Evolving Our Ideas To Build Something That Matters

When Jeffrey Brian “JB” Straubel built his first electric car in 2000, a modified 1984 Porsche 944, powered by two beefy DC motors, he did it mostly for fun and out of his own curiosity for power electronics. At that time, “EV” was already a hype among tinkerers and makers, but Straubel certainly pushed the concept to the limit. He designed his own charger, motor controller, and cooling system, capable of an estimated 288 kW (368 hp) peak power output. 20 lead-acid batteries were connected in series to power the 240 V drive train. With a 30-40 mile range the build was not only road capable but also set a world record for EV drag racing.

The “Electric Porsche 944” – by JB Straubel

The project was never meant to change the world, but with Tesla Motors, which Straubel co-founded only a few years later, the old Porsche 944 may have mattered way more than originally intended. The explosive growth between 2000 and 2010 in the laptop computer market has brought forth performance and affordable energy storage technology and made it available to other applications, such as traction batteries. However, why did energy storage have to take the detour through a bazillion laptop computers until it arrived at electro mobility?


You certainly won’t find that grail of engineering by just trying hard. Rather than feverishly hunting down the next big thing or that fix for the world’s big problems, we sometimes need to remind ourselves that even a small improvement, a new approach or just a fun build may be just the right ‘next step’. We may eventually build all the things and solve all the problems, but looking at the past, we tend to not do so by force. We are much better at evolving our ideas continuously over time. And each step on the way still matters. Let’s dig a bit deeper into this concept and see where it takes us.

Variation And Innovation

Giraffe feeding high up on an acacia, by Steve Garvie from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In nature, the pioneer of building things that matter, there is a strong preference for variation over innovation when it comes to novelties. Modern Evolutionary Synthesis describes, that any change in the blueprints of a species must happen gradually. For any new feature to prevail, the smallest possible manifestation of it must prove itself beneficial, so that it can be naturally selected. It may then continuously develop into a more pronounced form. For example, in the evolutionary development of the giraffe, even a marginally longer neck brought the benefit of browsing in a slightly less competitive layer of vegetation, thus, a continuous lengthening of the neck and legs could follow. Leaps, and in that sense, innovations, are still possible within one generation, but unless environmental changes require them, natural selection is unlikely to give innovations any preference. In nature, innovations are extremely rare, and often reflect a series of rather dramatic changes in environmental conditions. Innovations are still key to many evolutionary developments, such as human language and culture, but occur inherently chaotic.

To apply this idea to the case of our traction battery, before 2003 electro mobility would have required leaps in both battery technology and manufacturing, and given the fact that mobility itself was not a problem, there was not much pressure for such a leap to happen – or to be funded. Compromises, such as smaller cars or short-range vehicles, appeared to be rather quirky and were discontinued soon. Laptops and other portable devices, however, rewarded even small, gradual improvements with the instant and real benefit of a slightly longer battery runtime.

To make use of this evolutionary concept for our task to build “something that matters”, we could identify and go for novelties, even innovations, that can grow through gradual changes themselves or benefit from gradual changes in other fields. This smallest useful increment can be a powerful lever for larger matters. Some entrepreneurs may call this the “MVP approach” or the “minimum viable product”, and it can be extremely useful if you’re not equipped with a nation’s defense budget to fund your technological quantum leaps.

The Ruby Laser

Maiman's ruby laser
Theodore Maiman’s ruby laser – by Daderot

In 1958, the idea of the laser was all the rage. Nobody really knew what it was good for, but physicists who had seen the blaster rifle in Forbidden Planet may have found it was just cool. Following the groundwork of a paper on laser theory by Arthur L. Schawlow and Charles H. Townes, many labs tried to build lasers at that time. However, nobody could inject enough energy into a laser medium to start the desired chain reaction called lasing. Some even said it was impossible and known artificial light sources simply were too inefficient.

Physicist Theodore Maiman had just the right idea: Instead of using lamps, he realized that the short but intense light pulse of a photo camera flash would fix the efficiency problem, all he had to do was buy a suitable flash unit. He built the world’s first laser from a helical xenon flash tube, a synthetic ruby rod, two mirrors and a reflective metal tube enclosure in 1960. The hack worked and inspired other laboratories to rework their approaches, but for years, nobody had a use for the ingenious device. At that time, tattoos had not even become mainstream, so no kids needed theirs removed. After the first lasers showed up in 1960, the invention idled for 14 years until the first bar code scanner made use of it.

