Posted on December 3rd, 2008 No comments
Snohomish County has converted two of its Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles to fully electric vehicles as part of the Plugin Center PHEV Pilot Project of Washington.
The vehicles were fitted with plug-in electric conversion kits, as well as data monitors, in November at Wenatchee Valley College’s automotive training facility. The two vehicles can be parked and charged at the county’s McDougall fleet shop, parking garage and Cathcart fleet center.
The conversion kits use lithium battery packs charged via standard 120-volt outlets. Under optimal conditions, the battery packs provide an all-electric equivalent range of approximately 30 miles. Recharging an empty battery takes about 5.5 hours. Each vehicle also is equipped with data loggers, GPS units and cellular modems to collect real-time vehicle performance data. The data will be analyzed and archived by Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity. Data from Snohomish County’s vehicles will be studied along with information from about 130 other converted vehicles nationwide.
Snohomish County has continually been working to reduce its impact on the environment, especially in terms of fleet improvements. The county recently received a $57,299 state grant to retrofit 24 diesel vehicles, further reducing the county’s overall pollution emissions. Since 2005, emission-reduction improvements have been made to an additional 109 diesel vehicles.
Snohomish County also was recently honored as the third best government green fleet in North America by 100 Best Fleets, a national award co-sponsored by Government Fleet Magazine and other fleet organizations.
The statewide PHEF Pilot Project is sponsored by Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED) and the Port of Chelan County.
Wenatchee, Chelan County, Douglas County PUD, Energy Northwest, Snohomish County, the University of Washington, Benton County PUD, Walla Walla Community College, McKinstry and Green IT Alliance are participating in this phase of the pilot project. Each organization provided its own vehicles.
Contribured by: Christopher Schwarzen – Snohomish County
Posted on December 1st, 2008 No comments
Government tries to go green
Its new hybrid truck is just one element of the county’s environmentally focused initiatives.
By JON CAWLEY
YORK – York County has introduced the first hybrid vehicle to its fleet, part of an increasing number of initiatives that recently earned the county recognition for its environmental efforts.
The Ford Escape SUV has been in use by the General Services Department for about a month, said Mark Bellamy, York’s fleet manager.
The sport utility vehicle runs primarily on gasoline. But it also works in conjunction with an electric motor that kicks in when the vehicle needs an extra boost or when starting off — times when the most energy is consumed.
Bellamy said the $26,000 vehicle — expected to get 29 miles per gallon in city driving, compared with the 17 mpg now averaged by comparable county trucks — should save the county about $7,000 in fuel costs over its lifetime.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised. It really doesn’t operate much different than 100 percent gas vehicles,” Bellamy said. “It drives just like a car but quieter — there’s no engine build-up roar.”
So far, there have been no downsides, Bellamy said.
He said more hybrid replacements to the county’s 300-vehicle fleet were planned, but none scheduled as of yet. However, he said, additional fleet changes are being studied, such as use of biodiesels, low-rolling-resistance tires, and a GPS system that would notify the office when vehicles are left idling, so management can “modify driver behavior” to be in accordance with the county’s anti-idling policy.
York has enacted a number of other environmentally focused programs. Among them, the county uses geothermal energy — which relies on the heating and cooling power of the Earth to supplement traditional gas and electric power — in seven of its buildings.
In addition, the Environmental and Development Services Department raises mosquito fish — which feed on mosquito larvae — to be used as an environmentally friendly means of reducing the insects.
York also has an extensive countywide recycling program. Three marinas in the county — at Riverwalk Landing, Wormley Creek and the Seaford Yacht Club — have received Clean Marina status by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
On Aug. 19, the county Board of Supervisors formally adopted a resolution directing the county administrator “to establish and implement policies, guidelines, goals and strategies to further reduce costs and promote sustainability in daily operations, including fleet and facility energy management.”
In October, York was recognized by the Virginia Municipal League for participation in the “Go Green Virginia” program, in which localities receive points for adopting policies or enacting practices that ranged from energy efficiency and green buildings to land use and innovation.
York was one of 16 local governments that received more than the 100 points necessary to become a “VML-Certified Green Government.”
Posted on October 26th, 2008 No comments
If you’ve ever been to New York and especially if you’ve been there for business, you know town cars. Maybe you had one at your disposal (I did on two of my trips there). They are, as the article details, the mainstay of New York business car service work. They’re ubiquitous. I had not realized that the new regulations are affecting the town cars which gives me some insight into the pushback against the changes which, I would add, I still support. Sure, a Prius isn’t as swank a town car but you know what, it’s big enough for one person and a briefcase.
ROWS of Lincoln Town Cars idling at the curbside, a scene as socially suspect as the old X-rated Times Square, will soon begin disappearing from New York City streets.
