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Transportation

living gardens on bus rooftops

Working in NYC everyday as I do understanding the value of parks and green spaces is obvious. But finding room for green spaces in more and more crowded cities isn’t easy. NYU graduate student  Marco Castro Cosio has hit upon the idea of planting gardens on some previously wasted space found on city streets – the roofs of buses. With New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) running a fleet of around 4,500 buses, each with a surface area of 340 square feet (31.5 m2), Cosio says that if a garden was grown on the roof of every one, there would be an extra 35 acres of rolling green space in the city. 

It might sound a bit far fetched but Cosio’s Bus Roots idea has managed to take second place in the DesignWala Grand Idea Competition and a prototype has already been installed on the roof of a vehicle dubbed the BioBus. The prototype garden only covers a small area at the rear of the BioBus’s roof and is mostly growing small succulents, but it has been traveling around New York for the last five months and has even ventured as far as Ohio.

Cosio says the purpose of the Bus Roots project is to reclaim forgotten space, increase the quality of life and grow the amount of green spaces in the city. Amongst the benefits of bringing plant life to the city listed by Cosio are mitigation of the urban heat island effect, acoustical and thermal insulation and CO2 absorption – although you’d have to wonder whether the amount of CO2 soaked up by the bus’s rooftop garden is enough to offset the extra fuel the bus will burn through carting the extra soil and plant life around.

If you’re interested in checking out the prototype BioBus, it will be open to the public at the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois on Sunday, October 10 and at the USA Science & Engineering Festival at the National Mall in Washington D.C. from October 23–24.

Vehicle-To-Grid Technology (V2G) Rocks

I love grid computing. I should make a t-shirt. Seriously, I think it's one of those really special ideas whose ultimate potential is a long way from being realized. For those unfamiliar with the concept it's pretty simple really. Grid computing is a form of distributed computing whereby a "super and virtual computer" is composed of a cluster of networked, loosely-coupled computers, acting in concert to perform very large tasks.
Mostly, we've used this technology for computationally-intensive scientific, mathematic, and academic problems through volunteer computing, and it is used in commercial enterprises for such diverse applications as drug discovery, economic forecasting, seismic analysis, and back-office data processing in support of e-commerce and web services.

Now that you understand that - there is another similar idea which I must say is equally special and brilliant. It's called Vehicle-To-Grid or V2G for short. I've been reading about V2G for quite a while, and now a team at the University of Michigan is conducting an extensive study on the technology as part of a national sustainable energy solution.

The fundemental premise is quite a bit like grid computing. While current electric plants are good at generating power, they often fall short when it comes to storage -- which can be a problem when there's a power surge or when demand increases. V2G will let hybrid-electric owners sell the power their car generates to the electrical power grid whenever the car is not in use.

With V2G I envision a time when millions of hybrid vehicle owners will come together to create one large virtual battery, allowing everyone to play a small part in building our nation's energy independence.

"Cars sit most of the time," said Jeff Stein, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. "What if it could work for you while it sits there? If you could use a car for something more than just getting to work or going on a family vacation, it would be a whole different way to think about a vehicle, and a whole different way to think about the power grid, too."

This will lead to more sustainable transportation and grid infrastructures, and will also increase the resilience of these infrastructures to sharp changes in energy costs, supply, or demand.

The National Science Foundation's Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program created a topic for a 2007-2008 call for proposals on resilient and sustainable infrastructures. This topic argues that the nation's infrastructures over the past century have evolved largely independently but new technologies have emerged that coupled some of these infrastructures. This has created a need for fundamental tools to design and develop these new technologies and to evolve these coupled infrastructures.

I see plug-in hybrid electric vehicles as a perfect example of such a new technology that in this case is coupling the transportation and power grid infrastructures. Super cool stuff.

FLYING CARS

In many of my lectures and articles a familiar theme is the exponential growth and adoption of technology.  When I lecture both at universities and corporations about futurist topics probably one question that I get asked more by students and executives alike is "...why don’t we have flying cars yet?" Well the simple answer is that developing a flying car is hard. But the long wait for the solution may be coming to an end with Moller International announcing that it is in the process of completing its fourth M200 “Jetson” volantor airframe and it expects to complete forty of these fly-by-wire, multi-engine flying vehicles in 2009.

The first volantor model being offered will be the M200G Jetson ground effect vehicle that is designed for operation at up to 10 feet above ground level - so while it won’t result in your being able to shoot across the sky like those scenes in The Fifth Element or Blade Runner, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Designed as a vertical take off & landing (VTOL) fast, low-cost personal recreational vehicle, the M200 is constrained to this altitude so that operators will not be required to have a pilot’s license. Moller is hoping that, once the ease of operation and safety of the vehicle are thoroughly demonstrated, the requirement for the operator to have a private pilot's license for higher flying models will be removed. The ease of operation lies in vehicle’s fly by wire computer technology, which actually does the flying. The pilot needs only move the controls in the direction he wants to go so that little skill is required.

