Biomethane Bus sets new Land Speed Record

Reading Buses logoWe don’t usually think of buses as being speedy things. And usually, we don’t actually want them to be going too fast. But a new type of bus, dubbed “Bus Hound” in England, has set a new land speed record for vehicles of its type. What’s even more surprising about this is that the bus is powered by biomethane made from cow manure.

While on a test track, Bus Hound reached a top speed of 76.785 miles per hour, earning it the accolade of fastest bus on Earth. Normally, these types of buses aren’t capable of exceeding 56 miles per hour. But Reading Buses, the company responsible for Bus Hound, made some adjustments to the vehicle in order to give it the 20+ extra mph needed to eclipse the previous record.

Bus Hound is painted with black and white spots, similar to the dairy cows that are responsible for most of the UK’s milk production. This paint scheme is also indicative of the bus’s biomethane system which is powered by fuel that’s created when special bacteria digest cow manure inside a bioreactor. The fuel is then compressed, liquefied, and stored in tanks on Bus Hound’s roof. Biomethane works in a combustion engine in a way similar to natural gas. The fuel is considered to be a green alternative to gasoline because it requires no extraction of fossil fuels from the ground and it also keeps the methane that would’ve happened naturally thru manure decay to enter the atmosphere.

No word yet as to just what Bus Hound smells like when it’s causing by at 56 miles per hour, however.

Uncanny Valley Fever

2015-05-08 16.44.00For the past few years we’ve been periodically hearing about autonomous vehicles; both cars and trucks. Most of the stories have been positive, yet vague on when we might actually see them. The nebulous “10 year” catch phrase always seems to make it’s way into these stories.

Most of the stories about the Google self-driving car seem to have been carefully managed. The Google car has driven hundreds of thousands of miles without causing an accident. However, that hasn’t stopped other human driven vehicles from plowing into it.

Automation theory demands closed systems, where all variables are known, without the possibility of new or unknown variables being introduced into the system. For example, it has long been possible to create 100% robotic warehouses. However these storage and retrieval warehouses are completely closed systems, closed in the same way that electronic circuit boards are closed that run smartphones, televisions or computers. There are automated garages in New York City that make it possible for every resident of incredibly expensive apartments to park their cars in marvelously automated and efficient parking garages, maximizing the expensive New York City real estate. These automated car storage systems are totally closed systems, where all variables are known 100% of the time.

Few of the glowing stories about the Google self-driving car seem to mention how Google has managed to achieve such an amazing feat as a self-driving car. The vast majority of these miles have all been in the relatively tiny city of Mountain View, California. Google has had to meticulously scan and map out every square inch of Mountain View, and come up with specific software to deal with each and every quirk that makes Mountain View, California unique. In other words, Google has managed to recreate a high-resolution virtual version of Mountain View, California for the car to follow.

In other words, Google has managed to turn Mountain View into a closed system, with every possible address known, every parking space known, and every variable the car might encounter known and accounted for. Think of it in terms of how a roller coaster makes a closed loop. The only thing that remains open-ended in Mountain View for the Google self-driving car is the presence of other pedestrians and traffic.

Contrast that with the real world, where the number of open-ended variables are frequently vast. I use Google Maps multiple times a day on a daily basis. Even though Google Maps is probably the best mapping database available, it is only accurate about 90% of the time. If I put in an address of a large business complex, Google Maps or any other GPS system can only take me to the main address, which most times can be a block or more away from the location of the drive I actually need to turn in to. A self-driving car in the open system of the real world would likely not know where the front entrance of any given business actually was or where vehicles should even park. Each one of these things would have to be specifically programmed in for each of literally millions and millions of locations, and there would still be unacceptably large database errors. Sometimes Google Maps and other GPS systems will say an address is on the left when it is actually on the right or vice versa. It may say that the address is actually out in a field.

A self-driving car might work if you live in Disney Land, but in the real world probably not so much.

In recent months Daimler has demonstrated both in Germany and Nevada so-called self-driving semi trucks. The systems demonstrated are what are in essence best described as a “super cruise control” where once the truck is being driven down a freeway the driver can press a button and the truck will steer itself with the cruise control engaged. Big trucks have had conventional cruise control systems for quite a few years. In the past few years, radar systems have been integrated into the throttle and braking systems making adaptive cruise control a reality.

Adaptive cruise control systems can be handy for maintaining adaptive speed on a busy road. However, the system quickly breaks down with vehicles that are traveling slower than the rest of the traffic. The truck’s radar-based adaptive cruise control will simply match the speed of the vehicle in front of it, unless the driver overrides it by accelerating or getting into the passing lane.