Ambitious city fuel economy rules, written to curb the thirst of black cars, will steadily sideline the big V-8 powered sedans that corporate New York has relied on for decades. The rules particularly threaten the future of the Lincoln Town Car, workhorse of a fleet that the Taxi and Limousine Commission numbers at roughly 10,000 vehicles.
Black cars are essentially small-scale limousines that serve mainly business customers who pay with vouchers or credit cards rather than cash. Under a plan introduced by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg last winter, new black cars that enter service beginning Jan. 1 must carry a fuel economy rating of at least 25 miles a gallon in the Environmental Protection Agency’s city test cycle; the requirement steps up to 30 m.p.g. a year later. A 25-m.p.g. rule took effect for New York’s 13,000 yellow taxis in October.
According to the city, the black cars, taxis and an additional 25,000 local car service vehicles produce 1 percent of the city’s total carbon dioxide emissions, and 4 percent of its transportation emissions. Doubling the mileage of that entire fleet, the goal by 2017, would cut the emissions by half.
There’s only one problem: no new full-size sedan comes close to 25 m.p.g., let alone 30 m.p.g., in city driving. The Lexus LS 600h L, the only large hybrid luxury sedan, is rated at just 20 m.p.g. in the city. It costs more than $100,000, a price that makes it a non-starter for independent drivers who are used to paying $15,000 to $25,000 for a used Town Car or $40,000 for a new one.
Still, with fleet operators and drivers being hammered by wild swings in fuel prices, the mileage rules provide a powerful incentive for switching to smaller hybrid sedans and crossovers that comply with the new regulations.
The possibilities include Ford’s Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrids, crossovers that are rated at an exceptional 34 m.p.g. in town. Ford is promoting the Mariner as a greener alternative to the Town Car; it costs about $31,000 with a livery package that includes black-leather upholstery and a GPS navigation system. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid utility wagon and its luxury sibling, the Lexus RX 400h, can achieve 27 m.p.g. in the city — enough to sneak past the first-year 25-m.p.g. requirement — and would cost drivers $40,000 to $50,000.
Among midsize sedans, the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima hybrids ace the standards at a respective 33- and 35-m.p.g. in city driving, and each costs about $30,000 with options. The Toyota Prius sips the least fuel, at 45 m.p.g. in the city, though some black-car drivers say the Prius is too small and bare-bones to step in for a Town Car.
With a basic design that dates to the ’70s, the Lincoln Town Car is built on a heavy steel frame, akin to old-school S.U.V.’s — one reason for its city fuel economy rating of 16 m.p.g. But the things that make Lincoln a dinosaur also make it a favorite of drivers and fleet operators: the Town Car is a simple, spacious and durable tank that’s inexpensive to buy and repair. Drivers say they routinely put 250,000 miles or more on a Town Car in brutal city driving before having to rebuild its V-8 engine or its transmission.
“You can buy a Town Car even with 100,000 miles on it and it will run forever if you do the maintenance,” said Salah Eldamarany, a driver with Legends Limo and Car Service in Brooklyn.
Black-car drivers say that while some customers are supportive of hybrids and would sacrifice some room or amenities to ride in one, others would not be satisfied if a Town Car stand-in was not as luxurious and roomy.
“Customers might not complain about gas prices, but they will complain if three people and their luggage can’t fit,” said Nassim Salaymeh, who also drives for the Legends service.
John Acierno, president of the city’s largest black-car company, Executive Transportation Group, has already switched about 10 percent of his 1,750-car fleet to hybrids. With Town Cars achieving a dispiriting 12 m.p.g. in real-world use, hybrid adopters are saving from $125 to $175 a week in fuel, Mr. Acierno said — enough to offset the higher purchase price of the hybrids.
Part of those savings is a result of hybrids’ shutting down their gas engines when stopped, making them ideal for the lurching and crawling pace of New York streets. He has calculated that when his fleet is fully converted, the company will save 2.8 million gallons of gas each year — more than $8 million at current pump prices — and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32,000 tons a year.
Some drivers have expressed reservations over the hybrids’ durability and safety. Mr. Acierno acknowledges that while drivers can be wary of switching, those who do become the best advertisements for hybrids.
Mr. Acierno is hopeful that the industry will develop more models that meet both economy rules and the needs of customers. Currently, his dispatchers avoid sending smaller hybrid models on airport runs to pick up multiple passengers and luggage.
Matthew W. Daus, chairman of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, called hybrids the latest example of natural selection in the evolution of black cars.