Being Ahead Of Your Time

In 1958, all required ingredients for building a laser were not only available, they had become cheap: Powerful xenon flashes had been used for years in photography. The synthesis of flawless, artificial ruby, which itself had come a long way through 80 years of research, had reached a phase of mass production. When Schawlow and Townes published their work, it revealed a strong potential differential between what’s doable and what has already been done – to those who could see it.

If you are a polymath, seeking to build “the next big thing”, you may look for similar potential differentials. They have become rarer in the information age, but they still tend to build up between different technological fields or industries. Just like Maiman was aware of the flash, you may find a solution to another unsolved problem, too.

Still, because in practice the laser was way ahead of its time, only a few laboratories were willing to fund laser research. Labs and physicists, who decided to join the competition to be the first may have shared a certain enthusiasm for doing “what can be done”. Of course, being the first is prestigious, and you have to decide how much that matters to you.

Recombining and Rethinking, Repeating

Over at Hackaday.io, you can see people building anything from flying lawnmowers to deep learning smart homes. No, you can’t challenge Hackadayers easily, and still, the Hackaday Prize seeks to do exactly that with a simple task: Build Something that Matters. Of course, it’s not really a task, you might say, it’s neither specific nor can it’s fulfillment be measured. It is, however, a beautiful challenge, and accepting it may add meaning to any project out there beyond specifications or requirements.

The examples above are only snapshots taken from more or less recent hardware builds that may have mattered positively in a global and historical context, chosen purely to inspire you. Yet, they were variations and recombinations of mostly existing hardware and existing ideas. They also show how far you can get with your own two hands and the determination to pursue a project. It is important to realize that most of the actual development, this hard portion that really matters, happens along the way. Great visions and innovations are always part of the big picture, but they don’t control the pace, and they don’t add meaning. In that sense, something starts to matter as soon as you start pursuing it. How to build something that matters? Just start building.

45 thoughts on “Evolving Our Ideas To Build Something That Matters

      1. This is the only one that does this (so far!). I’m going to try it as my background at work.

        Firefox: right click, goto View Image. Take off the ?w=800 at the end, you get the full size.

  1. “we sometimes need to remind ourselves that even a small improvement, a new approach or just a fun build may be just the right ‘next step’.”

    Words of advice to those who are quick to comment, “Not a hack!”.
    Not that they’ll believe it applies to them…

  2. I remember the long years when the laser was remarked about as a solution looking for a problem. No doubt innovation is much speeded up these days through more efficient communication systems. Back in thearly days of science fiction in the late 1930’s I remember how atomic energy was visualized as a highly compact source of huge long lasting energies as indicated by Einstein’s equations but even today many years after that revealing article in the Saturday Evening Post about the first indications that a process for acheiving that was made public we are still fooling around with monstrous haywire fiercely dangerous ways to boil water to spin standard electric generators. Science is still in the same stage as the first humans who discovered how useful fire could be and no doubt many died when it went out of control or suffocated people in confined spaces. That AA sized atomic power plant that could power a jet airliner safely might just win a prize in a hackathon contest.

    1. Modern fission reactors are neither ‘haywire’ or ‘fiercely dangerous’ as witnessed by their overall safety record. Bursting hydroelectric dams, and natural gas explosions have killed far more and cost of coal, from mine to waste has has been measured in the slaughter of the population of a small nation.

      1. Agree, I read an online letter about how Fukashima was/is not a disaster, but an example of how safe nuclear power plants can be even when there is a major disaster such as earthquake/tsunami. (No one died because of radiation, and the radiation leaked out through air or water has been minimal.)

        1. Readnhttp://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/03/the-giant-lie-about-fukushima/and discover how the officials are lying about the Fukushima disastern to cover up the casualties that did die from radiation and after effects of exposure.

        2. the problem with radioactive material is not the “big boom” like in dams and gas explosions its the aftermath meaning long time exposure. saying no one died from radiation may be technically correct but the rate of death due to cancer, spontaneous abortions and gross mutation are completely ignored. remember Chernobyl? there was “only” 31 death there but long time effects are “still being investigated”. also in Europe the fallout of Chernobyl can still be measured nowadays. so atomic fission and safe really don’t go in the same sentence for me to be honest its just a necessary evil until fusion, cold fusion, energon, zpm’s or whatever becomes available….

