If you’re a frequent traveler on a public transit system, it can be helpful to know when the trains or buses are arriving and if there are any delays. We might reach for a tablet to mount on the wall, but that relies on keeping the OS, the software, and its library dependancies up to date. For true reliability you’ll need to build directly in hardware, which is exactly what this map of the London tube system uses.
The base map is printed directly on PCB, with LEDs along each of the major routes to indicate the current location of the trains. A few small chips handle the WiFi connection — it appears to our eye to be an ESP8266 — and pulling the information about the trains from the London Underground API (it would be virtually impossible to build everything for this project in hardware). The hardware can be easily reprogrammed, and with the PCB layout this could be adapted for other public transit fairly easily.
Even apart from the philosophical differences on design between hardware and software approaches, we still appreciate the aesthetic of LEDs on PCB. In fact, we’ve seen a whole host of artwork on PCBs ever since the price came down dramatically in the past two decades.
Before it was officially unveiled in December 2001, the hype surrounding the Segway Human Transporter was incredible. But it wasn’t because people were excited to get their hands on the product, they just wanted to know what the thing was. Cryptic claims from inventor Dean Kamen that “Ginger” would revolutionize transportation and urban planning lead to wild speculation. When somebody says their new creation will make existing automobiles look like horse-drawn carriages in comparison, it’s hard not to get excited.
There were some pretty outlandish theories. Some believed that Kamen, a brilliant engineer and inventor by all accounts, had stumbled upon some kind of anti-gravity technology. The kids thought they would be zipping around on their own Back to the Future hover boards by Christmas, while Mom and Dad were wondering what the down payment on a floating minivan might be. Others thought the big secret was the discovery of teleportation, and that we were only a few years out from being able to “beam” ourselves around like Captain Kirk.
Even in hindsight, you really can’t blame them. Kamen had the sort of swagger and media presence that we today associate with Elon Musk. There was a general feeling that this charismatic maverick was about to do what the “Big Guys” couldn’t. Or even more tantalizing, what they wouldn’t do. After all, a technology which made the automobile obsolete would change the world. The very idea threatened a number of very big players, not least of which the incredibly powerful petroleum industry.
Of course, we all know what Dean Kamen actually showed off to the world that fateful day nearly 20 years ago. The two-wheeled scooter was admittedly an impressive piece of hardware, but it was hardly a threat to Detroit automakers. Even the horses were largely unconcerned, as you could buy an actual pony for less than what the Segway cost.
One of the biggest problems of owning an older boat (besides being a money pit – that is common to all boats regardless of age) is the lack of parts and equipment, and the lack of support for those parts if you can find them at all. Like most things, this is an area that can benefit greatly from some open source solutions, which the Open Boat Projects in Germany has been able to show. (Google Translate from German)
This group has solutions for equipment problems of all kinds for essentially any sized boat. At their most recent expo, many people were interested in open source solutions for situations where there is currently only an expensive proprietary option, such as support for various plotting devices. This isn’t the only part of this project, though. It includes many separate projects, like their solutions for autopilot and navigation. There are even complete hardware packages available, all fully documented.
Open source solutions for large, expensive things like this are often few and far between for a number of reasons. There are limited options for other modes of open source transportation too, as it seems like most large companies are not willing to give up their secrets easily. Communities like this, however, give us hope that people will have other options for repairing their vehicles without having to shell out too much money.
Flight shaming is the hot new thing where people who take more than a handful of trips on an airplane per year are ridiculed for the environmental impact of their travels. It’s one strategy for making flying more sustainable, but it’s simply not viable for ultimately reducing the carbon impact that the airline industries have on the environment.
Electric planes are an interesting place to look for answers. Though carbon-free long haul travel is possible, it’s not a reality for most situations in which people travel today. Current battery technology can’t get anywhere near the energy density of fossil fuels and larger batteries aren’t an option since every pound matters when designing aircraft.