“Both drivers and corporate passengers appreciate the hybrid effect of less fuel costs and an enhanced corporate image for environmentally responsible clients,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
For operators who are not ready to get rid of their Lincolns, the city plan includes a phase-in retirement period. Essentially, six-year-old Town Cars will be steadily removed from service, with virtually the entire fleet converted to the 30-m.p.g. standard after 2013. Operators who license a new 2009 Town Car before Jan. 1 will be able to operate it the longest, for five years, before it is forced to retire. Several drivers said that they and colleagues are rushing to buy Town Cars before the January deadline to delay the switch as long as possible.
Doug Walczak, a limousine and livery manager for the Ford Motor Company, said that some loyal Town Car owners are leery of new technology. “It’s a challenge, because hybrids don’t have that long, proven history of durability in commercial applications,” Mr. Walczak said.
As the Town Car fades, Mr. Walczak said that Ford remains committed to its profitable black-car business. The company has pledged to continue building Town Cars through 2011 at its plant in St. Thomas, Ontario. Yet Mr. Walczak acknowledged that the clock is ticking on the venerable Lincoln.
“The writing is on the wall, and the world is changing,” he said.
Posted on September 20th, 2008 No comments
Robotic Toyota Prius Drives Itself
It may be GM cars that change into robots in the Transformers movies, but it’s a modified Toyota Prius that’s the real robotic car. Designed by computer engineer Anthony Levandowski, the “pribot” took its first real road test around the San Francisco Bay area last week.
In preparation for the drive, Levandowski drove the route days earlier scanning the roads to be used by the Pribot for its actual journey. Using GPS to guide its way through the winding streets of San Francisco and using special lasers to maintain proper distance between itself and other objects, it traveled, with cameras and police watching, from San Francisco’s waterfront, across the Bay Bridge and ending at Treasure Island. Save for a scratch received when getting on the bridge, the Pribot made it to its destination without incident.
Weaving through the busy streets of the bay area was exactly what inspired Levandowski to build the Pribot in the first place. “The technology for being able to improve your convenience and safety while on the freeway is just around the corner,” said Levandowski, “I want to be the one to provide that.”
The Pribot’s San Francisco journey will be featured on an upcoming episode of the Discovery Channel program “Prototype This!”
Posted on September 10th, 2008 No comments
Jonathon Koomey author of “Winning The Oil Endgame”
The adoption of new technologies happens most rapidly when a new device is so good in so many ways that people just want it. So to most quickly deliver energy efficiency and reduce fossil fuel usage, you should deliver better products. For example, the Toyota Prius gets about twice as many miles per gallon as other midsize cars, but it is just a better car. It has reasonable acceleration, Bluetooth, voice recognition, and GPS. It isn’t just that it is efficient; it is a higher level of service. The Prius shows that if you build something that is just plain better, people will grab for it.
Posted on July 22nd, 2008 No comments
Smart Charging Stations, Payment Subscriptions and Utility Grid Management Target New Market of Plug-In Vehicles
Plug-In 2008 Conference & Exposition
CAMPBELL, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Coulomb Technologies today announced a smart charging infrastructure for plug-in vehicles. Coulomb has developed a complete solution targeting plug-in vehicles including Extended Range Electric Vehicles, Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles, and Battery Electric Vehicles. Coulomb’s ChargePoint™ Network includes public charging stations, a consumer subscription plan and utility grid management technology for electric utility companies to smooth electrical demands on the grid. The infrastructure solution will be showcased with the Saturn Vue Plug-in Hybrid at the Plug-In 2008 Conference & Exposition July 22-24 in San Jose, Calif. in booth 302.
According to General Motors vice president of global program management, Jon Lauckner, “GM is committed to the success of the plug-in vehicles, including Extended Range Electric Vehicles like the future Chevy Volt, and together with infrastructure solutions like that of Coulomb Technologies, we are all moving closer to the commercialization of plug-in vehicles. Intelligent infrastructure technology like Coulomb’s is needed for the rapid adoption of plug-in vehicles and to help address the needs and concerns of drivers, utilities, governments, and parking space owners.”
Coulomb’s ChargePoint Network integrates three unique components into a seamless, scalable, reliable, cost-effective solution. At the edge of the ChargePoint Network are Smartlet™ Charging Stations that are individually controlled through the wireless Smartlet Communications Network and the ChargePoint Network Operating System. Coulomb’s core technology includes the elements required to build and enable a smart charging infrastructure for plug-in vehicles.
1. Smartlet Charging Stations: Perform bi-directional energy metering and control, user authentication, and 802.15.4 wireless local area network technology, which enables a subscription model through communication with a data center.
2. Smartlet Communications Network: Provides a high reliability meshed network using 802.15.4 technology and GSM/GRPS technology to communicate with the Network Operating System for user authentication, access control, energy flow control and energy metering.
3. ChargePoint Network Operating System (NOS): Manages the Smartlet Charging Stations through the Smartlet Communications Network. The ChargePoint Network also provides web portals for subscribers, hosts and utilities. Functions include user authentication, access control, energy flow control, location management, utility company policy administration, user portal, host property portal, utility portal and GPS system interface.