          1. The problem with the waste products from combustion, is that we have become so inured to their presence that we think they are normal until the smog gets so thick you can’t see through it. Deaths from this are known and provable whereas the claims about radiation deaths from Chernobyl are projected and even those have turned out wrong. Two Japanese cities were struck by nuclear weapons and no population exposed to radiation have been followed more closely yet when the antinukes are projecting potential future deaths from nuclear accidents they chose to use standards set in the 1950s before real data longterm was collected. Maybe its time to ask yourself why?

        1. “The waste problem’ is consistently held up by those that do not realize that first, it has been solved, and in fact solved many times over, and in several places, Second compared to combustion, that dumps its waste waste into the atmosphere, or in the case of coal, also into huge ash ponds that will never be remediated, fission waste is tiny, solid. and indeed will degrade over time. Both hydro and coal have created ecological nightmares of a scale that both Chernobyl’s and Fukushima’s exclusion zones could get lost in several times over.

          1. It’s not a choice between combustion and nuclear. There are other choices and wind and solar power are rapidly approaching comparable economics.
            Merely to say the disposal of radioactive has been solved is not enough. No one has faced to problems and costs of disposing of an obsolete nuclear reactor. What details do you have on safe disposal?

          2. The depth of your ignorance is breathtaking. Nuclear reactors have been successfully decommissioned all over the world and on several occasions. Any general inquiry will show that the only nuclear country in the world that does not have a functioning nuclear waste system in place is the U.S. and that is a political choice, not a technical issue. The fact that you have done nothing here except parrot antinuclear propaganda that you obviously never bothered to check for veracity, maybe it’s time you should.

            As for wind and solar, when they can provide enough energy to smelt the steel and aluminum they are built with they can’t be taken seriously. Modern civilizations need real power, and that is measured in dispatchable gigawatt-years (GWy) not bullshit metrics like ‘number of homes’ and these modes simply cannot deliver regardless of what their supporters claim. They will always, always need spinning reserve to back them up, and if hydro isn’t available, that will thermal. combustion or nuclear, take your choice.

          3. “There are other choices and wind and solar power are rapidly approaching comparable economics.”

            Wind and solar rely on combustion power to provide for the “virtual battery” they need to operate. Otherwise they’re simply too unstable to do anything.

            As of other options – what exactly are you talking about?

          4. “No one has faced to problems and costs of disposing of an obsolete nuclear reactor.”

            Also false. Take for exampe:

            >All power generating equipment has been removed from the plant and the now-empty cooling towers remain a prominent part of the local landscape.
            >On 23 October 2009, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released the majority of the site for unrestricted public use, while approximately 11 acres (4.5 ha) of land including a storage building for low-level radioactive waste and a dry-cask spent fuel storage facility remain under NRC licenses.

            The reason why the fuel casks remain on-site is because the US government keeps de-funding projects aimed at final disposal of spent fuel at the lobby of anti-nuclear activists. They want to keep the waste around and not do anything to it so they could use it to argue that nuclear power is infeasible because of the waste problem. Circular argument much?

      2. The current edition of the NY times is quite graphic about the 1.7 billion dollar shield that is about to be placed over the 30 year old Chernobyl horror which is hoped to last 100 years but the radioactivity will still remain. Numerous US reactors have neglected repairs that have not been fixed. The one close to New York C has been leaking tritium for quite a while and other reactors have comparable leaks throughout the USA with small prospects of repair. Fukushima is dumping tons of radioactive water in the Pacific and although radioactive compounds are highly diluted the food chains are steadily concentrating them. It is forbidden in Japan to examine the level of radioactivity in food distributed from farms in the dangerous areas. To try to disclaim the horrible dangers of even one defective reactor in a highly populated area by indicating other dangers in badly regulated industries has no foundation in logic. No private insurance company will insure an atomic installation since they are well aware of the dangers and the expense of containing the damages. And once an area is contaminated it will become uninhabitable for a time longer than human civilizations have lasted. That is not a chance worth taking.

