the ocean level around them. This is why the oblate spheroid the spinning earth forms is "sagging" toward the southern hemisphere - Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador is actually closer to space/farther from the center of the earth than Mount Everest, because of the "extra" gravitational pull of the ice on Antarctica.

The 'Highest' Spot on Earth?

Guess what? Once Antarctica's ice melts (and it sure looks like it will - if we humans don't use our big brains and stop burning fossil fuels!) - then not only will climate change raise the ocean level by hundreds of feet, it will change the shape of the earth, which will change the pressures on the tectonic plates - it will also affect spin of the earth and the orbit of the moon, too.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rumination on Electric Drivetrain for CarBEN EV5

The background on this is I was able to be at the X-Prize Knockout Round as a guest member of the Edison2 team, and while I was there I meet and talked to many of the people, and to see what they had built, and all the effort and passion that went into it.  Jason Fagone has written a enthralling and detailed book about the X-Prize, called 'Ingenious' and he and Kevin Smith of Illuminati Motor Works are touring with the IMW 'Seven' electric car.

Seeing the IMW Seven and talking to Kevin Smith and to some of the folks at the MIT Electric Vehicle Team has got me thinking more about the main electric drivetrain for CarBEN EV5 - which is a 5 seat electric car that I am currently building.  I've been concentrating on the design and how to construct it, so this is a first take on the drivetrain components:

I like the looks of the BRUSA SSM1-6.17.12 along with the Getrag GX629 6.4:1 EV Transaxle assembly. That puts the ~ 5,500 RPM which is the peak efficiency of the motor right about 55-60 mph (depending on the tire diameter you use).

No rare earths used and lower cost (though certainly not inexpensive), and a compact package (roughly 11" x 20"?) with no 90ยบ turns - we may have a winah!

The batteries used in Seven are the Thundersky (now CALB) 100Ah cells.

I can fit 106 of these in CarBEN EV5 (Seven has 99) and Kevin Smith swears by them and their ruggedness. That would be ~ 35.3 kWh and cost roughly $16,000. They use no BMS and do a "bottom balance" and have stopped seeing stress that occasionally caused the cells to swell.

I had used the EiG 20Ah pouch/prismatic cells in my planning and I could probably fit about 50 kWh into the compartments in the floor. FVT has an innovative BMS system that shunts the excess from one cell to another cell that is still charging; rather than to ground - as I understand it.  This should be more efficient than ordinary BMS.

I looked briefly at the A123 cells, and these are wider than would easily fit in the battery compartment I have in CarBEN. And they are very hard to find, if not impossible.

A choice for charger is still vague. Seven has a Manzanita, and it works well. They disconnect it on the inside, so that regen doesn't blow it out.

One of the MIT EVT people has put me in touch with their Porsche guy, and I have asked about getting the rear suspension from a 914. He is a busy person (post grad?) and I will wait and see if he can help me. Up until now, I've been thinking of using the front suspension of a Saab 900.   But I'm also going to look at the Neon front suspension that Seven uses (in the front and back), though I don't think it could fit in the back of CarBEN, and I don't need the Prelude rear wheel steering; as the wheelbase of CarBEN is significantly shorter.

It looks like all this hardware will cost $35-40K, which is actually about what I was expecting.

The Illuminati Seven sets a high standard for efficiency: it uses just 129Wh/mile at ~60mph, and it has a 220+ mile range at 60-70mph.  The EPA rating (tested by Chrysler at their proving grounds in Chelsea MI) for 7 is 207MPGe.

Which is something to strive for.

Here's the entire build in pictures, so far:

Here's my blog post of the construction process so far, with links to the previous posts on the design process:

And pictures of the first public showing, at Earth Day Fair in Framingham MA:

And my YouTube channel: