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Archive for the ‘automobile’ Category

Totally automated parking for only $14

Posted by evolvingwheel on February 3, 2008

Now this one got my attention from the perspective of mechanical automation in industrial scale. From the angle of idea generation, it’s nothing serendipitous – an automated parking lot where hardware (steel, levers, rollers, metal planks) integrates with software (logistic and arrangement). The combination parks your car without a human valet, stacking efficiently across different isles arranged vertically. But this same perceptive understanding gets challenging when you translate this idea to an industrial scale with high precision. The challenge is further amplified when you try to commercialize this new, extravagant mechanical system with a competitive pricing that beats the present day market. That’s where comes the real efficacy of a business solution that is empowered by sophisticated software, automated systems, and a possibility of reducing the carbon footprint by delivering a relatively greener process. robot-park.jpg

This automated marking system in Manhattan, NY is not the first one in the world and neither it is the only one. I just happened to come across this article a little later. What made me post this news is the realistic implementation of a sci-fi idea that was floated around in i-Robot where we saw vertical stacking of cars right off the parking meters. If you watch the videos in the links given below, you will really appreciate the engineering accomplishment in developing a decently large mechanical system that operates with a very high degree of accuracy in a constrained spatial degree of freedom.

Read the links with the videos:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2007/1001-people_free_parking.htm

http://www.popularmechanics.com/blogs/technology_news/4213198.html

However, there are some questions that came up in the feedback sections of one of the blogs talking about this robotic parking. Some of the concerns are very good pointers for future scaling issues. This NYC parking puts 67 cars in one place and loads them up serially. But what would be the interesting thing to wonder about is when the demand goes up and you have a long queue of cars waiting to getting parked. This is a operational hurdle and the system will be tested for robustness when these issues become realtime business revenue drivers. May be they can consider a different architecture with loading points at different sections of the building. Now that would create the challenge of precision being controlled by the software. You will need a very very sophisticated application that will move the cars from all directions (vertically and horizontally) without colliding. One feedback was to create a adjustable spot that configures according to the size of the car (horizontally ofcourse). Well, that is the next step to a really complex system of the future.

Some stats for an interesting perspective: (from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.12/start.html)

Parking by the Numbers
• Number of vehicles entering Manhattan on weekdays: 948,213
• Number of curbside spots: 30,000
• Average parking-ticket fine: $115
• New York City revenue from parking violations last year: $537 million
• Cost to park for 30 minutes at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street: $21
• Cost of a subway ride: $2
• Average speed of crosstown traffic in Midtown: 6.1 mph
• Average speed of subway: 13 mph

Posted in automobile, Innovation | 2 Comments »

Can this electric-car charging infrastructure make Israel greener?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 21, 2008

A news article popped up in the media circle yesterday that got me all ears! Israel plans to make electric-car a reality by 2010. The government initiative is a path-breaking collaboration among a California based start-up, a Japanese-French auto maker, and a large global financial institution that recently got beaten up by sub-prime market disaster! Nevertheless, this could be a perfect example of how inclusive and proactive policies can realize a dream by juxtaposing corporate incentive, public benefit, and environmental consciousness in a region vulnerable to a continuous onslaught of terrorism.

You may read the news in detail by clicking the following links:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1705518,00.html

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/818359.html

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/jan2008/db20080121_944683.htm?chan=rss_topStories_ssi_5

I am just impressed (and to certain extent skeptical!) about the grandiose picture of the project. Automaker Renault-Nissan will manufacture the cars and Better Place, a California start-up founded by former SAP executive Shai Agassi, will build the infrastructure, which may eventually consist of 500,000 charging points and up to 200 battery-exchange stations. Now that is some infrastructure to be placed together within next two years. I believe the planners have laid out the ecosystem trajectory associated with not only the development of such a network of service and change stations but also a continuous development of newer green technologies with better efficacy and cheaper cost. Just wondering, what if you invest billions of dollars to build these stations and in 5-7 years some other form of hybrid/solar/hydrogen powered technology got prevalent with much lower demand of frequent refills and change points? How would you recycle this network? Has the technology developed to the extent where older energy delivery models can be retrofitted with new form of energy distribution systems with minimal cost? whokilledtheelectriccar.jpg