        1. Yes it does. Massive health issues are a consequence of combustion technologies and to ignore them while vilifying nuclear is being willfully blind. Buying into science fiction stories told by those that want you to believe that there is no other choice but to continue to burn fuels for our energy needs demonstrates a failure to have taken the time to find the truth yourself.

        2. “Fukushima is dumping tons of radioactive water in the Pacific ”

          Technically speaking, the amount of tritiated water in those tons of water could just about fill a coffee cup. The whole issue has been blown to ridiculous extremes by people who don’t even understand what tritium is.

          It’s a very weak electron emitter that has a biological half-life of about two weeks because cells can’t use tritiated water to operate, so if you drink it, you’ll pee it out. It doesn’t bio-accumulate like cesium and the other nasty stuff.

          1. This is a quote from the premier of Japan at the time o the Fukushima accident:
            ” Naoto Kan, prime minister when the disaster began. Kan told a conference in New York City last year of how he had been a supporter of nuclear power but after the Fukushima accident “I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely.” He declared that at one point it looked like an “area that included Tokyo” and populated by 50 million people might have to be evacuated. “We do have accidents such as an airplane crash and so on,” Kan said, “but no other accident or disaster” other than a nuclear plant disaster can “affect 50 million people… no other accident could cause such a tragedy.” Moreover, said Kan, “without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands.” Japan since the accident began has tripled its use of solar energy, he said, and pointed to Germany as a model with its post-Fukushima commitment to shutting down all its nuclear power plants and having “all its power supplied by renewable power” by 2050. The entire world could do this, said Kan. “If humanity really would work together… we could generate all our energy through renewable energy.”

            A major factor in Abe’s stance is Japan having become a global player in the nuclear industry. General Electric (the manufacturer of the Fukushima plants) and Westinghouse have been the Coke and Pepsi of nuclear power plants worldwide, historically building or designing 80 percent of them. In 2006, Toshiba bought Westinghouse’s nuclear division and Hitachi entered into a partnership with GE in its nuclear division. Thus the two major nuclear power plant manufacturers worldwide are now Japanese brands. Abe has been busy traveling the world seeking to peddle Toshiba-Westinghouse and Hitachi-GE nuclear plants to try to lift Japan’s depressed economy.”

          2. “no other accident or disaster” other than a nuclear plant disaster can “affect 50 million people… no other accident could cause such a tragedy.”

            So massive death toll in the millions isn’t a tragedy when it happens slowly, one or few at a time, all the time everywhere?

          3. “Japan since the accident began has tripled its use of solar energy, he said, and pointed to Germany as a model with its post-Fukushima commitment to shutting down all its nuclear power plants and having “all its power supplied by renewable power” by 2050.”

            Germany’s success strategy has been the continental European synchronized AC grid with 500 million customers, which they can use as a virtual battery to import and export energy in compensating for the variations in renewable energy output. There’s always a few gigawatts to spare in a large grid where most countries don’t have much renewable power.

            That, and the fact that 3/4 of the energy they actually use comes from natural gas, and isn’t counted in the renewable economy bill because the public attention is concentrating solely on the electric grid. Electric heating and hot water is rare as teeth on a hen in Germany.

            Taking Germany’s example in renewable power is an exercise in how much one can lie to oneself.

        3. “And once an area is contaminated it will become uninhabitable for a time longer than human civilizations have lasted.”

          The dose-rate you get in Chernobyl today is about 15 mSv per year in the worst places – if you don’t count the area right around the powerplant itself. The dose rate you get at Kerala Beach in India is about 35 mSv per year. Why? Because the eroded sands from nearby mountains contain monzanite ore which is rich in uranium, thorium, and all their breakdown products. The whole place is full of it, and people live there, build their houses out of the stuff and grow their food on it quite happily.

          The safety regulations that doom those areas such as Fukushima and Chernobyl as uninhabitable are literally pulled out of a hat. They go back to the early days of nuclear energy when all the information about radiation exposure was of people who got massive doses and became ill, and so it was extrapolated down to minute doses.

          Which is basically like observing that punching someone’s face in can kill them, and concluding that poking a person’s nose once a day will kill them really really slowly. That’s what the offical understanding of radiation health effect is – according to the widely applied LNT model.