The two passenger saucer shaped aircraft can take-off and land vertically, is the size of a small automobile, operates vibration free with little noise and is also qualified to travel short distances on the ground as an automobile as well. The prototype M200X has completed over two hundred flights with and without a pilot on board and can be seen flying in the above video. In addition to the M200G, the Company plans to offer the M200E, a kit-built version of its Jetson aircraft with sales beginning in 2010. The M200E will not have the same software enabled altitude constraints as the M200G and the Company expects the M200E to be operable as an "Experimental" class aircraft.

Both models of the vehicle use the company’s Rotapower rotary engine, which provide a high power-to-weight ratio at a reasonable cost and are very small for their power output. This is just as well since eight Rotapower engines are used in the production model volantor. The engines give the M200 a cruising speed of 75mph, a max speed of 100mph, a range of 100 miles and the ability to carry up to 250 lbs. The Rotapower engine is also multi-fuel capable with the engines in the volantor typically configured to run on unleaded gasoline although Moller have also demonstrated the engine's ability to run on diesel  and natural gas.

In view of its planned limited production through 2009, the Company is set to offer the Jetson for sale only via an international auction. A potential bidder can become a “candidate qualified to bid” by establishing his or her ability to meet the $150,000 reserve. No deposit will be required until a successful bid occurs. Qualified participants will be advised on a regular basis as to the Jetson’s production status and its anticipated auction schedule.

Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Competition

The University of Maryland, has won the 11th Annual International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition, in San Diego California. The event is organized by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Office of Naval Research, and challenges universities to design and build an AUV capable of navigating realistic underwater missions.
Twenty-five teams from the US, India, Canada and Japan participated in the AUV competition, which involved dead reckoning approximately 50 feet through the starting gate, pipeline following, buoy docking, tracking and hovering over an acoustic pinger, grabbing an object and surfacing with the object to a floating ring.

Click here to read a PDF of University of Maryland's Team Journal from the event.


Coming second in the competition was the University of Texas at Dallas, followed by École de Technologie Supérieure. A full list of the placings can be found here. The competition also gave out several special awards: the University of Colorado at Boulder won Best New Entry; the Delhi College of Engineering won Most Improved; the University of Wisconsin  won the Tupperware Use Award; the University of Ottawa won Persistence in Adversity; and Norwich University won the Innovation Award.

On August 8, the AUVSI and ONR also held its first International Autonomous Surface Vehicle Student Competition, at San Diego’s 40 foot deep Transducer Evaluation Center Pool. The craft will have to face challenges including passing through a starting gate and steering a steady course, navigating between buoys, detecting and eliminating shore bound threats, docking and recovering a victim. Embry-Riddle University, Florida Atlantic University, École de Technologie Supérieure, the University of Central Florida, the University of Michigan University_of_Michigan , and Villanova University are competing.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International has over 1,400 member companies and organizations from 50 countries, making it the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems community.

Facebook
Join the Facebook group for AUVSI Underwater Robot Makers.
Join the Facebook event AUVSI & ONR's 11th International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition.

CARS THAT TALK

A world where humans, motor vehicles and the infrastructure will wirelessly communicate and co-operate for the greater good came a step closer this week when the European Commission reserved part of the radio spectrum for smart vehicle communications systems (so called co-operative systems). I have talked about telematics in my lectures and writing before and this a part of that whole concept.

The networked road system envisaged by the European Intelligent Car Initiative promotes the use ICT to achieve smarter, safer and cleaner road transport and comes not a moment too soon – already 24% of European driving time is spent in traffic jams, and it’ll get much worse before it gets better. Research suggests the costs caused by traffic congestion could reach EUR80 billion by 2010.

The wireless system will allow cars to 'talk' to other cars and to the road infrastructure providers. The system will, for example, warn other drivers of slippery roads or of a crash which just happened. Smart vehicle communication systems have the potential to make safer and ease the lives of Europe's drivers: in 2006, more than 42,000 people died in road accidents in the European Union and more than 1.6 million were injured while every day there are some 7,500 km of traffic jams on the EU's roads. The Commission decision is intended to foster investment in smart vehicle communication systems by the automotive industry, at the same time spurring public funding in essential roadside infrastructure.

The Commission decision provides a single EU-wide frequency band that can be used for immediate and reliable communication between cars, and between cars and roadside infrastructure. It is 30 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 Gigahertz (GHz) band which will be allocated within the next six months by national authorities across Europe to road safety, without barring other services already in place (such as amateur radio services). EU Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding described the decision as “a decisive step towards meeting the European goal of reducing road accidents.”

“Getting critical messages through quickly and accurately is a must for road safety,” she said. “We should also keep in mind that with 24% of Europeans' driving time spent in traffic jams the costs caused by congestion could reach €80 billion by 2010. So clearly saving time through smart vehicles communications systems means saving money."

A typical example is the case of a vehicle detecting a slippery patch on a road: if it is equipped with a cooperative car-to-car communication device, it can deliver this information to all cars located nearby. If a traffic management centre needs to inform drivers about a sudden road closure, the alternative route to take or a change in speed limits, it will also be able to send this information to a transmitter detector along the respective road, which then passes it on to vehicles driving in the vicinity.