Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The bubble car is back

Welcome to the world of rapidly developing urban transit - a shift towards smaller, urban-centric networked vehicles for the mega-cities of the future...and this article from the Economist is spot on.....on the 'bubble' that is!

MANY car designers are convinced that a radical change in automobile technology is going to be needed for the crowded megacities of the future. By 2030 more than 60% of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities, up from 50% now, and more of them will be able to afford cars. The need to reduce emissions, an acute scarcity of land for roads and parking, and the prospect of laws restricting conventional cars all point to the idea that different and smaller types of vehicle will be in demand. With that in mind, some of those designers are coming up with things that look a lot like a vehicle that was familiar more than 50 years ago. Welcome to the return of the bubble car.

Bubble cars were built to provide cheap personal transport. Most were two-seaters with just three wheels. They became particularly popular when fuel prices shot up in 1956, during the Suez crisis. One of the first was the Italian-made Iso Isetta. Germany was a prolific builder, too. Messerschmitt and Heinkel, forbidden to ply their former trade of building military aircraft, turned to bubble cars as a peacetime alternative. BMW, meanwhile, re-engineered the Isetta to use an engine from one of its motorcycles.

Rising incomes, falling fuel prices and changing fashions did for the original bubble cars, but the idea seems ripe for revival and three new versions, known as EN-Vs (for Electric Networked-Vehicles), are enthralling the crowds at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. They can be driven normally or operated autonomously, with their occupants doing other things while the cars automatically avoid bumping into one another. They can also be summoned from their parking places using a mobile phone. And instead of being powered by smoky little petrol engines, they are driven electrically. What is most intriguing, however, is that they balance on just two wheels. 

The three EN-Vs, each with a different body shape, were built by a partnership between General Motors (GM), an American company, and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, one of China’s biggest carmakers.

 Read more at 'The bubble car is back'

Thanks David for the heads up!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Motorists abandon cars as costs rise

The UK's Telegraph has a short piece on what it sees as a cost-cutting trend - people changing their driving habits; i.e., driving less...which may be a growing trend if the price of oil continues to rise as the value of the £ continues to drop...

As many as 8 per cent of car owners have given up driving altogether because of the expense, the survey by found. And 57 per cent of those polled said they had reduced the amount of time spent behind the wheel. 

But 30.5 per cent of the 860 people surveyed said they were sticking to their usual driving pattern, as they could just about afford to, while 4.5 per cent said they were not changing their habits at all. Steve Sweeney, head of car insurance at said: ''We're all looking at ways to lower our everyday outgoings and getting behind the wheel is a real drain on finances. ''With recent fuel price hikes and increasing costs of car insurance, drivers are turning savvy and making changes to their usual habits to drive down costs.'' 

He went on: ''Cutting out driving altogether is the ultimate sacrifice to take. Shopping around for the best deal on your car insurance cover is crucial to reduce the overall costs of motoring; providers count on your apathy to reap the profits and do not reward your loyalty with a cheaper premium. 

''Taking further steps like fitting an approved car alarm or immobiliser and parking in a locked garage if possible are other ways to reduce the overall cost.'

Read original post - 'Motorists abondon cars as costs rise'


Monday, October 11, 2010

Google to unveil driverless cars

Now Google is getting in on the act - trying to come up with a 'driverless car'...well, makes sense when you consider that the major issue is the software component. And, in fact, it sounds like Google is having some on.....

A Google car has even driven through the steep and curvy Lombard Street in San Francisco [GALLO/GETTY] 
Google is planning to introduce driverless cars in an ambitious project that has already seen the cars secretly driving through busy California roads, clocking a total of 1,000 miles without any human intervention.

The California-based company said on its website the cars have done more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control.

According to an official Google blogpost by Sebastian Thrun, the company's software engineer, one car even successfully negotiated San Farncisco's Lombard Street, one of the steepest and curviest street in the US.
But Thrun believes that the self-driving cars are still about eight years away from mass production.
The technology developed by Google enables the automated cars to drive themselves using video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to "see" other traffic, as well as detailed maps.

Self-driving cars have been around for over four decades, but a breakthrough came in 2004 when they were tested in a series of Grand Challenge events organised by the US government. Following the failure of the first contest, a Stanford team led by Thrun built the car that won a race against a vehicle built by a Carnegie Mellon University team. And within two years, another such event showed that self-driving vehicles can successfully negotiate busy urban roads.

The 'google edge'
Google's street view data gives it an edge with photographs of every street in the US, UK, Ireland and many major world cities, enabling the cars to plan their routes by seeing junctions, roads well in advance, according to data from the company.

Read more at - 'Google to unveil driverless cars'