Even with land travel and electric grids improving in their use of renewables and electric power, aviation tends to be difficult to power with anything other than hydrocarbons. Student engineers in the AeroDelft program in the Netherlands have created Project Phoenix to develop an aircraft powered by a liquid hydrogen fuel cell, producing a primary emission of water vapor. So it is an electric plane, but leverages the energy density of hydrocarbons to get around the battery weight problem.
While the project may seem like an enormous reach peppered with potential safety hazards, redundant safety features are used such as sensors and vents in case of a hydrogen leakage, as well as an electric battery in case of failure. Hydrogen produced three times more energy per unit than kerosene, but is six times the volume in gas form and requires cumbersome compression tanks.
Even though hydrogen fuel only produces water vapor as a byproduct, it can still cause greenhouse effects if it is released too high and creates clouds. The team is exploring storage tanks for slow release of the water vapor at more optimal altitudes. On top of that, most hydrogen is produced using steam methane reforming (SMR), creating up to 150g of greenhouse gases per kWh, and electrolysis tends to be more costly and rarely carbon neutral. Alternatives such as solar power, biofuels, and electric power are looking to make headwind as well, but the technology is still far from perfected.
While it’s difficult to predict the success of the project so early on, the idea of reducing risk in hydrogen fuels may not be limited to a handful of companies for very long.
For those of us who were children in the late 80s and early 90s, we may have dreamed of one day owning a gigantic tractor trailer that could transform into a colossal fighting robot. Or of simply having a toy that could approximate this change from one form into another. As adults, though, we have come to realize that this is wishful thinking. That is, unless we decide to build this transforming bicycle.
What starts out as a slightly unusual-looking low rider-style bike effortlessly turns into a tall bike by means of a gas cylinder fixed to the bike’s rear triangle. The bike started out as a full suspension mountain bike, but the rear spring was removed to make room for this cylinder. The pivoting action of the rear triangle in a mountain bike is the key design element here: it allows the frame to change shape easily, in this situation when pushed by the cylinder. Adding some longer forks in the front and a coat of paint finishes the build.
The only thing limiting the range on any electric vehicle isn’t really battery technology, but cost. Customers don’t want to pay more money for an electric car or van that does essentially the same thing as one with an internal combustion engine. This in turn limits the amount of batteries manufacturers put in their cars. However, with enough money, and thus enough batteries, electric cars can get whatever range you want as [Muxsan] shows with his Nissan e-NV200 that gets over 400 miles kilometers on a single charge.
The Nissan e-NV200 is a battery electric vehicle (also available as a badge-engineered Chevrolet van in North America) with a drivetrain from the Nissan Leaf. This means that all of the components from the Leaf basically plug-and-play in this van. [Muxsan] took an extra 45 kWh of batteries and was able to splice them in to the existing battery pack, essentially tripling the capacity of the original 24 kWh pack. Some work was needed to the CAN bus as well, and the car’s firmware needed to be upgraded to reflect the new battery pack, but a relatively simple modification otherwise, all things considered.
While watching the video [Muxsan] also notes how much empty space there is all around the van, and Nissan could have easily upgraded the battery pack at any time to allow for more range. It also took the car 10 hours on a 6 kW charger to charge completely, but that’s not unreasonable for 430 miles of range. If your high voltage DC chops are up to snuff, it’s not impossible to find old Leaf batteries for other projects, too.
Bikes are a great way to get around. They’re cheap compared to cars and can be faster through city traffic, and you can get some exercise at the same time. The one downside to them is that the storage capacity is often extremely limited. Your choices are various bags strapped to the bike (or yourself), a trailer, or perhaps this bicycle side car made from a beer keg.
Sidecars are traditionally the realm of motorcycles, not bicycles, but this particular bike isn’t without a few tricks. It has an electric motor to help assist the rider when pedaling. With this platform [Laura Kampf] has a lot of potential. She got to work cutting the beer keg to act as the actual side car, making a hinged door to cover the opening. From there, she fabricated a custom mount for the side car that has a custom hinge, allowing the side car to stay on the road when the bike leans for corners.