“Major automakers have announced delivery of plug-in vehicles to the U.S. marketplace by 2010. But with 54 million garages for the 247 million registered passenger vehicles in the U.S. today, most consumers do not have a way to charge a plug-in vehicle,” said Richard Lowenthal CEO of Coulomb Technologies. “We have developed a scalable, smart charging infrastructure that provides municipalities and parking lot owners a recurring income stream through public charging stations that are easy to install and maintain. Our complete technology solution also provides electric utility companies a means to control the load that plug-in vehicles put on the grid and a means to compute and implement taxes on electricity as a transportation fuel.”
Coulomb Technologies has two inter-related businesses: a product sales business and a service business. Smartlet Charging Stations are sold to municipalities and parking lot owners as capital equipment in a business-to-business model. Charging access is sold to drivers of plug-in vehicles as a subscription service in a business-to-consumer model. Both the Smartlet Charging Stations and ChargePoint Network Operating System will be available in Q4 2008.
“Through an innovative partnership with Coulomb Technologies, San Jose is demonstrating environmental leadership and fostering the growth of our clean tech businesses,” said Mayor Chuck Reed. “Our goal is to be the first city in the United States to demonstrate and offer opportunities for residents to charge electric vehicles from streetlights and other infrastructure. Doing so will help the City meet its Green Vision goals.”
Posted on February 4th, 2008 No comments
NYC Green Car Launches Luxury Car Service Using Hybrid-Only Camry and Lexus Vehicles
Company Will Donate 10% of its Profits to NYC-Based Environmental Groups and Causes
NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–NYC Green Car, a luxury car service committed to only using hybrid vehicles, announced today that is has launched service in New York City.
Although some New York car services have hybrid vehicles in their fleet, NYC Green Car believes it is the first car service in the city committed to only using hybrid cars. The fleet consists of Toyota Camry and Lexus cars; the company does not use Toyota Prius vehicles, which it deems too small for corporate customers. NYC Green Car serves the entire tri-state area and can be used for travel anywhere, including outside the region.
“NYC Green Car is the premier car service for environmentally conscious corporations and discerning individuals who want to cut back on their carbon footprint but still want high-touch, top-of-the-line customer service,” said Darren Manelski, NYC Green Car’s founder and president. “We are committed to providing unparalleled comfort and convenience within an eco-friendly framework.”
NYC Green Car’s 2007 and 2008 model hybrids are all garaged in various Manhattan locations to ensure quicker response times in the city. Each car is equipped with GPS devices that track the driver and provide navigation information. The company’s reservation technology is entirely electronic, so drivers never need to call their dispatchers while customers are in the car.
“Our research shows that customers are extremely bothered when car service drivers talk on their cell phones, particularly if they are having heated exchanges with their dispatchers,” Mr. Manelski said. “Another common complaint is being told that a car is waiting outside a location when in fact it is several miles away. Our technology will eventually allow customers to receive the exact location of a car they have reserved on their cell phones or PDA devices.”
To underscore the company’s commitment to supporting a “greener” environment, NYC Green Car will donate 10 percent of its after-tax profits to local non-profit organizations that are working to improve the environmental health of the city’s parks and green spaces. Customers can designate where these charitable gifts are directed.
NYC Green Car’s rates are competitive with traditional luxury car services. To open a corporate account or arrange an individual trip, please contact NYC Green Car at 1-800-783-1682 or 646-912-6600 when dialing from outside the U.S.
NYC Green Car is a subsidiary of New Social Ventures Inc., a holding company Mr. Manelski founded to pursue socially conscience business ventures. Mr. Manelski earlier was a senior technology executive at Western Union, which he joined after the company acquired his bill payment software business.
Posted on December 26th, 2007 No comments
Take the American music industry as an example. They’ve spent millions prosecuting their customers and ruining their own businesses which are now devastated. But for the music industry it was the right idea to do everything to stick with their former business model rather than adapt to the changing situation.
Same thing with cars. I hate to say it but I think it’s obvious.
Elias: Law aside, smart carmakers will go green
A new open letter to the world’s automakers:
Well, you didn’t listen to the last missive from this column, published in the fall. As a result, you wasted several months and millions of dollars in legal fees arguing that California’s new greenhouse gas regulations are illegal because they might conflict with federal fuel economy rules.
U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii essentially laughed your arguments out of his Fresno courtroom this month, echoing an earlier decision by fellow federal Judge William K. Sessions III in Vermont. Both jurists held you had no case.
But now you’re feeling good again, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in keeping with President Bush’s longtime denial that climate change is real, refused this month to grant California permission to enforce its new law, denying permission at the same time for 16 other states that are on record wanting to adopt the same measure.
