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May 21, 2015

Rise of Self-Driving Car Set to Make My Dream Come True

A while ago, I wrote about my ideal Car of the Future: it would be self-driving, not owned by me but available at my beck and call.

It seems that I am not the only one thinking of the ideal car that way. In fact, an analysis by Barclays indicates that the demand for such transportation will be high enough that the self-driving car will largely displace the privately owned car, and that within the next 25 years.


The report, quoted in a Financial Review article, "foresees four vehicle categories -- traditional cars and trucks driven by individuals for work or in rural areas; "family autonomous vehicles," owned by individuals and shared by a single family; "shared autonomous vehicles" that would be "robot taxis" summoned by smartphone; and "pooled shared autonomous vehicles" that accommodate multiple riders, like a bus or a van."

And get this: "Every shared vehicle on the road would displace nine traditional autos, and each pooled shared vehicle would take the place of as many as 18."

With this, the cost of mobility will go down drastically from what it is today, contributing to the popularity of driverless cars in a nice feedback loop.

CelloDad is totally ready for this. There are days that I suspect his dislike of driving is what made him marry his chauffeur - that was me. He's so looking forward to the day that he can be mobile without relying on me, or having to wrangle the shift stick I insist on having. So when the self-driving car comes into its own he will be one happy fellow.

But he is not the only one who will benefit from this new mode of transportation: Children too young to drive, the elderly who are starting to feel uncertain behind the wheel, especially at night, or the occasional car user will all be helped by the self-driving car.

Oh brave new world that hath such vehicles in it!

 

 

You may also like:
1. The Car of the Future
2. The Car of the Future Comes to Singapore
3. Teaching Your Teen to Drive a Stick

 


May 20, 2015

Learning HOW to Talk About Climate Change

My friends, it is a wonderful time to be a life-long student! Right as my children are transitioning into independence and I'm past changing diapers or even providing for their every meal, massively open online courses, or MOOCs, are coming into their own. Not only that, they are being ofered for free by the best educational institutions partly as a public service, and partly to showcase their best professors.

You can find excellent online courses on statistics, Dante's Inferno, Python programming, growing award winning orchids - and climate change.

I've so far taken four courses on the science of climate change and climate policy. It wasn't always a piece of cake - I did sweat the problem sets on that MITx course given by Kerry Emanuel - but these came naturally to me as I am, at heart, a science geek.

But if I also want to be an effective climate communicator, I'd better get a handle on how to bring the message that we need climate action. There are online courses for that too! Right now, there are two ongoing, each with a different perspective.

One is "Making Sense of Climate Science Denial" at edX, given by a team led by John Cook of the University of Queensland (Australia), a premier climate communicator and the founder of the Skeptical Science website that offers climate science to the general public, as well as pointers on how to debunk the climate myths that are promulgated by the fossil-fuel funded deniers.

The course goes over the psychological barriers (in the minds of the audience) that climate communicators have to overcome before their message can be heard, and lays out the tricks used by the merchants of doubt to discredit climate scientists and to dampen public will for action.

It's a lively course, well produced and well presented, and the feedback so far has been very positive.

May 9, 2015

A Tesla on Your Wall?

Want a Tesla in your garage but can't afford the Model S? Don't despair. You can still own a piece of Tesla, in the form of its new Powerwall battery backup system.

You'd have to wait, though: Demand has taken even Tesla by surprise. The first 38,000 units have been reserved. That's the company's output until the middle of 2016. Seems like Tesla is fast establishing itself as the new Apple: They have the vision for introducing disruptive technology, and the industrial design talent that turns every Tesla product into an object of desire.

I mean, this thing is almost too pretty to be consigned to your garage. I don't even have a garage, but I would not at all mind having it on my living room wall. It would certainly make a statement.

April 5, 2015

Parking Craters

You might think a parking crater is a particularly large pothole in a parking lot. Or it could be a high-tech robotic device that puts you car in a box - a crate - and stores it neatly stacked among other cars.

But it's neither. According to Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog USA, who coined the term (so she would know), "a parking crater is a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings" usually because there is a parking lot.

Because there are 3.5 parking spots for every car in the United States.


This is Milwaukee's parking crater

March 31, 2015

Make Your Children Vote

I've a confession to make: I'm not the helicopter kind of parent. I believe that if you don't fall, you don't learn to walk properly, never mind running, dancing and skiing. I'm the kind of mom who, when one of my children bangs their head against the table, would rush over and go, "Poor table! I hope it didn't get a dent." Everybody laughs, and the child with the banged head forgets to cry.

Similarly, I don't hound them about their homework, other than checking that it's done before, say, letting them hang out with a friend after school. But I stick by the bedtime routine, forgotten homework or not. They only miss handing in homework a few times before they learn.

However, I will hound them about this one thing: I will do what I can to get them to that voting booth come election day. Because voting is not a privilege: it is a civic duty. Besides, it's the smart thing to do.


In all US states, under the "Motor Voter" Act, you can register to vote as you get your driver's license (or get it renewed). So when your teen passes the driver's test and acquires that wallet card, they actually have to do something extra in order to NOT register to vote.

March 22, 2015

Why is Diesel More Expensive Than Gasoline?

If you drive a diesel car in the US like I do, you often find that diesel commands a higher per-gallon price than regular gasoline. You may also notice that in winter the price difference is higher than in summer, with the largest difference occurring in March.

This is because diesel is similar to home heating oil. Demand for heating fuel peaks around February; it is this competition that drives up the price for automotive diesel as well. This chart from FactCheck.org illustrates very nicely how in the summer of 2000 diesel was quite a bit less expensive than gas, while in March of 2008 it was more expensive.