There is an occasional problem with false positives. Driving trucks with adaptive radar based systems I have had the truck slam on the brakes because of a false positive from an overpass or even from a slowing vehicle in an off ramp. On a rain or snow slickened surface slamming on the brakes could cause a jackknife or even collision from behind from someone following too close.

Another problem with radar-based cruise control and braking systems is that the sensor in the front bumper of the truck can become covered with bugs or ice and snow and the system simply stops working. Sometimes it stops working anyway for no reason, requiring the truck to be stopped and the motor turned off and back on, rebooting the cruise control electronics to try to get it to function properly again.

The Self-Driving Truck

Aside from these mechanical problems, there’s another problem having to do with security. Have you ever wondered why in this day and age of high-resolution cameras and ubiquitous electronic surveillance systems there are still so many human security guards? There’s a very simple reason for this. The physical presence of a human being security guard scares off would-be thieves much more effectively than cameras or other surveillance devices. If something is apparently unattended by a human presence, psychologically it is much easier for would-be crooks than it is if a human being is around watching.

I expect the same thing would happen with would-be highjackers of self-driving trucks. All they would have to do to make the automated truck come to a complete stop would be to completely block its path. Then it would be a simple matter of breaking into it and stealing the cargo. The would-be thieves would likely not be deterred by the presence of cameras or even automated no trespassing warning messages broadcast over integrated speakers. There would be no human witness to injure or kill, making it an easy, even desirable target from the criminal mind’s point of view.

If you have never been a long-haul truck driver, then it is easy to look at the job from the outside and think that it consists of just driving down the freeway. While driving does constitute a considerable amount of the job, there are hidden parts of the job that are not readily apparent to someone passing a truck on a freeway.

To get an idea of what the more hidden, complicating parts of the job entails, it is helpful to think of it in terms of would it be possible for someone confined to a wheelchair to autonomously drive a long-haul truck. The truck itself could easily be modified so that a wheelchair-bound individual could drive it in much the same way that conventional automobiles can be modified. However, there’s more to the job of moving freight around than simply driving.

A fair amount of face-to-face business negotiation has to take place to set up the loading and unloading processes. With every load, the driver has to figure out how how to get to a customer’s facility, where to park the truck out of the way, and figure out where the shipping or receiving entrance is located at to take the load information or paperwork to the shipping or receiving clerk. There are virtually ALWAYS stairs involved, occasionally a lot of them, and most do not have wheelchair ramps. Upon being given a door to back into, the trailer doors must be opened and once loaded or unloaded the same doors have to be closed. The trailer wheels frequently must be adjusted to meet weight law limitations in order to make the overall weight legal. A person in a wheelchair would also have to be able to fuel the truck, check its oil and inspect it each day for potential mechanical and tire problems. They would have to devise a way of getting into the back of the trailer to sweep it out, or even load and unload on occasion. Certainly all of these problems could be overcome with vast effort and great expense, but it’s just not practical.

A self-driving truck would be even more handicapped than a person in a wheelchair. It would not be able to fuel itself, nor could it handle face-to-face negotiations. It would just be a dumb piece of equipment, easy to rob from or just ignore.

The face-to-face business negotiation aspect is far more important than it appears at first blush. This aspect is one reason that 70% of long-distance freight is moved by truck and not by rail.

The Uncanny Valley

As owners of Google Glass know, there is a fundamentally important real-world aspect that Google Glass engineers failed to take into account – the so-called “uncanny valley.” Human beings are creeped-out by a camera placed directly next to human eyes. On paper it must have looked great in the closed world of Google engineers. In the real world, it’s quite creepy and produces extremely negative reactions from all kinds of different people. Why not combine it with a Twilight Zone ventriloquist dummy face for the full effect?

The concept of self-driving vehicles may also look great on paper. I think there’s another so-called “uncanny valley” problem when it comes to the self-driving vehicle. I believe the average person is going to be creeped-out when they look over and see a driver with his or her super cruise control engaged either snoozing in the driver’s seat or playing with their smartphone, or perhaps not in the driver’s seat at all.

Super cruise control is close to being here. Whether it will be accepted or not remains to be seen.

As for 100% autonomous vehicles, I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, I want and would be willing to pay good money for a 100% autonomous toilet-cleaning robot!

A Look Inside the 2015 Ford Edge

2015_ red edge
There’s no doubt that 2015 is going to be a huge year for advancements in car technology, and Ford is leading the race with the all new 2015 Ford Edge. The Edge is packed with innovations in performance, safety, utility, and entertainment.

The 2015 Edge is outfitted with several new features to help you keep track of your vehicle’s position and prevent collisions, both while in motion and while parking. Ford’s lane-keeping technology senses the vehicle’s position in traffic and alerts the driver to steer back into the correct lane if it has drifted. The Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®), which warns you when another vehicle enters your blind spot, and a 180-degree front camera has been added in addition to the standard rear camera to give drivers additional coverage. Ford has also made parking easier with a cross-traffic radar alert system to warn drivers of oncoming traffic when backing out of a parking spot, as well as an enhanced active park assist system that helps to guide your vehicle into and out of parallel parking spaces.

