While most people can agree that electric and hybrid cars are a good idea, they haven’t taken off the way many people would expect, largely due to their price (I guess saving money on gasoline doesn’t take the edge off sticker shock). Solar-powered cars are another eco-friendly idea that seems poised to take off, though they might suffer the same setbacks as electric cars. Many scientists think that the real breakthrough in eco-fuels will be hydrogen, and despite previous advances in converting solar energy to hydrogen, it seems that the development of hydrogen-powered cars has largely stalled out — until now. Researchers at the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council have made a discovery that stands to revolutionize the use of hydrogen as fuel. Their secret? Ammonia.
When you think about Toyota Motor Corporation, what comes to mind? Actually, let me narrow that down for you. When you think about what a Toyota Motor Corporation manufacturing plant looks like, what do you imagine? Probably lots of conveyor belts and industrial robots putting pieces of cars together. Most automotive plants look like that, and most of us know, robots are predicted to continue replacing humans in these types of jobs, among others. But not at Toyota. The world’s biggest car manufacturer has recommitted to a human workforce, even if it means a short-term dip in sales.
Toyota president Akio Toyoda has begun to put humans in jobs recently held by robots, such as metalworking. Having robotic workers devalues craftsmanship, and in Japanese culture, master craftsmen, known as Kami-sama, used to be revered, as it seemed they could make anything. Toyoda wants to revert to that system, enabling his employees to develop skills that will ultimately improve production.
We’ve written about driverless cars before, but this burgeoning industry is already advancing by leaps and bounds, as evidenced by a new vehicle design by Swiss company Rinspeed. XchangE, which right now is only a concept car, fast-forwards 10-15 years in the future, when driverless cars are no longer a novelty, but the norm. Since people won’t have to drive anymore, they can be passengers, which means that they can stop eating and reading and primping at the wheel and just do all those things like they would on a train, plane, or even in their own living rooms. Of course, that means that the XchangE has to be all kinds of suped-up.
In my life, the vehicles I have owned came from a few different places: a hand-men-down from my parents, a cheap car bought from other family members, and something nice from a used car lot. I’ve never owned a brand new car, and while I used to think it was more of a financial issue, it turns out I also didn’t have enough toys or engineering know-how. Romanian Raul Oaida and Australian entrepreneur Steve Sammartino worked together on what they call the Super Awesome Micro Project, an endeavor that earns its name from being made up of almost 500,000 Lego pieces. The finished product includes a fully functional, air-powered engine.
Maxing out around around 20-mph, no one is going to try to get on the highway with this anyway. It’s an accomplishment more than a mode of travel, and honestly, I get slightly nauseous imagining the sound of small pieces of gravel rattling around beneath a Lego car at high speeds, shattering the plastic beneath. I’d have to keep pulling over to make sure I wasn’t hearing the teeth of old Tom Slattery chucking about between the bricks, haunting my very existence since that fateful playground incident. No wait, you can’t look at me like I’m crazy. These guys built a Lego car.
Who can forget (if you were around back then) OJ Simpson’s famous high-speed chase? Actually, it was more of a low-speed chase, given the congestion of Los Angeles’ Interstate 405 and the fear that Simpson would commit suicide rather than submit to authorities. Anyway, I remember watching OJ in that white Bronco, and scores of police cars and helicopters chasing him. But what if the police had been able to push a button to disable Simpson’s car, ending the chase before it even began?
Police in France, Germany, and Spain have requested that SAVELEC (Safe Control of Noncooperative Vehicles Through Electromagnetic Means) develop such a device, and the UK electronics firm E2V has already tested one. The technology would allow police to use radio waves to incapacitate cars’ control computers, which would bring targeted vehicles to a sudden stop.
The American road trip has enticed adventurers and vagabonds since the car was first invented. And while the lure of the open road may never lose its appeal, what continues to change is the kind of vehicles we take on these trips. Tyler and Cody Kor, Canadian brothers who share a love for engineering and motor adventures, plan on paying homage to the great American road trip in 2015 by taking the same trip that Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker, the first folks ever to drive across the country, took back in 1903. The difference is that the Kors will be driving the URBEE 2, a 3-D printed car.
The Kors have decided to really throw down the gauntlet on this challenge, though. They claim they’ll make the same 3000-mile trip that took Jackson and Crocker 63 days in a mere 44 hours. They also claim that they’ll do it on 10 gallons of ethanol fuel, which would get a normal car about 300 miles. The Kors boast that the URBEE is the “greenest car on Earth.”