That's for the general picture. But there are usually regional differences.

March 13, 2015

How to Spread the Word about Climate Change - Even if You're Not a Climate Scientist

When a large asteroid hit the earth, sixty-five million years ago, it kicked up a huge amount of dust. The dust dimmed the sun for so long that the surface of the earth cooled sufficiently to wipe out the dinosaurs (incidentally giving mammals a chance to develop into the rich variety we see today).

If such a threat were in our near future, CNN and all the other news channels would be screaming about it. There would be non-stop coverage, on what we could do to avert the disaster, and how to cope should it strike anyway, and how each of us would be affected. You couldn't get away from this news.

A similar threat is actually upon us, but going the other way: the earth is steadily warming. If we keep burning fossil fuels at today's rate, the average global temperature may rise by 4 degrees C by 2100. That doesn't sound like much, but the last time the world was 4C cooler on average, we were in an ice age, and life looked very different from the way it is today.


Global Warming from 1880 to 2013.

And it will keep warming past the year 2100. We don't know what life will look like when it's more than 4C warmer: it hasn't been that warm for millions of years.

This is an astonishing thought: the planet, our home, would be altogether a different place from what it is today. And while the changes appear slow on a human time scale, the warming is occurring at an unprecedented rate. Already species are feeling the pressure, and it is not clear how many will survive the changes that are very rapid on an evolutionary time scale. It's clear: we must do what we can to keep the warming below 2C.

You would think that would make the news.

March 9, 2015

Climate Change Achieves Voldemort Status

I've written before on the importance of names. Names are so powerful, that when they are attached to powerful beings, you must use the names with great care. In fact, you're better off not using their name at all, lest you incur their terrible wrath.

So what to do, if a powerful Thing is about to wreak havoc on your constituents?

As any Harry Potter fan can tell you, the easiest way for a government to insist that an existential threat doesn't exist is to ban all mention of its existence. Thus in the magic world Voldemort is referred to as the "Dark Lord", or "He Who Must Not Be Named", or simply "You Know Who". Because of course everyone knows who is it you're talking about.

It seems that the state of Florida has adopted the same tack when faced with the existential threat of climate change, which is slated to wipe out most of its celebrated coastline: Officials in Florida's Department of Environmental Protection have been ordered not to use the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in official documents.

February 19, 2015

Fuel Economy of New Cars Increases

The good news: the average fuel economy of new cars and light trucks sold in the US has been increasing steadily, reaching 25.4 mpg in January 2015 after being stuck around 20mpg for two decades. That is good news for the climate, and shows that the CAFE rules, which require the average efficiency to reach 54.5 mpg by 2025, are effective.


The bad news: the US is behind. In Europe, the carbon emission of the average new car sold back in 2013 was 127 g CO2/km; that translates to 43 mpg. This beats the EU target of 130g /km for 2015 (that's 42mpg) by two years.

February 8, 2015

BlueTram: a novel charging mode for high-use EVs

Here's a dirty little secret of public transport: a lot of it runs on diesel. And while modern diesel engines are super-clean compared to what came before, if you have many of them working in close quarters like in a large city, the total pollution can still be a huge problem.

In fact, in 2014 London's mayor Boris Johnson finally had no choice but to admit that Oxford Street, which has a high density both of famous shops and of the iconic double decker buses, all diesel powered, also had one of the highest pollution levels in the world. So London is going to go with lower-emission buses: they are getting 2400 hybrids and 300 electric buses on the road by 2020.

Paris is not waiting that long. In the spring of 2015, they are introducing the electric BlueTram. Strictly speaking, it's not a tram, more like trolleybuses. This means that they don't need to install the rail infrastructure which would be expensive, disruptive and prone to delays.

February 1, 2015

Seven Tips for Teaching Your Teen to Drive

One day, you find yourself on the wrong side of the car. And your rightful place, the seat behind the wheel, is occupied by your eager teen. Not only that, you have just voluntarily given her the car keys.

Rules on teenage driving vary from state to state, but not matter how the law handles that transition, even after twenty lessons with a driving school, and even after having passed the road test, you still end up with one green driver at the wheel. Your wheel.

Take a deep breath. Your parents did this for you: you can pass on the gift to your kids. Unless you're lucky, and have one of a growing number of kids who are much more interested in hogging your WiFi bandwidth than hogging your car.

So here are a few tips on how to coach your teen into becoming a safe driver despite their lack of experience. Even in your own car, without the dual brake and gas pedals installed in driving school cars. If you go about it the right way, they might even still talk to you afterwards (even if it's only to ask for the car keys).

January 28, 2015

Teaching Your Teen to Drive a Stick

Our car has what is still called "standard" drive (because auto transmission is really a luxury item). I bought it in large part because manual-transmission cars are more fuel efficient, and have a significantly smaller price tag, than cars with automatic transmission. I confess freely: the other part is prejudice on my side. I grew up in a place where the only people driving an automatic transmission cars were either handicapped or elderly. I'm not ready to fit in those categories, even if the classification is entirely in my own head.

There has been some grumbling on the part of CelloDad about that stick shift deal, but that's mostly because he learned to drive as an adult. In fact, I was the one who taught him to drive a stick, in a VW van with a very forgiving gear box. But he never did get to the point where shifting came naturally and without thinking. When we make the switch to an electric car, it will of course have no gear box. Until then, I am the family's designated driver.

But the upshot is that our children get to learn to drive in our standard drive car. This is great because that way they will never get stuck or - embarrassed - if they are required to drive one. For instance, when they need to drive most anywhere outside the US.