Transportation. Necessary in a modern world but increasingly complicated. More people need more of it and that creates more pollution inevitably. This problem is one that engineers have been fighting to overcome as new emissions regulations for cars are introduced and the younger generations realise that they have a duty to their planet to keep it happy.
Have you heard of hydrogen powered cars? Probably. Have you ever seen one in the flesh? Probably not. They are an ‘emerging technology’ that seems to have been emerging for the last 20 years. Not many attempts have been made at introducing a hydrogen powered car to consumers – which is surely the point at which the technology will become viable. In 2005, BMW introduced a hydrogen powered 7 series, but that only lasted in production for 2 years, and if you’re a fellow Londoner you may also have noticed the hydrogen buses that are being trialled on the RV2 route.
Come forth Toyota, our hybrid-loving, Prius-building knight in shining armour, who goes where no car manufacturer has gone before: producing a potentially high-volume, mainstream hydrogen fuel cell vehicle – the Mirai. Except people likely won’t be running to the showrooms to buy it just yet as it has an explosive (get it..? Hydrogen…?) £66,000 price tag.
Hydrogen fuel cells use oxygen from the air and hydrogen from tanks in the car to generate electricity. This powers an electric motor to move the wheels. The only emission is H2O – pure water, which is pretty impressive compared to those monstrosities on the road today running off fossilised sea creatures and producing harmful by-products. Additionally, you can fill up a hydrogen car in minutes, just as with petrol or diesel. One of the biggest problems is that hardly anywhere is equipped to provide hydrogen to fill up the tanks, and so take up of these vehicles is likely to stay low until the government sees fit to increase the number of filling stations.
It may then be a while before this technology is used widely, however it is definitely looming, and I would bet on some other manufacturers following suit pretty soon. I’ve long been a fan of hydrogen fuel cell technology and can’t wait to see it in use. However, innovations in other areas are needed if the whole world starts using copious amounts of hydrogen. Notably, it takes rather a lot of energy to produce hydrogen by splitting water molecules and so there’s no point in your prancingly-clean eco-mobile if the hydrogen it uses comes from a stinking old coal-fired power station now, is there?
Anyway, onwards with the transportation theme. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas happened a couple o’ weeks ago and here’s what caught my eye:
An interesting alternative to the staple of the City commuter – the Brompton bike. A US-based company showed off a folding, scissor-like electric scooter that can recharge from a power outlet in a few hours and carry you along at a pacey 17 miles per hour for up to 15 miles! Instead of cycling to the train/tube station having done a long day’s graft, one can now relax as the Xcooter takes care of the propulsion, and you instead focus on trying to cover up the sticker bearing its ridiculous name with your legs. In all seriousness, this looks pretty fun to ride and is very easy to carry around as it’s quite small and light-weight. I want one.
In-car technology was headlining the Volkswagen stand as they unveiled the e-Golf Touch. Amongst much other interesting tech, gesture controls were shown to work with their infotainment system. Swiping left and right in the air in front of the dashboard can change the radio station/track etc. This is definitely the way forward with safely (and amazingly) controlling your car’s functions whilst driving, although it’s not the most impressive version of this tech that I’ve come across.
BMW’s new 7 series can incorporate more complex commands such as making circular motions with your finger to turn the volume up or down, whilst a while back Land Rover promised that everything from the indicators to moving the sat-nav maps around will be gesture controlled in their cars in the next few years. Normal gesture commands, such as in the BMW, are enabled by a camera mounted in the roof above the gear lever which captures the motion of your hand and translates it into a particular function. However, Land Rover have announced a partnership with a company that employs haptic feedback technology to enhance gesture controls. This uses ultrasonic pulses to make your hand feel like it’s touching something physical when in fact it is hovering in mid-air. This could simulate buttons etc. to make this technology super easy to use.
Finally, I realise that a drone isn’t exactly feasible transport just yet, but Parrot’s new Disco drone is worth a mention. It is different to pretty much any consumer drone seen so far as it doesn’t use rotors like a helicopter but has fixed wings and a propeller to fly through the air. I’m not exactly sure where they’re going with this one yet as apparently it cannot automatically avoid obstacles like it’s Bebop brother can, making crashing your new toy into a large tree even more likely. Also, its inability to hover will limit its use as a tool for capturing your insane carving technique on the slopes or even a humble group photo outside. Anyhow, we shall see…
Like what you read? Have any comments?
Leave them below or join the conversation on twitter @AJKyrt
Written by Alex Kyrtsoudis