The 2015 Edge introduces several new and improved safety features, including glove box knee airbags to cushion the knees of the front passenger in the event of a collision; inflatable rear safety belts to reduce head, neck, and chest injuries; and AdvanceTrac®  and curve control sensors that measure the roll rate of the vehicle and adjusts engine torque and brake pressure of all four wheels to give the driver better control of the vehicle.  The 2015 Edge also has heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel to make the driving experience more comfortable for everyone.

One of the most noteworthy features of Ford’s recent vehicle lineup is Ford Sync. The 2015 Edge is equipped with Ford Sync with MyFord Touch lets you effortlessly connect your smartphone to your vehicle via Wi-fi to give you in-car, voice-activated access to your music, apps, navigation, and more, right from your car dashboard. Ford Sync is now available for even more trim levels, making these exciting new innovations even more accessible.

Powered by Ford’s new 2.7-liter V6 EcoBoost engine, the 2015 Ford Edge Sport is even more powerful than the previous 3.7-liter V6 model, with a 25 percent increase in torque, giving the Edge Sport an incredible total of 315 horsepower for ultimate speed and performance power.

The 2015 Edge Sport boasts an improved suspension with high-strength boron steel antiroll bars that are 26 percent stiffer against bending forces and 14 percent stiffer against twisting forces. Comfort and performance is further enhanced with the new electric power-assisted steering system, which improves both steering and parking by 30 percent. This makes for a smoother, quieter ride for both everyday commuting and open-road adventures.

The 2015 Ford Edge and the 2015 Ford Edge Sport will be available starting this spring. The 2015 Edge starts at $28,100, and the 2015 Edge Sport starts at $38,100.

2015 Ford Edge Sport is Highest Performing Edge Yet

2015-EdgeThe 2015 Ford Edge Sport has a lot to offer drivers no matter what they consider to be the most important aspects of a vehicle. It is a utility vehicle that looks beautiful. It also has been officially SAE-certified as the most powerful Edge ever, with the highest horsepower and torque ratings yet.

The new Edge has a stronger, more athletic, shape. It has standard LED tail lamps and LED signature lighting. The vehicle comes in new colors: Electric Spice, Bronze Fire Metallic, and Magnetic.

Inside the 2015 Ford Edge Sport you will find leather-trimmed sport seats with perforated suede inserts, aluminum brake and accelerator pedal covers, and metal-plated accents throughout the vehicle. It has ambient lighting.

The new Ford Edge Sport also includes Ford SYNC with 8-inch touch screen in the center stack. You will find two LCD screens in the instrument cluster (both of which are configurable). In addition, it also has a media hub that contains 2 USB ports, an SD card reader and an auxiliary input jack. A 12-speaker Sony audio system is standard in the 2015 Ford Edge Sport.

Ford’s newest EcoBoost engine, a 2.7-liter V6, powers the 2015 Ford Edge Sport. It delivers a small increase in horsepower over the previous standard engine (which was a 3.7-liter V6). The EcoBoost engine also gives a 25 percent increase in torque over the previous engine. Together that gives the 2015 Ford Edge Sport a total of 315 horsepower and 350 lb.-ft. The cylinder block of the 2.7-liter EcoBoost uses the same compacted graphite iron as Ford’s 6.7-liter Power Stroke.

The Edge Sport suspension has been upgraded with front and rear antiroll bars that are 15 percent stiffer than the base model. Enhanced damping gives Edge Sport improved road-holding capability and provides the driver with more control, sharper steering, and greater confidence.

The front-wheel-drive Edge Sport returns EPA-estimated test cycle fuel economy ratings of 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined. The EPA-estimated ratings for the all-wheel-drive model are 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.

The 2015 Ford Edge and the 2015 Ford Edge Sport go on sale in the Spring of 2015. The new Ford Edge starts at $28,100. The new Ford Edge Sport starts at $38,100.

Monitor Tyre Pressures with FOBO Tire

Fobo LogoIn-car tyre pressure monitoring is a valuable safety tool, alerting the driver to a potential problem as soon as the pressure drops. Depending on the cost of the car, the alert can be a single red warning light on the dash through to wheel-by-wheel pressure levels. Usually the feature has to be installed by the manufacturer but Fobo Tire is an after-market solution that can be easily fitted to any vehicle, both cars and bikes. Jamie and Nick take to the road with Kevin Tan from Fobo.

