The Toyota Prius is one of the cars targeted by the new regulations.
Late last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it will now begin assessing new regulations for green cars, whose quiet engines may pose a danger to unaware pedestrians. This is the agency’s first major step towards implementing the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which requires automobile manufactures to equip new electric and hybrid vehicles with sound systems that alert pedestrians of the approaching machines.
But the move has come under fire by some green car advocates, who stress a lack of studies showing that such warning systems would actually make the streets safer for pedestrians:
The difficulty is that there’s simply not enough data on actual pedestrian injuries and deaths attributable to quieter cars. Part of that reflects a lack of categories to reflect such a problem, and the low incidence of pedestrian injuries in general.
[A] 2009 NHTSA report highlighted its own weaknesses: It was based on data from only 12 states (the ones that record Vehicle Identification Numbers) and limited to injuries from 2000, when hybrids first entered the U.S. market. The result: a small, possibly non-representative sample set.
Image: Flickr/M 93
The next candidate for the world’s fastest car is no longer a mere figment of design–researchers officially began constructing the racer this week.
Called the Bloodhound, engineers hope that it will reach 1,000 miles per hour.
The Bloodhound was designed by a few of the key members of the Thrust SuperSonic Car team–the current world record holder, at 763 mph–and boasts a Eurofighter-Typhoon jet engine as well as a hybrid rocket booster (solid fuel propellant and liquid oxidizer). No surprise, then, that it’s being built by some of the biggest names in the business: Hampson Industries, an aerospace company, is handling the rear chassis, while Advanced Composites Group will construct the front. Lockheed Martin is collaborating on the aluminum wheels. [Popular Science]
Towards the beginning of 2012, the team plans on conducting low speed tests of the car. But later that same year–or possibly in 2013–they’ll try for the real goal: to break the world land speed record. All eyes will be on Hakskeen Pan in South Africa’s Northern Cape, the planned site for the hopeful record-break event.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to be handing over the drawings to the people who will now build the car,” said chief engineer Mark Chapman. “It’s a ‘progressive definition release’ which means as soon as we finish a design, it goes out the door. The first metal parts should start coming back to our design house in Bristol by Easter,” he told BBC News. [BBC News]
80beats: Supersonic Car Aims to Destroy the Land-Speed Record, Top 1,000 MPH
80beats: “Road Train” Technology Could Let You Doze in the Driver’s Seat
80beats: Three Far-Out Cars Share the $10M Automotive X-Prize
Discoblog: The World’s Fastest Car–Powered By Wind, That Is
Discoblog: Move Over, Lance: Jet-Powered Bicycle Reaches 73 M.P.H.
DISCOVER: 6 Blue-Sky Ideas for Revolutionizing the Automobile (gallery)
The road ahead looks smooth for automatic driving systems. For the first time, Volvo, in partnership with a European Commission research project called Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE), has successfully road-tested a linking system that allows drivers to relax and tune out.
In such systems, cars form “road trains” behind a professional driver, creating a semi-autonomous convoy–essentially, a truck and car conga line that could improve highway congestion and inefficient gasoline use.
SARTRE platoons are guided by a lead vehicle, which is … followed by a succession of other, computer-controlled cars that are electronically tethered in the convoy. Each vehicle in the platoon measures the distance, speed and direction of the vehicle directly in front, adjusting its movements to stay in formation…. Unsurprisingly, there’s a metric horsetonne of technology that goes into making this possible. Each platoon car uses cameras to detect the position of the vehicle in front, all have drive-by-wire technology that allows the steering, accelerator and brakes to be controlled by a computer, and all communicate using a car-to-car wireless network. [CNET UK]
Hit the jump for more info, and a video demonstration.
New sea creatures, humongous stars, and cockroach antibiotics: Those are just a few reader favorites from this year in science. As 2010 comes to a close, we bring you a dozen of the most popular 80beats posts of the year.
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For more great stories from the year in science, check out DISCOVER’s Top 100 Stories of the Year.
Google announced this weekend that it has been driving automated cars around California’s roads, and that the vehicles have already logged about 140,000 miles. A fully automated car just finished a big trip–all the way from Google’s campus in Mountain View, California to Hollywood.
