It’s an old saying with an apocryphal origin: “May you live in interesting times“. We Brits are certainly living in interesting times at the moment, as a perfect storm of the pandemic, rising energy prices, global supply chain issues, and arguably the post-Brexit departure of EU-national truck drivers has given us shortages of everything from fresh vegetables in the supermarket to carbon dioxide for the food industry. Of particular concern is a shortage of automotive fuels at the filling station, and amid sometimes-aggressive queues for the pumps it’s reported that there’s a record uptick in Brits searching online for information about electric cars.
Nothing Like A Crisis To Make You Green
This sudden interest in lower-carbon motoring may be driven by the queues rather than a concern for the planet, but it’s certainly true that as a culture we should be making this move if we are to have a hope of reducing our CO2 production and meeting our climate goals. A whole slew of lifestyle changes will have to be made over the coming years of which our car choices are only a part. Back to those beleaguered Brits again, a series of environmental protests have caused major disruption on the motorway network round London, not protesting against the traffic but campaigning for better home insulation.
For reasons of personal circumstance rather than principle, earlier this year I gave my trusty VW Polo to an old-Volks-nut friend and now rely on a bicycle. Living where I do within reach of everything I need it hasn’t been as challenging as I expected it to be, and aside from saving a bit of cash I know my general fitness level has gone up. Though I have less need for a car now than I used to, I intend to find myself another vehicle in due course so that I can do silly things such as throwing a Hackaday village in the back and driving halfway across Europe to a hacker camp. With an awareness that whatever I choose should be as good for the planet as I can make it then, I’ve been cruising the used-car websites to see what I can find.
The convenience of just plugging in your car in the evening and not going into a gas station is great as long as you remember to do the plugging. You really don’t want to get caught with an empty battery while you’re in a rush. [Pat Larson]’s Tesla plugging robot might be a handy insurance policy if you count forgetfulness among your weaknesses.
The robot consists of a standard Tesla charging plug attached to a 2-axis robotic arm mounted on [Pat]’s garage wall. Everything is controlled by a Python script running on Raspberry Pi 4. After taking a picture with a camera module, it uses a Tensor Flow Lite machine learning model to determine the position of a reflector on the charging port cover. The platform moves back and forth to align with the charging port, after which it opens the charging port using the Tesla API. It then extends the arm towards the charging port, using ultrasonic proximity sensors for distance control, and again uses the camera module and Tensor Flow to look for the illuminated Tesla logo adjacent to the charging port. The charge plug is flipped out using a large servo, and after some final position adjustment, it takes the plunge. While robot won’t be winning any interior design contests, it does the job well, and adds a bit of convenience and peace of mind.
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.
Excited about your new electric vehicle? Thomas Edison would be, too. He tried to produce electric vehicles for Ford around 1900. Petroleum-based vehicles dashed his dreams of the electric car, and the battery he wanted to use languished as a technological dead end. The batteries were long-lasting, sure, but they were expensive and had other problems, not the least of which was producing hydrogen gas. But that battery technology is receiving renewed interest today, because some of the things that made it a bad car battery make it good for alternate energy projects.
The Consumer Electronics Show was not typically a place for concept cars, and Sony aren’t known as a major automaker. However, times change, and the electric transport revolution has changed much. At the famous trade show, Sony shocked many by revealing its Vision-S concept — a running, driving, prototype electric car.
It’s often said that one of the advantages of owning an electric vehicle is reduced maintenance costs, and for the most part, that’s true. That is, until the vehicle’s battery pack starts to show its age. Then you might be on the hook for a repair bill comparable to swapping out the engine on your old gas-burner. Depending on the age of the vehicle at that point, you might find yourself in the market for a new ride.
But in his latest video, [Daniel Öster] demonstrates that you can replace the battery in a modern electric vehicle without breaking the bank. While it’s not exactly an easy job, he manages to swap the pack in his 2012 Nissan LEAF from the comfort of his own garage using common tools and with the vehicle up on jack stands. The old battery wasn’t completely shot, so he was even able to recoup some of his costs by selling it; bringing the total price of the operation to approximately €2,122 ($2,500 USD).
While that wouldn’t be a bad deal even for a simple swap, the operation was actually an upgrade. The car was originally sold with a 24 kWh battery, but [Daniel] has replaced it with a 30 kWh pack intended for the 2017 LEAF. His car now has a greater range than it did the day it rolled off the assembly line, though as you might expect, the installation was more complex than it would have been with a contemporary battery.
[Daniel] has produced a kit that has all the adapters required to perform your own battery upgrade, including a module that translates the diagnostic signals from the newer battery into something the older vehicle can understand. With all the electrical bits simplified, all you’ve got to worry about is drilling the new battery mounting holes in the frame.