          1. Here are further quotes on Fukushima from experts who have studied the problems for many years:

            It is impossible to know exactly now. But considering the gargantuan amount of radioactive poisons that have been discharged and what will continue to be released, the impacts will inevitably be great. The claim of there being no consequences to life and the prediction that there won’t be in the future from the Fukushima catastrophe is an outrageous falsehood.

            That’s because it is now widely understood that there is no “safe” level of radioactivity. Any amount can kill. The more radioactivity, the greater the impacts. As the National Council on Radiation Protection has declared: “Every increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer.”

            There was once the notion of there being a “threshold dose” of radioactivity below which there would be no harm. That’s because when nuclear technology began and people were exposed to radioactivity, they didn’t promptly fall down dead. But as the years went by, it was realized that lower levels of radioactivity take time to result in cancer and other illnesses—that there is a five-to-40-year “incubation” period

            Projecting a death toll of more than a million from the radioactivity released from Fukushima is Dr. Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk who has been a professor at a number of universities. . “Fukushima is still boiling radionuclides all over Japan,” he said. “Chernobyl went up in one go. So Fukushima is worse.”

            Indeed, a report by the Institute for Science in Society, based in the U.K., has concluded: “State-of-the-art analysis based on the most inclusive datasets available reveals that radioactive fallout from the Fukushima meltdown is at least as big as Chernobyl and more global in reach.”

            A death toll of up to 600,000 is estimated in a study conducted for the Nordic Probabilistic Safety Assessment Group which is run by the nuclear utilities of Finland and Sweden.

            Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told a symposium on “The Medical Implications of Fukushima” held last year in Japan: “The accident is enormous in its medical implications. It will induce an epidemic of cancer as people inhale the radioactive elements, eat radioactive vegetables, rice and meat, and drink radioactive milk and teas. As radiation from ocean contamination bio-accumulates up the food chain…radioactive fish will be caught thousands of miles from Japanese shores. As they are consumed, they will continue the the cycle of contamination, proving that no matter where you are, all major nuclear accidents become local.”

            Dr. Caldicott, whose books on nuclear power include Nuclear Madness, also stated: “The Fukushima disaster is not over and will never end. The radioactive fallout which remains toxic for hundreds to thousands of years covers large swaths of Japan will never be ‘cleaned up’ and will contaminate food, humans and animals virtually forever.”

            Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, has said: “The health impacts to the Japanese will begin to be felt in several years and out to 30 or 40 years from cancers. And I believe we’re going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan.”

            At Fukushima, “We have opened a door to hell that cannot be easily closed—if ever,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at the U.S.-based group Beyond Nuclear last year.

            Already an excessive number of cases of thyroid cancers have appeared in Japan, an early sign of the impacts of radioactivity. A study last year by Joseph Mangano and Dr. Janette Sherman of the Radiation and Public Health Project, and Dr. Chris Busby, determined that radioactive iodine fall-out from Fukushima damaged the thyroid glands of children in California. And the biggest wave of radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima is slated to hit the west coast of North America in the next several months.

            Meanwhile, every bluefin tuna caught in the waters off California in a Stanford University study was found to be contaminated with cesium-137, a radioactive poison emitted on a large scale by Fukushima. The tuna migrate from off Japan to California waters. Daniel Madigan, who led the study, commented: “The tuna packaged it up [the radiation] and brought it across the world’s largest ocean. We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured.”

            There is, of course, the enormous damage to property. The Environmental Health Policy Institute of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) in its summary of the “Costs and Consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster” cites estimates of economic loss of between $250 billion and $500 billion. Some 800 square kilometers are “exclusion” zones of “abandoned cities, towns, agricultural land, homes and properties” and from which 159,128 people have been “evicted,” relates PSR senior scientist Steven Starr. Further, “about a month after the disaster, on April 19, 2011, Japan chose to dramatically increase its official ‘safe’ radiation exposure levels from 1 mSv [millisievert, a measure of radiation dose] to 20 mSv per year—20 times higher than the U.S. exposure limit. This allowed the Japanese government to downplay the dangers of the fallout and avoid evacuation of many badly contaminated areas.”

            And last year the Japanese government enacted a new State Secrets Act which can restrict—with a penalty of 10 years in jail—reporting on Fukushima. “”It’s the cancerous mark of a nuclear regime bound to control all knowledge of a lethal global catastrophe now ceaselessly escalating,” wrote Harvey Wasserman, co-author of Killing Our Own, in a piece aptly titled “Japan’s New ‘Fukushima Fascism’.”

            Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the nation’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission has over the past three years consistently refused to apply “lessons learned” from Fukushima. Its chairman, Dr. Gregory Jaczko, was forced out after an assault led by the nuclear industry after trying to press this issue and opposing an NRC licensing of two new nuclear plants in Georgia “as if Fukushima had never happened.”

            Rosalie Bertell, a Catholic nun, in her book No Immediate Danger, wrote about the decades of suppression of the impacts of nuclear power and the reason behind it: “Should the public discover the true health cost of nuclear pollution, a cry would rise from all parts of the world and people would refuse to cooperative passively with their own death.”

          2. You do know the European Committee on Radiation Risk is an informal committee created following a resolution made at a conference in Strasbourg arranged by the Green Group in the European Parliament? In other words despite their official sounding name they are nothing but mouthpieces of the Green Party. Everybody else you are quoting are paid antinuclear activists, many of whom have no legitimate claim to the scientific authority they try to assert, and others who are outright frauds. That you have bought uncritically into their nonsense indicates a certain lack of critical thinking.

  3. That laser story seems a bit odd.

    Popular Electronics had an article about building a laser in 1970 or 71. I think “The Amateur Scientist” in “Scientific American” had an article before that. Edmund Scientific certainly was selling lasers and such at the time.

    You could do holograms at the time, there were fibre optics, and people were modulating the lasers for communication.
    Maybe more important, laser diodes were available right around then (I’m sure Forrest Mims III had an article about them at the time), which were simpler and smaller than the lasers previously available.

    Didn’t one of the Apollo missions leave a reflector on the moon so a laser could be used to measure distance?

    So it was all in place. There perhaps wasn’t a lot of use yet, but I find it hard to believe that uses hadn’t been anticipated by then.


  4. Oh, yeah! Ruby lasers! I built my first one in 1963 while I was in Junior High. I got guidance from John F. Ready, Head Research Scientist at Honeywell Research in Minneapolis. He even loaned by the ruby. (Aluminumtrioxide impurities, and polished to 100% reflectivity on one end, 98.5% reflectivity on the other.) I had to borrow the Flash tubes from an outfit in Boston. (My Science teacher was a little nervous about the expense of replacing these items if something happened.) I had to scrounge up two Sprague PQ425 capacitors (I needed 4kv and 50 uf for the main charge.) and I scrounged up a bunch of different 1kv capacitors for the trigger. (They all worked as well, but trying them out made a good experiment.) I made the housing in shop class and after school. (Polishing the inside became too much of a problem and Mr. Johnson decided we’d use chrome electroplate instead.) In a normal 3 microsecond flash..I COULD POP BLUE BALLOONS! ..at 3 feet. Very impressive; flip the switch and the balloon pops. It wouldn’t pop red balloons, though. In shop we rigged up a couple of lenses on a moveable stand, and if we got the focal length just right we could burn a Gillette Blue Blade. Repeated bursts finally made a hole, but it was tedious because it took over three hours for the capacitors to charge up.

    1. Pew!

      (make a nice dinner, chat with the family, do the dishes…)


      3-hour repetition rate kinda takes away the sci-fi blaster effect, but on the other hand, if you were anything like I was in Junior High, perhaps it’s good that you didn’t have a beefier power supply!

      1. Yeah. Sound effects were more like “pop” than “pew!” The capacitors popped when they discharged and there would be a puff of smoke coming off the razor blade. We actually put the capacitors in a plywood box, because they sounded like they were exploding when they discharged.

  5. Did Mr. Straubel retrofit the Porsche with Tesla batteries and motors (and transmission, controllers, etc.)? That could be the one and only Tesla Model G as in “Genesis”.

    1. I also wondered what happened to the project later on, but couldn’t find any clues on that. The project website is offline since years, and I found he never mentions the project in public, which is remarkable.