But you must know this: Just because President Bush has been a longtime denier of the reality of global warming doesn’t mean his successor, regardless of party, will take a similarly troglodytic approach.
This means even if California loses its lawsuit to overturn the EPA decision, it still won’t be long before you have to modify your cars and trucks to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases they emit. To do this, your vehicles will have to become even more fuel efficient than required by the new federal energy regulations Bush has just OK’d, rules that won’t force you to reach their ultimate goal of an average of 35 miles per gallon until 2020.
Since it’s obvious you’re going to have to change the specifications of your cars pretty soon anyway, why not start doing it now? Why keep resisting when you know you’ll have to do it anyway?
For the long-term truth here is that you will only be able to stay in business in California and much of America (the 17 states now wanting to implement California’s standards account for well over half the automotive sales in this country) if you build cleaner and more efficient cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.
The truly smart car companies out there will begin building the cars of the future as soon as they can, taking advantage of consumers’ predictable desire to reduce their need for high-priced gasoline.
There’s a reason why Toyota has surpassed General Motors in the last year or so as the leading seller of cars in America: Years before it had to, that Japanese company dared to bet on the intelligence and environmental consciousness of U.S. citizens and built the hybrid Prius, which eventually became a hot seller. Toyota will soon offer hybrid versions of all its models.
Which demonstrates that it can be done, that making fuel efficient, cleaner cars is both possible and a wise economic move.
Aping Toyota, the rest of you also now offer a bunch of hybrids, none as popular as the Prius, which leads the hybrid market because of its quality and because it got a leg up on the competition.
Now there’s a chance for someone else to leapfrog Toyota by hastening the commercial appearance of hydrogen fuel cell cars, one of which will be offered soon by Honda on a lease-only basis. Market these in quantity and with all the amenities motorists enjoy, like air conditioning and and keyless entry and power windows and locks and GPS systems and leather seats, and consumers who like to stay on the cutting edge will buy them, with masses of others to follow.
But instead of this, you’ve had your pet senators from car-producing states work to make the new federal rules less stringent than they could have been and you’ve argued fruitlessly that the California regulations – remember, they will be enforceable soon whether you or President Bush’s EPA director like it or not – will force you to make two kinds of cars, one type for California and another for some other places.
But doing just this never bothered you before. Remember the days of California cars and “49-state cars” that didn’t meet this state’s tougher smog standards? Plus, you can short-circuit this entire problem by selling California cars everywhere.
The bottom line is that the company that acts on the California standards first will be the one that does best for years, maybe decades, afterward. Those that fight hardest against the new reality will become dinosaurs, perhaps even moving into the automotive boneyard now occupied by the likes of Kaiser, Studebaker, NSU and Daihatsu.
So do yourself a favor and get with the future, which as usual takes its cues from California. Cease the obstructionism that has seen you resist every new smog-control tactic ever tried.
Act logically for once and we’ll all get relief from your incessant lawsuits and start doing more of our share to keep this planet habitable.
Thomas Elias is a political columnist whose commentary appears in newspapers throughout California. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Posted on November 21st, 2007 No comments
The most incredible race in the world…without any drivers!
Read all about the wackiest race in the USA – where the only thing missing is a human behind the wheel. Eighty-nine unmanned vehicles start, six finish…
By John Rettie
Meet Boss: a General Motors-backed Chevrolet Tahoe
It sounds like a recipe for disaster – driverless vehicles racing round an urban environment with other traffic on the road. And normally it would be if it wasn’t for the fact the unmanned cars had been developed by some of the world’s leading scientists and fitted with state-of-the art technology to prevent them crashing into anything.
This is the DARPA Urban Challenge – an event for boffins and techno geeks, and one with a massive $3.5million up for grabs. Would the robotic cars go crazy and hit buildings, would they run amok and crash into motors driven by humans, and what would happen when one ’bot met another on the road?
To find out, Auto Express headed to an abandoned military base in Victorville, only 100 miles from Hollywood, California, to watch the action.
Before sunrise, the teams readied their cars. People from all over the world gathered in a tent to hear about the rules. Dr Norman Whitaker, the director of the race, reiterated that these were entirely autonomous vehicles. He said: “There is absolutely no communication between the car and humans.” Yet, despite this, the machines would have to navigate a complex 60-mile course which had 30 human-driven cars on it to simulate normal traffic.
But why do this? Several years ago, US Congress mandated that by 2015 a third of all vehicles on the battlefield have to be autonomous, unmanned drones. DARPA, the US Government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has jumpstarted several technologies including the Internet, was frustrated by the slow pace in robotics, so it came up with the idea to run a race.
The first event was the Grand Challenge in 2004. Sadly, it was a dismal failure as the furthest any machine managed on the 142-mile off-road desert course was seven miles.
