We think of electric cars as a new invention, but even Thomas Edison had one. It isn’t so much that the idea is new, but the practical realization for normal consumer vehicles is pretty recent. Even in 1958, Ford wanted an electric car. But not just a regular electric car. The Ford Nucleon would carry a small nuclear reactor and get 5,000 miles without a fillup.
Of course, the car was never actually built. Making a reactor small and safe enough to power a passenger car is something we can’t do even today. The real problem, according to experts, is not building a reactor small enough but in dealing with all the heat produced.
[Emiel] aka [The Practical Engineer] makes all kinds of fun projects in his fully-featured shop, and one of his tangents has been building a series of solenoid engines. These engines mimic the function of an internal combustion engine, with each solenoid acting as a piston. The only problem with [Emiel]’s concept engines, though, was that he never actually put them into a vehicle to prove their effectiveness. This build finally proves that they can work at powering a vehicle.
The project starts with a new engine. [Emiel] chose a V4 design using four solenoids and an Arduino-based controller. After some trouble getting it to operate properly, he scavenged a small circuit board he built in his V8 solenoid engine to help with timing. With that installed, the solenoids click away and spin the crankshaft at a single constant speed. The vehicle itself was mostly 3D printed, with two aluminum tubes as support structures to mount the engine. Even the wheels were 3D printed with a special rubber coating applied to them. With a small drive train assembled, it’s off to the races for this tiny prototype.
While the small car doesn’t have steering and only goes at a constant speed, the proof of concept that these tiny electric engines actually work is a welcomed addition to [Emiel]’s collection of videos on these curious engines. Of course they’re not as efficient as driving the wheels directly with an electric motor, but we all know there’s no fun in that. If you haven’t seen his most intricate build, the V8 is certainly worth checking out, and also shows off the timing circuitry he repurposed for this car.
When you think about it, for most of human history we’ve been a pretty slow bunch. At any time before about 150 years ago, if you were moving faster than a horse can run, you were probably falling to your death. And so the need to take aerodynamics into consideration is a pretty new thing.
The relative novelty of aerodynamic design struck us pretty hard when we stumbled across this mid-1930s film about getting better performance from cars. It was produced for the Chrysler Sales Corporation and featured the innovative design of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. The film’s narration makes it clear why the carmaker would go through the trouble of completely rethinking how cars are made; despite doubling average engine horsepower over the preceding decade, cars had added only about 15% to their top speed. And while to our 21st-century eyes, the Chrysler Airflow might look like a bulked-up Volkswagen Beetle, compared to the standard automotive designs of the day, it was a huge aerodynamic leap forward. This makes sense with what else was going on in the technology world at the time — air travel — the innovations of which, such as wind tunnel testing of models, were spilling over into other areas of design. There’s also the influence of [Orville Wright], who was called in to consult on the Airflow design.
While the Airflow wasn’t exactly a huge hit with the motoring public — not that many were built, and very few remain today; [Jay Leno] is one of the few owners, because of course he is — it set standards that would influence automotive designs for the next 80 years. It’s fascinating too that something seemingly as simple as moving the engine forward and streamlining the body a bit took so long to hit upon, and yet yielded so much bang for the buck.
As nation states grapple with the spectre of environmental and economic losses due to climate change, we’ve seen an ever greater push towards renewable energy sources to replace heavier polluters like coal and natural gas. One key drawback of these sources has always been their intermittent availability, spurring interest in energy storage technologies that can operate at the grid level.
With the rise in distributed energy generation with options like home solar power, there’s been similar interest in the idea of distributed home battery storage. However, homeowners can be reluctant to make investments in expensive batteries that take years to pay themselves off in energy savings. But what if they had a giant battery already, just sitting outside in the driveway? Could electric vehicles become a useful source of grid power storage? As it turns out, Ford wants to make their electric trucks double as grid storage batteries for your home.
When we think of electric cars, more often than not we’re drawn to the environmental benefits and the smooth quiet commuter drives they’re so ideally suited for. However, EVs can also offer screaming performance, most notably due to their instant-on torque that gives them a big boost over internal combustion vehicles.
In recent years, this has led to a variety of independent and manufacturer-supported efforts taking on some of motorsport’s classic events. Today, we’re looking at a handful of recent entries that have tackled one of the most gruelling events in motorsport – the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. Continue reading “Electric Vehicles Do Battle On Pikes Peak”→
While Mazda has made some incredible advances in fuel efficient gasoline engines over the past few years, their design group seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel in the meantime, specifically in regards to the modern keyfob design. The enormous size and buttons on the side rather than the face are contrary to what most people need in a keyfob: small size and buttons that don’t accidentally get pressed. Luckily, though, the PCB can be modified with some effort.
This particular keyfob has a relatively simple two-layer design which makes it easy to see where the connections are made. [Hack ‘n’ Tink] did not need the panic button or status LED which allowed him to simply cut away a section of the PCB, but changing the button layout was a little trickier. For that, buttons were soldered to existing leads on the face of the board using 30-gage magnet wire and silicone RTV. From there he simply needed to place the battery in its new location and 3D print the new enclosure.
The end result is a much smaller form factor keyfob with face buttons that are less likely to accidentally get pressed in a pocket. He also made sure that the battery and button relocation wouldn’t impact the antenna performance. It’s a much-needed improvement to a small but crucial part of the car; the only surprise is that a company that’s usually on point with technology and design would flop so badly on such a critical component.
With the rise of usable electric cars in the marketplace, and markets around the world slowly phasing out the sale of fossil fuel cars, you could be forgiven for thinking that the age of the internal combustion engine is coming to an end. History is rarely so cut and dry, however, and new technologies aim to keep the combustion engine alive for some time yet.
One of the most interesting technologies in this area are hydrogen-burning combustion engines. In contrast to fuel cell technologies, which combine hydrogen with oxygen through special membranes in order to create electricity, these engines do it the old fashioned way – in flames. Toyota has recently been exploring the technology, and has announced a racecar sporting a three-cylinder hydrogen-burning engine will compete in this year’s Fuji Super TEC 24 Hour race.
The benefit of a hydrogen-burning engine is that unlike burning fossil fuels, the emissions from burning hydrogen are remarkably clean. Burning hydrogen in pure oxygen produces only water as a byproduct. When burned in atmospheric air, the result is much the same, albeit with small amounts of nitrogen oxides produced. Thus, there’s great incentive to explore the substitution of existing transportation fuels with hydrogen. It’s a potential way to reduce pollution output while avoiding the hassles of long recharge times with battery electric technologies. Continue reading “Toyota’s Hydrogen-Burning Racecar Soon To Hit The Track”→