  6. In the early days of atomic power development I was an enthusiast for this basic source of energy but subsequent experience as the profit motive became involved with the economics of the nuclear industry it became obvious that this horrifyingly dangerous area was handled carelessly in order to maximize profits and basic nuclear architecture was distorted to leave the general populace frightfully vulnerable to accidents that were simply far beyond current civilization to prevent. The rot in public concern is pandemic in several basic industries such as fossile fuel and the weapons industries and in many aspects of the communication industries and chemical and pharmaceutical industries. It does no credit to analysis of the problems to indicate that one industry’s dangers is compared to another’s and therefor is excusable. There are many problems in many industries and they are all nececessary for consideration and reform. The alternates to fossile fuel and nuclear power are developing rapidly and are basic in the survival of civilization, especially in the face of an undeniable massive danger of the planet’s rapidly changing climate and eclogical destruction. It does no credit to an analysis which denies facts no matter who presents them and tries to attack the facts by denigrating the source.

    These are the facts:

    1. According to studies by three top European scientists, first published in 2009, more than 985,000 people have died from Chernobyl’s fallout.

    2. Impactful radioactive contamination is still in evidence in soil throughout Ukraine, Belarus and as far away as Scotland.

    3. By some estimates, children born throughout regions downwind of Chernobylhave suffered radiation-related diseases at rates affecting up to 80 percent of those born in critical areas.

    4. Reindeer, sheep and other animals across northern Europe are still too heavily contaminated to be safely consumed.

    5. Radioactive fallout from Chernobyl hit northern California within 10 days of the explosion, followed by a 60 percent drop in bird births recorded at the Pt. Reyes sanctuary north of San Francisco.

    6. Epidemiological studies by Mangano, Sherman and others show that nearby infant death rates rise when commercial reactors open, and drop when they shut.

    7. Epidemiological studies show direct links between reactor operations and cancer rates downwind, including a 70 percent excess of thyroid cancer in the four counties surrounding New York’s Indian Point reactors as opposed to the nation as a whole.

    8. When Chernobyl blew up, industry apologists emphasized that such a disaster at a Soviet reactor had nothing to do with American nukes. But on March 11, 2011, four General Electric reactors exploded at Fukushima (three melted, and their cores have yet to be found).

    9. The explosions at Fukushima by estimates of at least one Japanese scientist have spewed at least 30 times as much Cesium 137 as was released by the atomic bombs atHiroshima and Nagasaki.

    10. The Fukushima disaster still dumps at least 300 tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean every day.

    11. Thousands of tons of contaminated water are being held in flimsy storage tanks at Fukushima, at least some of which are likely to give way; serious leaks of radioactive water are also on-going at Indian Point, Florida’s Turkey Point, numerous other commercial reactor sites and at the Hanford (Washington) military reservation.

    12. The Japanese government and Fukushima’s owner (Tepco) are hinting strongly they would like to dump still more thousands of tons of radioactive water directly into the Pacific.

    13. At least 7,000 clean-up workers are still being exposed to radiation at Fukushima every day.

    14. It remains unclear exactly where the cores from Units 1, 2 and 3 might be, what can be done to contain them and exactly what kinds of long-term dangers they pose.

    15. Thyroid abnormalities among children in the Fukushima area are far beyond normal.

    16. Physicians for Social Responsibility predicts at least 68,000 downwinders will die from Fukushima’s fallout. Dr. Chris Busby estimates additional cancers alone at more than 400,000. Arnie Gundersen estimates the ultimate toll on par with Chernobyl, of up to 1,000,000.

    17. Radioactive hot spots clearly linked to Fukushima are being found throughout Japan, some as far away as Tokyo.

    18. Japanese activists have kept all but three of Japan’s 54 reactors shut since Fukushima, but the pro-nuke Abe regime wants to stage some 2020 Olympic events near the stricken reactor site.

    19. Some 11,000 highly radioactive fuel rods are still strewn around the Fukushima site with no prospects for safe long-term storage. Nowhere on earth has safe long-term storage of atomic wastes been proven.

    20. Though the explosions at Fukushima have been linked to the tsunami that wiped out back-up generations, primary damage (especially at Unit 1) was caused by an earthquake whose epicenter was 120 kilometers distant, far further than many fault-lines near scores of other reactors around the world.

    21. Two U.S. reactor sites (Perry in Ohio and North Anna in Virginia) have already suffered significant damage from earthquakes.

    22. Among many others, reactors at Diablo Canyon, California and Indian Point, New York, are very near major fault lines, with the potential death tolls in downwind Los Angeles and New York City stretching into the millions.