DARPA organised another race in 2005, and offered a $2million prize fund to tempt the country’s best brains to take part. This went well, as four vehicles finished the 132-mile desert route. The winner was a VW Touareg nicknamed “Stanley” developed by Stanford University in California.
“The 2004 event was the equivalent to the Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, where their plane didn’t fly very far, but showed what was possible,” DARPA director Dr Tony Tether explained.
“Today, the same is true for driverless vehicles.”
After the success of the 2004 event, DARPA came up with this year’s far-tougher Urban Challenge. This time, robotic cars would have to navigate a town environment, as well as other traffic and obstacles. They would have to obey all the rules in the California Driver’s manual, and complete three missions within six hours, while covering approximately 60 miles.
During the year, 89 teams submitted their vehicles for approval. After running trials, agency officials invited 35 of them to bring their ’bots to Victorville to perform qualifying runs. It wanted to make sure they were safe.
The toughest qualifying test was where the unmanned machines had to drive around a two-lane course while making two left turns with random human-driven traffic coming from each direction. They had to stop and wait for a sufficient distance between vehicles to be able to pull out safely.
Each human had a kill-switch so they could remotely stop a ’bot in case it headed straight for them. By the end of the test, only one piloted car had been damaged, but several unmanned vehicles had touched barriers or run off the marked course. DARPA only allowed the 11 that completely the circuit without a hitch to go through to the final.
One key piece of technology that has been developed since the 2004 race is the Velodyne sensor. It appeared on top of most of the robotic cars, and uses 64 lasers that spin round to capture a million data points a second. This allows the cars to see a distance of 200 yards, all-round, in 3D.
Many also used simpler sensors called ‘lidar’, which uses both laser and radar and provides close-up vision such as viewing lane markings and cars and pedestrians. All robots used GPS to position themselves on the correct road and point in the right direction.
Of course, all this sensor equipment is useless without some incredible artificial intelligence. That’s where the real skill comes in – programming a robot to decipher the info, understand it and then actually make decisions. “They have to be as smart as a person,” said Sebastian Thrun, Stanford University’s team leader.
On race day, officials uploaded details of the course each vehicle had to drive onto their on-board computers. With safety in mind, speed limits ranged from 10 to 40 mph.
Unsurprisingly, it was not long before there were a few mishaps, and the whole race had to be halted. Sadly the crowd’s favourite, Terramax, a giant 24-ton Oshkosh truck, was one of the first vehicles out when it decided to try to demolish a concrete column.
Another amazing scene was when a Subaru spent around 15 minutes stuck at a stop sign. Team Cornell’s Chevrolet Suburban came up behind and started to pass, before realising there was a stop sign and that it was on the wrong side of the road. Other ’bots arrived at the crossroads and correctly decided to go in other directions to avoid the jam. But one unmanned Toyota Prius (left) just took one look and, without hesitation, made it’s way through the gap past the confused Suburban. Everyone cheered!
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Land Rover Discovery had the most computer power of all the entrants. But all this counted for nothing. The Disco finished the missions, but failed to win.
Just before the six hour-time limit was up, Stanford’s VW Passatt,“Junior”, crossed the finish line slightly ahead of Boss, a Chevy Tahoe built by Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Both had completed their missions successfully with no errors. However, the $2million first prize went Boss. Junior took home $1million, while third place and $500,000 went to Virginia Tech’s Victor Tango team, which ran a Ford Escape hybrid. In total, six unmanned vehicles crossed the finish line.
Considering the complexity of the course and the difficulty of the challenge, it was amazing how few incidents there were. Even if emergency safety switches had not stopped wayward robots, there would have only been four accidents – and none of them would have caused serious injury.
“This competition has advanced our understanding of what is needed to make driverless vehicles a reality,” said Larry Burns, General Motors vice president of R&D and Strategic Planning, who helped back the Chevy Tahoe entrant. “Imagine being chauffeured in your car while eating breakfast and doing your E-mail. The technology in “Boss” is a stepping stone toward delivering this.”
It was fascinating to watch autonomous cars passing those driven by humans. Seeing them make decisions on how to go around parked vehicles was like looking into the future. Ironically, the human drivers were seen running stop signs and crossing lines. But then again, humans aren’t quite so obedient – especially when there’s no risk of getting a ticket!
Posted on October 9th, 2007 No comments
Fuel Economy Debate Heats Up
Automakers are furious over proposed fuel economy legislation that they say will drive them out of business – environmental groups believe they’re lying
Charles J. Murray, Senior Technical Editor — Design News
Fuel economy: It’s supposed to be a feel-good term, conjuring up images of greener pastures, bluer skies and fewer trips to the gas pump.
