Aérotrain

aerotr1Last week I was on  holiday in France. Driving down from Paris to Orléans on the D2020, I noticed a long raised structure to the east running for several kilometres. It was a few hundred metres from the road so all I could see was a raised platform or aquaduct on stilts. I initially assumed that it was related to the energy industry because the structure passed near a nuclear power station. I thought nothing more about it for a few days and then used Google Maps and Street View to find out that this was an actually the industrial remnants of a high speed transportation experiment called Aérotrain from the 60s and 70s which achieved speeds of over 400 km/h (about 250 mph).

I80_HV_1Generically known as a hovertrain, the Aérotrain used a cushion of air to reduce the rolling resistance of the vehicle, in a similar way to maglevs. Aero engines were used from propulsion, initially with propellors, then turbojets and finally turbofans. A prototype using a linear induction motor was also tested.

The futuristic vehicle on the left is the I-80 HV and is shown on the track that I passed between Ruan and Saran. Able to carry 80 passengers, the I-80 HV established the world speed record for overland air cushion vehicles on 5 March 1974 with an average speed of 418 km/h (259 mph) and a top speed of 430 km/h (267 mph).

This was the brainchild of French engineer Jean Bertin who initially proposed the concept and demonstrated a scale prototype in 1963. Subsequently there were four prototypes built for France and one for the USA which ran on a test track in Pueblo, Colorado.

It’s totally fascinating and there are some comprehensive information resources online including the Association of Friends of Jean Bertin (in French) and Aerotrain.fr (French and English). There are some videos on-line too which show how amazingly futuristic the Aérotrain must have seemed in the 60s. The one below is nearly 20 minutes long. There’s a couple of videos on YouTube too – search for aerotrain.

For a quick 3 minute fix, French pop group Exsonvaldes released a music track with a video about the Aérotrain. There’s brief sequence of the I-80 HV keeping pace with a light aircraft.

State support for the Aérotrain ceased in 1974 and France pushed forward with the TGV for high speed rail transportation. The key benefit of the TGV was that the trains could run on standard rail tracks in urban areas before switching to dedicated high-speed lines in the countryside. Aérotrain needed a completely new infrastructure and the last flight of Aérotrain took place on 29 December 1977.

For comparison, here’s a BBC top five fastest trains. There’s some learning here for Elon Musk’s Hyperloop system.

OmniO Rider Backpack Buggy

British Inventors ProjectParents, we’ve all been there. You’re as far away from home or car as possible and your toddler decides that he or she has had enough of walking. No amount of encouragement or cajoling will make him take another step and you have to carry your darling all the way back.

If you recognise this story then you’ll be interested in the OmniO Rider, a lightweight buggy (stroller) which collapses to a backpack. The production version is expected to weight less than 6 kg and that’s definitely lighter than a toddler! I tried on the prototype and even it was light enough.

OmniO Rider Fold Sequence

In most other respects it looks much like an ordinary buggy with cupholders and nappy changing bag.

OmniO Rider

Aside from from the clever folding mechanism, the OmniO team developed a new wheel design that uses rollers for sideways motion. Called omni-wheels, they can go at the front or the back of the buggy depending on the driver’s preference. I liked these – lovely piece of engineering. Who says you can’t reinvent the wheel?

Omnio Wheels

The OmniO Rider is currently an Indiegogo campaign where it’s trying to raise $50,000. With an expected retail price of $500, there are early bird offers at $350, so get in quick.

Taking all this into account, it wasn’t a total surprise when it won Gadget Show Live’s “British Invention of the Year Award”.

Omnio Award

London Tube Testing Bluetooth Beacons for Visually Impaired Passengers

Underground logoTechnology has come a long way in improving many aspects of our day-to-day lives. But we’ve become so used to being surrounded by sensors, screens and other devices that in many cases, we take them all for granted. That’s why regular passengers on the London Underground may not have noticed a special series of Bluetooth beacons placed along specific paths of select Tube stations.

These beacons are being used to test a new system that would help visually impaired passengers gain more independence when using the Underground. From the BBC:

Members of the Youth Forum of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) said they wanted to navigate the tube system independently.

Currently most have to rely on friends to help them get used to familiar routes or phone ahead to request assistance from London Underground staff. Many do not feel confident about using the whole network.

The beacon system was created with the help of a digital design group called ustwo. The beacons use Bluetooth to send audible signals to smartphones and other mobile devices. Passengers who have their devices set to pick up those signals will hear specific directions that guide them throughout Tube stations, allowing them to reach their destinations without the aid of another person.

[Read more…]

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.

Onewheel Electric Skateboard at The Gadget Show

Continuing the rise of personal electric transportation, on show here is the Onewheel, “the world’s first self-balancing electric skateboard”. Think of it as a skateboard deck with one a motorsport-style slick tyre in the middle. The Onewheel is self-stabilising and it’s simple to control – lean in the direction of travel and the Onewheel will start moving forwards. To turn, it’s like an ordinary skateboard, just lean in or out – apparently it takes a only a few minutes to get the hang of it. With a range of about 5 miles, the Onewheel has a top speed of 12 mph, depending on terrain.

Onewheel

The Onewheel was a Kickstarter project and amazingly raised over $630,000 against a $100,000 goal. Obviously no interest at all but I thought I’d better ask Jack a little bit more about it.

Onewheel Balancing

You can pre-order now for delivery towards the end of 2014 at a cost of US$1500.

 

Virgin America Safety Video

Virgin America sure does its pre-flight safety announcements a little differently…..

From YouTube – Buckle up to get down. We’ve enlisted the help of Virgin Produced, Director Jon M. Chu, Choreographers Jamal Sims and Christopher Scott, Composer/Producer Jean-yves “Jeeve” Ducornet, Virgin America teammates, and dance stars like Todrick Hall and Madd Chadd to give our safety video a new song and dance — literally. From the exit doors to the oxygen masks, no seat belt was left unbuckled.”

Certainly an innovative way to get passengers to pay attention to the instructions but I think it might get a little wearing for frequently flyers. Has anyone actually seen this on a plane?

Ulster Aviation Society Open Day

The Ulster Aviation Society is having an Open Day this coming weekend (25th August) to celebrate 70 years since the USAAF 8th Air Force arrived in Northern Ireland to fight in World War II. The UAS has an impressive collection of 15 aircraft, including a U.S.-built veteran of WWII in the shape of a Grumman Wildcat fighter, which is under restoration. Subject to weather, visitors will see a helicopter fly-in, as well as a wide assortment of military vehicles and displays dating back to World War II.

Given the global nature of Geek News Central, I don’t normally post this kind of local event but what made this a little special was the photo a friend sent along showing the Society’s aircraft hangar.

Ulster Aviation Society Hangar

It’s like my garage, only with bigger toys.

For bonus geek points, name the aircraft in the picture in the comments – there are ten in total. I’ll start off with the plane in the foreground: it’s an English Electric Canberra bomber. You can click through to a hi-res version of the photo for more detail.

Picture courtesy of John Martin.

Lego Bridge

In the Germany city of Wuppertal urban artist Martin Heuwold, aka MEGX, has transformed a dull grey concrete railway bridge into a brightly coloured Lego construction.

Here’s the bridge as it originally appeared.

Original Bridge

And here it is after the reconstruction.

Lego Bridge

Of course, the bridge hasn’t really been rebuilt with super-sized Lego Duplo bricks but instead the brick-effect has been painted on. It’s very convincing, though. Regrettably the Lego bridge can only stay in place for four weeks.

Lego Bridge

All pictures courtesy of Martin Heuwold. There are more on his website.