In my earlier article on Brazil going to ethanol 30 years back, there are certain factors that played in sustaining the change out there for the long haul – first gasoline usage was not substituted by any other cheaper (cheaper than ethanol) type across the world from early 70s. So there was no cost-savings incentive challenging ethanol infrastructure development for years to come. Furthermore, Brazil developed flex vehicle that could use both types of energy with no major investment or switch of human habit. This cushioned any possible failure in embracing ethanol due to production problems, supply-chain impossibilities, cost-revenue issues, or lack in government’s commitment over the long haul. Now, is Israel thinking in that line too since future is full of uncertainties. shimon_peres.jpg

One thing for sure though – this effort will definitely instigate new research in battery and charging. When the implementation of new policies is mandated by the government and over time is absorbed by the population, the inertia sets in. This dynamic has a stability of its own as long as the engineering, financial, and government support continues to come. With increasing demand for better performance, R&D investments steer towards a particular technology supporting the infrastructure and money is re-invested to sharpen an evolving methodology. I hope this model succeeds and we use this great opportunity to initiate change in our lifestyles and behaviors for a better future!

Posted in automobile, Energy, Environment, fuel, Innovation, pollution | 1 Comment »

Tata Motor brings car of $2500 – Can India handle it?

Posted by evolvingwheel on January 10, 2008

First post of 2008! Hope this one talks about my interest for this year 🙂

So the Tata Motor Companyof India has finally accomplished an unprecedented feat by bringing a car that costs a meager $2500! From the post-independence era, Tata has been delivering indigenous solutions for the Indian automobile market and has become a household name when it comes to trucks and cars that can sustain the harsh environment of heat and monsoon and strained infrastructure. However, this time Tata has done something that could not only change the landscape of Indian automobile market but could also shakeout the socio-economic, environmental, and infrastructure aspects of a country beleaguered by poverty, income disparity, and an emerging middle class with increasing buying capacity. /photo.cms?msid=2684679

I am not talking here about the car itself or the business impact from the perspective of automobile industry. You can find all those in this link. What I am interested in is the short-term and long-term effect of bringing a car to the market that could invigorate a whole different buyer’s segment – the bottom of the pyramid (as claimed by Prof. Prahlad).

Let me bring few things into perspective and ask some critical questions.

  1. Buyer’s segment – two wheeler buyers or the ones with low income and somewhere between lower middle class and wannabe middle-class. Millions like that live both in cities and villages. Consider cities first- if the car ownership increases 4-6 fold, does India have that road infrastructure to support the traffic? Even today the country is struggling with new cars hitting the roads. How would this increased number be tackled by a antagonizing political environment fighting over draconian policy implementations and let aside implementing a overhaul change?
  2. In village side – who will take the onus of building roads to the deepest corners where these cars (and ridership) would penetrate? If this car sustains the environmental and infrastructure hardship and ends up surviving for more than 5 years on Indian roads, the explosion of ownership can be daunting. Just think about the environmental impact, recycling of scrap, and junk spare parts after usage!
  3. Now, implications on the positive side are enormous. I can see how cell phones changed the whole way of doing things in the cities and semi-rural areas. Social innovation entered deep into the countryside when fishermen would use cell phones to find out the wholesale market price and distribute their catch according to the prospects of profitability. This car can bring changes like that but in a more amplified scale!
  4. And then there are the prospects of employment style, pattern, location, and timing shifts. When a biker wouldn’t try to go beyond a certain distance and limit his/her business/profession according to those restrictions, this car could break down that deterrence and create whole new format of earning, living, and spending. There is a very good possibility of a nationwide economic and henceforth a social shift that could emerge from communities that fenced for years!

Opportunities as well as problems are enormous. I am more excited to think about the future trajectory of the market and human behaviors when such innovations enable a possibility beyond ones imagination.

Picture: Ratan Tata

Add On: News release – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22575262/

Posted in automobile, Energy, fuel, Innovation, materials, pollution | 1 Comment »