These days, though, fuel economy is creating more hot air than good feelings. The U.S. Senate has signed a bill calling for dramatic boosts in vehicle fuel economy, environmental groups are crying for more stringent measures and automakers are digging in for a painful, public battle.
No one, it seems, is happy with the idea of greater fuel economy.
“People want it, but at what cost?” says David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research and a former professor of automotive engineering at the University of Michigan.
Indeed, cost is the crux of this contentious battle. Automakers say the Senate bill’s measures will break them financially; environmental groups say they’re lying.
That’s why the battle over fuel economy could hinge, not on complex technological issues, but on the stickier matter of industry credibility. It may all boil down to whether the American public and its legislators believe there’s an engine, a battery or a carburetor wrapped in oily rags on a basement shelf somewhere in Detroit that secretly enables vehicles to attain limitless fuel efficiency.
Automakers in Detroit swear it isn’t so. There are no secrets, they say. No magic bullets. The ever-so-public target of 35 mpg by 2020, passed in a bill by the Senate in June, is completely unrealistic, they argue. Even if they pull all SUVs from the market, roll back pickup truck sales to 1975 levels and convert every remaining car, crossover and minivan into a hybrid, they claim they still couldn’t reach 35 mpg by 2020.
Some consumers, however, aren’t buying that. “They think we’re stupid if they think we’re going to buy that,” says Bob Shull, deputy director of auto safety and regulatory policy for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.
If Senate and House activity serves as an accurate barometer, legislators don’t believe it, either. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid proclaimed in June the Senate bill “starts America on a path toward reducing our reliance on oil.” And California Sen. Dianne Feinstein rejoiced to NPR saying, the bill “closed the SUV loophole.”
Supporters of the bill look at the American auto industry’s record of innovation and its history of adamant stances against fuel efficiency and they conclude the automakers just don’t want to comply. They cite self-parking cars, tire pressure monitoring systems, talking dashboards and three-dimensional GPS systems and ask how the creators of such technologies could be so stubborn about boosting fuel economy. “This whole message of ‘we can’t do it’ is unbelievable to most people,” says Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency. “If you look at history, you see that automobile manufacturers have said they couldn’t do seat belts, air bags and catalytic converters. When it comes to innovation, they said time and time again that they absolutely couldn’t do it. They’ve said it would destroy production and take cars out of their fleets. And they’ve always been wrong.”
The bill, however, has left engineers wondering how they’ll raise their corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) levels from 27.5 to 35 mpg in just 12 years. Although they’re willing and able to achieve higher fuel economies, they say the Senate bill doesn’t provide sufficient lead time to allow them to redesign their vehicle lines and incorporate new technologies. Moreover, they say, it lacks a basic understanding of how the automotive market works.
“Many of the people who talk the loudest know the least,” says Cole, who is widely considered to be the auto industry’s most knowledgeable consultant. “They don’t know what it is to design a product or to provide the features and reliability. They have no clue.”
Hopes for the Future
For both sides, the only point of agreement is that automakers can do it.
“Physically, it can be done, but that’s not the issue,” Cole says. “Can it be done so you can be profitable and sustainable as a company? That’s the question. And that can’t be done.”
To be sure, automakers say they’re willing to comply with new CAFE regulations. They just don’t want the regulations to be as “Draconian” as those described by the Senate bill or by a similar bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, which calls for them to reach 35 mpg by 2018. They’re more open to the so-called “Hill-Terry” bill, which describes separate requirements for cars and trucks and calls on manufacturers to reach CAFE levels between 32 to 35 mpg by 2022. (As of this writing, no date has been set for a House vote.)
“Lead time is exceptionally important to auto manufacturers because of the cost involved in redesigning an automobile and re-tooling the plants,” says Charles Territo of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry group.
Under any requirements, automakers say new technology will be critical. They can’t meet any of the proposed CAFE regulations simply by shuffling their vehicle lineups, they claim. Therefore, they need new technologies — ranging from diesel-burning engines and plug-in hybrids to body weight reduction, elimination of parasitic loads and employment of continuously variable transmissions. Automakers say there is no single technology that can lead them to the promised land of 35 mpg.
Posted on September 14th, 2007 No comments
There have been numerous reports on this story and frankly, most of them were bad. This article lays out the risks, in my opinion, quite rationally.
That said, I’m not even positive how this might or might not apply to Toyota’s SmartKey system. So I’m posting with that caveat and, the reminder that as Mr. Sullivan says several times in the article below, you’re at much more immediate risk to the thief with a slimjim or a baseball than you are to some high tech hacker.
Researchers say they’ve hacked car door locks
by Bob Sullivan
A group of computer security researchers in Israel and Belgium say they’ve discovered the electronic equivalent of a Slim Jim — a way to pop the electronic door locks on most cars without ever touching them.