Larry and Sergey founded Google because they wanted to help solve really big problems using technology. And one of the big problems we’re working on today is car safety and efficiency. Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use. [Official Google Blog]
A Google car drives with the help of a variety of sensors–including cameras on the roof and in front, radars, and laser range finders–which build a detailed map of the car’s surroundings. This information is transmitted to the Google servers and processed to detect and react to any obstacles that get in the car’s way, mimicking the decisions a human driver would make.
States enact laws against texting while driving, hoping to reduce accidents. In the time after those laws go into effect, the number of accidents in those states doesn’t decline. So are the laws a bad idea?
The question arises from a report out this week by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), a division of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The study looked at accident rates in Minnesota, California, Washington, and Louisiana before and after those states enacted their texting-while-driving bans. The authors found no reduction in the number of crashes, and actually saw increases in three states. (They also compared those states to others in their regions without bans to ensure that the numbers they’d found weren’t part of a larger trend.)
So what gives? For the IIHS, this is proof that texting laws aren’t doing any good, and might even be doing harm.
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In Washington D.C. today, the X-Prize foundation doled out $10 million in prize money for the Automotive X-Prize, its competition begun in 2008 to build cars that break 100 miles per gallon (or equivalent) and still resemble usable commercial vehicles. They raced at Michigan International Speedway; they underwent inspection by Consumer Reports and the Department of Energy. This morning’s winnings were divvied up among three teams:
1. Edison 2’s “Very Light Car”
Runs on: E85 ethanol
So named for weighing just more than 800 pounds—featherweight for a car—the vehicle from Edison 2 of Charlottesville, Virginia, took home the biggest slice of the prize money by winning the “mainstream” category.
In the “Mainstream” class, which offered the biggest cash prize, vehicles were required to have four wheels, seat four people and have a driving range of at least 200 miles. In other words, they had to offer the bare basics of a typical car [CNN].
The Very Light Car stayed light because it didn’t offer much more than that, though lead leader Oliver Kuttner says they did manage to squeeze in heater and basic ventilation.
The goal: 80 days, 18,000 miles, no emissions.
Yesterday, the Zero Race electric car world tour began in front of the United Nations Palace in Geneva, Switzerland. Four teams–from Australia, Switzerland, Germany, and South Korea–won’t actually race one another to cross a finish line. Instead, spectators and experts will determine the winner based on reliability, energy efficiency, safety, design, and practicality, as the tour is meant to show the feasibility of electric vehicles.
The race organizer Louis Palmer won the European Solar Prize after driving a solar-powered vehicle around the world in 2008. He says in a press release that the “race” is against climate change and disappearing fuel.
“Petrol is running out, and the climate crisis is coming… and we are all running against time.” [Zero Race]
Is this battery the one? Toshiba’s Super-Charge Ion Batteries, which reportedly lose hardly any capacity after thousands of charges, could be coming to cars next year.
As Slashdot noted today, this battery technology has been a long time coming. In 2007 Toshiba announced the creation of the SCiB, and unveiled the prototype the next year. It lasts 5,000 to 6,000 cycles as opposed to the 500 for standard lithium-ion batteries, and charges to 90 percent of capacity within five minutes. Earlier this month, the company announced it has been working with car maker Mitsubishi on electric vehicle batteries, and could be making SCiBs for cars staring next year.
For EV applications Toshiba has developed a new anode material and a new electrolyte to improve safety and rapid recharging. According to Toshiba, the long life will promote reduction in the waste that results from battery replacement, reducing the impact on the environment [Gizmag].
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s full report on Toyotas and their “sudden unintended acceleration” problem has yet to see the light of day, but the first wave of information from it suggests that driver error—not some mysterious mechanical problem in the electronic throttle control—could be to blame in many, if not most, of the reported accidents.
NHTSA has been studying data recorders from wrecked Toyotas—dozens of them—in their investigation, which will go on for months to come. Those data recorders show that the cars had their throttles open and brakes disengaged at the times of the crashes.
The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes [Wall Street Journal].