    23. Dr. Michael Peck, resident Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) safety inspector at California’s Diablo Canyon has warned that the two huge reactors there cannot withstand a likely earthquake delivered by any of the dozen seismic faultiness surround the site. Peck filed his report within the NRC but it was made public a year later by Friends of the Earth and other community groups. The NRC has dismissed Peck’s warnings and he has been moved to the Commission’s Chattanooga office.

    24. As terrorists slaughtered innocent civilians in Brussels, the New York Times reported that Belgian authorities evacuated two reactors which they felt were vulnerable to attack. As mentioned above, Germany has now asked Belgium to shut these nukes down.

    25. A wide range of reports dating back at least to the 1970s have confirmed that throughout the entire global nuclear industry, commercial reactors simply cannot be guaranteed to be safe from a concerted terrorist attack, making them all what Karl Grossman has called “pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction.”

    26. The technological basis for the 99 U.S. reactors now operating dates far backin the previous century, as the average age of an operating U.S. nuke American reactor is now roughly 35 years old, with Davis-Besse (near Toledo, Ohio) distinguished primarily by four major cuts into its containment dome, and a shield building that is literally crumbling.

    27. Since Fukushima on March 11, 2011 significant safety advances advocated by the staff of the NRC and others have not been installed at U.S. nukes despite widespread warning of defects.

    28. Seven top NRC engineers took the rare and daring step of filing a public 2.206 petition warning that 98 of 99 current US reactors have serious basic flaws in the electrical sector of their emergency core cooling systems, which are designed to protect the public from a major catastrophe.

    29. Former NRC expert David Lochbaum, now with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has warned that the inspectors’ findings on the faulty cooling system wiring are quite serious, and could have been solved easily and cheaply several years ago, when they were first discovered.

    30. The corrupt regulatory culture of the NRC is now in the process of re-licensing every American reactor, with projected lifetimes stretching to 60 years, two decades beyond original design capacity, guaranteeing that America’s 99 remaining reactors will continue to dangerously decay, putting us all in harm’s way. All the relicensing has proceeded without a requirement that the industry get private insurance, which is still unavailable after more than a half-century of operations.

    There is much much more. The on-going radiation releases from these jalopy reactors impact our health and undermine our eco-systems every day, threatening our future on this planet, and standing in the way of the Solartopian Revolution in renewables and efficiency that must ultimately save our planet from ecological and economic ruin.

    1. Jiisand, this is all just hand-wavey stuff like the three activists with science degrees claims to deaths(by far the most are from depression caused suicide induced by fearmongering by anti-nuclear activists warnings of terrible Chernobyl deaths in the future) and unstandardized measurements like tons of radioactive water.
      Fun fact kids, every ton of water for all of the history of water has been radioactive, Fukishima not required.
      As for dangerous, I once slipped on a wet floor in the Reed College reactor building, my kneecap really hurt and it was hard to cycle home, let my story be a lesson nuclear is dangerous. I am an anecdotal statistic, nuclear hurt my knee.
      Nuclear is dangerous, but it seems to be the safest overall option for power(people get killed building/maintaining wind towers sometimes) and cutting back from our current power economy is even more deadly to the human population.

    2. Scientific study not anecdote…
      During the 17 years after the accident, suicide risk in the cohort was greater than in the general male population. No elevated risk in overall mortality and radiation-related cancers was observed. The long-term nature of this elevated risk provides concrete evidence that psychological consequences represent the largest public health problem caused by the accident to date.
      From the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, National Institute for Health Development, Tallinn (K.R., M.R., M.T.); Estonian Center for Excellence in Behavioural and Health Sciences, Tartu-Tallinn, Estonia (K.R., M.R., M.T.); and Department of Psychiatry, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY (E.B.)

      1. It seems we are each watching different hands waving. And lots of people in the area were so demented with the thought of cancer that they died from it. Or perhaps it was the will of God. He has been rather quiet of late and locust plague are rather out of date.

  7. Wow… this has to be the most worthless string of comments at Hackaday I have read through to date. Many make assertions that are to taken be factual, with no references. Nothing makes me dismiss comments faster than the lack of relative references. There’s not going to be on grand solution, only an aggregate of solutions employed where they will work best.

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