Drivers don’t have to worry about their cars being hacked just yet – a baseball bat is still a more effective auto theft tool – but the announcement shows yet again that newfangled security devices can be more vulnerable than you think.
Most modern cars are now equipped with convenient remote keyless entry systems. Now it seems that tool could be a convenient way for criminals to break into hundreds of cars in an afternoon.
By listening in on the wireless “conversation” between a car and its key, the researchers found they could crack the code that keeps the communication secret. Then they were able to emulate the electronic key and trick the car into unlocking itself.
Nearly all cars with remote keyless entry use an encryption system called KeeLoq. It was developed during the 1980s and purchased by Microchip Technology Inc. in the 1990s. Like all encryption systems, KeeLoq scrambles messages so they can’t be read by anyone who intercepts them. Only someone — or something — with the appropriate deciphering key can unscramble the message.
Eli Biham, a computer science professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, says there are 18 billion possible keys for a KeeLoq transmission, making it practically impossible for even the fastest computer to work out the key through brute force.
“But,” he said, “we found a shortcut.”
By intercepting several transmissions from the electronic key and analyzing them, Biham and his colleagues say they were able to eliminate many of those 18 billion possibilities and work out a master key in about one day. All that’s required is remote access to one key for about an hour — say, while a person is sitting in his office with the key still in a shirt pocket.
Then, after working out the encryption scheme, Biham’s group says it can unlock all cars using that master key within a few minutes.
“In modern ciphers, you don’t expect this to happen,” Biham says, noting that carmakers are still relying on 20-year-old cryptography to keep cars safe. “I don’t understand how companies sell cryptography from the 1980s.”
The research paper, called “How to Steal Cars, (PDF)” was presented at the Crypto 2007 conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara, last week. Exact details for exploiting the discovery won’t be published for several months, Biham says, but Microchip Technology was informed weeks ago.
“KeeLoq is badly broken,” the paper says, adding, tongue-in-cheek, “Soon, cryptographers will all drive expensive cars.”
Microchip wouldn’t comment on the team’s discovery.
“Microchip Technology Inc. doesn’t address matters of security in the public domain,” was all that spokesman Eric Lawson would say.
But other cryptography experts said the research was significant.
“This is a very practical application of cryptanalysis,” said Jon Callas, chief technology officer with the encryption firm PGP Corp., who attended the presentation. “There is a larger lesson here, which is some of these devices aren’t as secure as they are being sold to us.”
Slim Jim a bigger threat
Still Callas isn’t worried about his car locks being hacked just yet. There are several barriers to using the technology. While a key hacker would be able to pop the lock on the door and perhaps disarm and alarm, he or she probably couldn’t get the car started without using old-fashioned car theft tools, he said. And even with the most sophisticated computers, hacking the locks still takes over an hour, while a baseball bat can do just as good a job in a second or two.
“There is not a whole lot of threat to the end consumer,” he said. “A guy with a Slim Jim is a bigger threat.”
The method could prove lucrative under the right circumstances, however. A thief armed with a master key could park a car with listening devices in the middle of a shopping mall lot and eavesdrop on every car as a driver parks, walks away, and pushes their key to lock the doors. Within seconds, the transmission could be intercepted, analyzed, paired with information about a known master key and used to pop the locks. A criminal could theoretically open hundreds of cars each day that way, stealing a treasure trove of iPods and GPS gadgets without leaving a trace
“That would be worth someone’s time,” Callas said. Victims “would have a hard time convincing (their) insurance companies that this had happened.”
A simple fix
Modest adjustments to encryption tools would foil such a plot, Callas said. Biham’s method requires tricking the car’s system into answers a long series of questions. But the use of “throttling” — inserting a delay after every three requests, as some Web sites now do – can slow or eliminate such brute force attacks. So Callas has no plans to disable his electronic locks, which could be done by disconnecting the car’s battery while parked.
“I’m more concerned about losing my radio presets than having my car stolen like this,” he joked.
Intense research into Keeloq by several groups began last year after proprietary information about KeeLoq’s cryptography was leaked onto a Russian Web site. Biham said the information aided his group’s research, but argued that properly implemented cryptography should withstand publication of such details.
Both he and Callas were critical of Microchip for not publishing its cryptographic scheme in public earlier, which would have allowed researches to probe it for holes.
“Those of us who are in the field believe that algorithms should be published from the start because an analysis can strengthen them,” Callas said. “We only use public algorithms because in long term they are more secure.”
While the immediate threat to car owners is low, Biham says the research shows the technology used to protect remote keyless entry systems is outdated.
“There are other tools criminals can use today (to steal cars) that are easier,” Biham says. “But we show that it’s possible to (hack the locks) and these systems to be replaced.”