Fobo Tire is Bluetooth-based tyre pressure monitoring system, consisting of four sensors that screw onto the tyre’s pressure valve, replacing the dust caps. The sensors transmit data via Bluetooth both to a small monitoring unit that can remain in the vehicle and also to the owner’s smartphone or tablet. The smartphone app works with both iOS and Android, and the app can track up to 19 cars (4 x 19 sensors), so it’s good for multi-car families or small business.

Fobo Tire costs $179 for four sensors and the in-car monitoring unit, and Fobo Bike is $79 for only two sensors. Available now from Fobo’s on-line store.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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The Automotive Future by Valeo

Valeo LogoFew outside of the automotive industry will have heard of Valeo but the company is one of the world’s leading suppliers to car manufacturers, with over 78,000 employees in 29 countries and nearly $14 billion in sales. Customers include Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Hyundai and Aston Martin, to name but a few. Jamie chats with Guillaume Devauchelle, VP Valeo, to understand the automotive industry’s direction of travel.

While autonomous cars are stealing the headlines on nearly a daily basis, the reality is that a self-driving car isn’t going to be bought off the dealer forecourt overnight. It’s going to be a gradual introduction of technology over time, each taking a step towards the final goal. Cruise control has been standard for years, and adaptive cruise control with lane departure warning is available on high-end vehicles now. Imagine the next step will be autonomous driving on freeways to prove the technology. Then the self-drive will work with two way traffic, pedestrians and cyclists, and in a final leap, driverless cars will be permitted.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly for the TechPodcast Network.

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AAMP of America Auto Upgrades

Aamp of AmericaTechnology moves on quickly and while most people get a new smartphone every other year, buying a new car doesn’t happen nearly as frequently. As a result, in-car technology can get out of date quickly, particularly with respect to entertainment and communication. Fortunately, AAMP of America can help out with this; Todd talks with Jeff Smith to find out what’s hot in auto upgrades.

With over 4,000 dealers, AAMP provide a wide range of after-market upgrades, with rear-view cameras and parking assistance being very popular, including dynamic parking lines. To keep up with manufacturer offerings AAMP does its own design and development to make sure its own products match or exceed the OEM products. Watch the video to learn more about AAMP and their approach to innovation.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Powerocks with New Battery Products at CES

Powerocks LogoUSB power packs for charging smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous and companies are striving hard to find their niche in a market that’s full of products from both established names and up-and-coming specialists. Todd talks with Craig Miller from Powerocks about how they’re going to set themselves apart.

Powerocks has adopted a two pronged approach. In its established market for mobile devices, it’s taking USB battery packs and giving them a lifestyle makeover, in this case a leather covering, to make them more appealing to a wider audience and sold in mainstream stores.

Secondly, Powerocks is using its battery expertise to be build products that aren’t only smartphone chargers but still have a battery at the core. The Jump Starter vehicle emergency unit includes a 10,000 mAh battery, USB charging ports, an LED signal light, a torch, a distress alarm, a steel break-glass and a car jump-starter all in one unit. Seriously!

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Velodyne LiDAR at CES

HDL logo_single

Lidar is a version of radar that uses laser light rather than radio waves to measure distance and although it may seem like a new technology, it’s been around since the 60s. It’s come to greater prominence recently as it’s been used as one of the sensing technologies both for 3D mapping and driverless vehicles. Jamie and Todd find out more about lidar from Wolfgang Juchmann, Director of Sales and Marketing at Velodyne LiDAR.

Velodyne LiDAR has been one of the leading companies developing lidar technology, bringing down both the size and price of the lidar units over the past ten years. What previously was the size of a dustbin, costing $80,000, is now the size of a large food tin and costs $8,000. As sizes and prices fall, the cost and practicality of autonomous vehicles becomes more feasible, with lidar building high resolution 3D maps of the world around the car. The on-board computer can use the 3D information to tell the difference between cyclists and buildings, and drive the car on the road avoiding other road users.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Ford SYNC 3 at CES

Ford LogoIn the good old days, cars had heaters and radios. if you were lucky it might have had a cassette player. Getting directions involved winding down the window and asking a local. Today’s vehicles have zoned environmental controls, multi-source AV, GPS with maps and drive train telemetry to three decimal places. All this is fantastic but while you’re figuring out the way to San Jose, you don’t have your eyes on the road.

Ford wants its drivers and passengers to have a great journey but to get to their destination safely, and in an unprecedented move, Ford invited customers to their advanced car simulator in Dearborn to help design the next iteration of their infotainment system. With over 20,000 pieces of feedback, Ford developed SYNC 3 with safety and ease of use at the fore. Big touchpoints keep hands on the steering wheel longer and voice commands now produce what the driver wants rather than purely what is said.

Todd chats with Gary from Ford about the company’s approach to the latest iteration of Ford SYNC, which will be available on 2016 model cars.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network

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