Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

2 ‘green’ technologies race for driver’s seat

December 8, 2007

Fuel-cell vehicles

Advocates of alternative-fuel vehicles would seem a unified bunch of tree huggers, bound by their determination to wean the world’s automobiles off fossil fuels. But there’s a red-hot fight brewing in the green-car world.

Proponents of the two most hyped technologies — hydrogen fuel cells and plug-in electric hybrids — are squared off in an increasingly bitter fight. They are vying for publicity, manufacturer acceptance, favorable regulation and, especially, funding for research and investment in infrastructure and marketing.

The battle has been simmering for several years, but with the technologies coming tantalizingly close to commercial reality, the stakes are higher than ever. Whoever gets the upper hand now could determine what kind of cars we all drive in the future.

Source:  Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Army’s $200 Billion Makeover

December 7, 2007

A $200 billion plan to remake the largest war machine in history unfolds in one small way on a quiet country road in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Jack Hensley, one of a legion of contractors on the project, is hunkered in a slowly moving SUV, serving as target practice for a baby-faced soldier in a Humvee aiming a laser about 700 yards away. A moment later, another soldier in the Humvee punches commands into a computer transmitting data across an expanse of sand and mesquite to a site 2 1/2 miles away. On an actual battlefield, this is when a precision attack missile would be launched, killing Hensley almost instantly.

For soldiers in an experimental Army brigade at the sprawling Fort Bliss base, it’s the first day of field training on a new weapon called the Non-Line of Sight Launch System, or NLOS-LS, a box of rockets that can automatically change direction in midair and hit a moving target about 24 miles away.  The Army says it has never had a weapon like it. “It’s not the Spartans with the swords anymore,” said Emmett Schaill, the brigade commander, peering into the desert-scape.

In the Army’s vision, the war of the future is increasingly combat by mouse clicks. It’s as networked as the Internet, as mobile as a cellphone, as intuitive as a video game.

Source:  Washington Post

In the Future, Smart People Will Let Cars Take Control

December 4, 2007

As the baby boomers cruise into their golden years, I have good news for them — and for everyone else in danger of being run over by these aging drivers. The boomers will not be driving like Mr. Magoo. An electronic chauffeur will conduct them on expressways, drop them at the mall entrance and then go park their cars.

If you doubt this prediction, I don’t blame you. The self-driving car ranks right up there with the personal hovercraft as the futurist vision that never comes true.

Source:  New York Times

Faster Computers Accelerate Pace of Discovery

December 3, 2007

Sometime next year, developers will boot up the next generation of supercomputers, machines whose vast increases in processing power will accelerate the transformation of the scientific method, experts say.

The first “petascale” supercomputer will be capable of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. That’s about twice as powerful as today’s dominant model, a basketball-court-size beast known as BlueGene/L at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California that performs a peak of 596 trillion calculations per second.

The computing muscle of the new petascale machines will be akin to that of more than 100,000 desktop computers combined, experts say. A computation that would take a lifetime for a home PC and that can be completed in about five hours on today’s supercomputers will be doable in as little as two hours.

Source:  Washington Post

Company developing ‘Segway of the sky’

November 28, 2007

BitarAir Buoyant is developing a one-person flying platform called the VertiPod. Classified as an ultralight aircraft, the propeller-powered VertiPod’s simple controls could spark a transportation revolution.

“It’s kind of the first step toward the flying car,” said Air Buoyant President and CEO Pete Bitar. “We call it the Segway of the sky. It has a rudder that steers it laterally, but you just lean in the direction you want to go.”

The Vertipod looks a bit like a one-passenger helicopter turned upside-down. Its propeller is on the bottom and the pilot stands on a platform built around it with back support and controls at waist-level.

It is powered by a 440-cubic-centimeter engine that runs on gasoline or ethanol and can be activated with a pull-start, like a lawnmower. The VertiPod is intended to travel five to 15 feet above ground at a top speed of 40 mph. Bitar said it will be sold for $10,000 in a kit that can be assembled in a weekend.

Source:  Wired’s Danger Room

Google’s New Search — for Cheap, Clean Electricity

November 28, 2007

solar-thermal mirror systsm

A heap of climate and energy experts have been aching for government and/or the private sector to step forward in a big way to take on the challenge of diverting the world from its expanding appetite for fossil fuels.

Google has now announced what looks like just the kind of effort they’ve all been talking about. The initiative is called Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal. Company officials said they planned to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that aim to make nonpolluting technologies for generating electricity competitive with what has been the norm for the last 100 years — burning black rocks.

An initial focus will be solar thermal technology, in which arrays of mirrors heat a substance to drive a generator.

Source:  New York Times

Flying car company jostled by financial turbulence

November 20, 2007

Moller International says it has concerns about its financial future.

The company, in a filing Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, notes that it has run up more than $40.5 million in accumulated deficits and is concerned whether it will have enough money to continue development of its vertical-takeoff and landing Skycar and its Rotapower engines.

“Successful completion of product development activities for either or both of these programs will require significant additional sources of capital,” it says in its Form 10-QSB/A filing with the SEC.

“Continuation as a going concern is dependent upon MI’s ability to obtain additional financing sufficient to complete product development activities and provide working capital to fund the manufacture and sale of MI’s products. These factors raise substantial doubt as to MI’s ability to continue as a going concern,” it says.

Source:  Central Valley Business Times

Ubiquitous surveillance changing our culture

November 17, 2007

Don’t look now. Somebody’s watching.

But you knew that, didn’t you? How could you not? It’s been apparent for years that we’re being watched and monitored as we traverse airports and train stations, as we drive, train, fly, surf the Web, e-mail, talk on the phone, get the morning coffee, visit the doctor, go to the bank, go to work, shop for groceries, shop for shoes, buy a TV, walk down the street.

Cameras, electronic card readers and transponders are ubiquitous. And in that parallel virtual universe, data miners are busily and constantly culling our cyber selves.

Source:  Washington Post

Honda’s production fuel-cell vehicle getting rave reviews

November 15, 2007

2008 Honda FCX Clarity

This is big. Huge. Honda has made a production hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle. Sure, experimental models have been buzzing around L.A. for a while (the city of Los Angeles leased several).

But this will be more available to Joe (or Joan) Public. Provided he (or she) lives near a hydrogen-equipped filling station like the ones in Santa Monica, Torrance and Irvine.

The car is Accord-sized (though rear head room looks a little tight) and has a fuel cell stack and battery pack much smaller than previous Honda fuel cell cars. It really looks like the company got it right with this one.

The car will go on sale next summer.

Source:  Los Angeles Times

Taking a Whack at Making a Car

November 14, 2007

IAN A. BRUCE presses an Italian-made alligator-skin boot onto the accelerator of his three-wheel thrill machine and careens around a corner. The agile metal box tilts precariously to one side, leaving Mr. Bruce nearly horizontal to the ground.

“The experience is like driving a jet fighter,” he shouts over the engine. “It’s truly a new kind of vehicle.”

The machine, which has one wheel in front and two in back, is a hybrid of a motorcycle and a car, and it underscores a trend: vehicles of the future are as unorthodox as the entrepreneurs who are trying to create them.

A generation of digital-era Henry Fords, unabashed and brimming with confidence, has emerged. Born of Silicon Valley and the dot-com culture, they are trying to apply to carmaking the same entrepreneurial spirit that built the information superhighway.

Most of the inventors are not carmakers by background or training. But they are cocksure, backed by millions of dollars in venture capital and cloaked in the righteousness of environmentalism. To their critics, they are flying at high speed around a blind curve, destined to become reality-check crash-test dummies.

Source:  New York Times