Archive: September 5, 2008

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a Better Place?

Friday,  09/05/08  09:41 AM

(coming to you from a UAL jet somewhere en route from LA to Boston...)

Wired's cover story this month is  The Future of the Electric Car, about Shai Agassi and his company Better Place.  He has a pretty innovative vision.  Instead of building electric cars and selling them, he wants to build a network of charging stations and give cars away, then charge for access to the network.  A sort of weird melding of the business model of cellular phones with the technology of electric cars.  One advantage of this approach is that range isn't as much of an issue; if you could charge your car "everywhere", how far would it have to be able to go on a charge?

{I have one of the longest commutes to my office of anyone I know, 140 miles.  That is easily possible with many electric car designs.  It is trying to make them go 300 miles which is tough.}

From the Wired article:

Agassi dealt with the battery issue by simply swatting it away. Previous approaches relied on a traditional manufacturing formula: We make the cars, you buy them. Agassi reimagined the entire automotive ecosystem by proposing a new concept he called the Electric Recharge Grid Operator. It was an unorthodox mashup of the automotive and mobile phone industries. Instead of gas stations on every corner, the ERGO would blanket a country with a network of "smart" charge spots. Drivers could plug in anywhere, anytime, and would subscribe to a specific plan—unlimited miles, a maximum number of miles each month, or pay as you go—all for less than the equivalent cost for gas. They'd buy their car from the operator, who would offer steep discounts, perhaps even give the cars away. The profit would come from selling electricity—the minutes.

A key is the AutOS (diagramed at right, click to enlarge), the network which provides electricity to the cars.

  1. A special key fob linked to the car indicates the status of the battery. If the logo is throbbing blue, the car is fully charged.
  2. The driver unplugs and heads out. The software analyzes the first few minutes of driving and guesses the destination based on past history: "Work?" it asks. The driver speaks a response and the system determines how much energy is needed for the day.
  3. During the commute, the location-aware system finds and displays three open parking spaces near the office that are equipped with Better Place charging spots.
  4. An automatic arm extends to plug into the car. The spot then communicates with the control center, which anticipates the driver's energy needs so as to allocate power economically. It might, say, limit consumption during expensive peak hours. The driver gets a text: "80 percent charged."
  5. An unexpected meeting comes up. The driver enters a new route, and AutOS determines there is insufficient charge to get there. The driver orders a battery swap.
  6. AutOS finds the most convenient battery-exchange location and books a bay. The old battery gets lowered onto a hydraulic plate, and the car moves forward on a car-wash-style track. In five minutes, a fully charged battery is in place.

This is the kind of "blue sky" idea that looks better on paper than in actual execution, but Better Place does seem to be getting some traction.  At least, they've raised $200M, gotten the attention of Shimon Peres, and made the cover of Wired.  To say nothing of appearing on my blog :)



Friday,  09/05/08  10:01 PM

(coming to you from a USAir jet somewhere en route from Boston to New York...  yes, it has been a  l o n g  day...)

Is the election this simple (see at right)? 

The Scientist: readers discuss Is Sarah Palin a Creationist?  That's a question I'd like to know the answer to myself.

Leslie Sanchez thinks Palin is a VP for the rest of us...

Karl Rove says Palin's toughest days are ahead...

Running Palin's and McCain's speeches through the word cloud...

She certainly does have everyone talking, huh?

In booking flights for my trip, I noticed a new sign of airline desperation...  they now offer to sell you additional miles when you book a trip.  Get that?  They take your money now, and owe you flights and upgrades later.  Anything to stay alive, I guess... 

Here's some interesting inside information about Chrome, Google's new entry in the browser wars...  I love this quote: "Speed may be Chrome’s most significant advance. When you improve things by an order of magnitude, you haven’t made something better — you’ve made something new."  Very true.  Speed is important, but as long as Firefox has Adblock and Chrome doesn't, Firefox wins... 

Lifehacker with a list of Chrome's "About" pages, the geek's view inside the Web OS...

Some important work: Science proves exotic cars turn women on.  Vroomm!  Follow the link for clips of a Maserati, Ferrari, and Lamborghini in action :) 

Here's something that turns me on - the Talbot, possibly the most beautiful car ever made.  What do you think (pic at right, click to enlarge)? 

Vallegwag notes NBC dumps Silverlight after   Olympics.  "NBC streamed all its videos using Microsoft's Silverlight backend tech, but the network dumped Microsoft before last night's NFL kickoff — streamed live over and — opting to use Adobe Flash instead. Why?"  Ha!  Everyone has Flash, hardly anyone has Silverlight, even after the Olympics.  IIWII... 



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