Rental cars can be fun! Some say a rental car is the ultimate off road vehicle. For me though, it’s a great chance to examine different product design philosophies, in some of the most expensive consumer products on the market. On this trip, my rental car was a bright blue Toyota Yaris…a class of rental car I usually avoid but have been curious about.
So, the good: drop this car into a low auto gear (3 or 2), and it’s a peppy, fun car that reminds me a lot of a Mini Cooper. Driving dynamics are downright decent.
The bad: everything else. No, really, the stereo is one of the most counter-intuitive I’ve seen. A peice of plastic trim came flying off when I removed my laptop bag from behind the driver’s seat. The brakes work eventually. The driving position is reminiscent of bad Italian design from decades ago, with arms extended and legs crunched up around either side of the wheel. The worst design detail though? The door locks, I haven’t had a car without remote locks in ages, but that’s not a big deal. What’s bad is how the locks work. Unlock the doors by rotating the key clockwise. Ok. Got it. Now unlock the rear hatch…by rotating the key *counter* clockwise. What kind of moron decided they’d actually ship a mass produced vehicle like this? Redesign the locks so they work the same, it’s just idiotic to do otherwise.
A functional hoverboard, due to ship in 2015, has all the makings of a hoax (remember Back to the Future?). Except…I’ve been digging…and this appears to be genuine. The exact technical details aren’t clear…but from what I can gather, both from the official page and from comments on Kickstarter, it uses a rapidly changing (rotating?) magnetic field that creates eddy currents in the surface below, which then produce an opposing magnetic field. You do have to be over a conductive, non-ferromagnetic surface (aluminum or copper sheet, for example), but…it works!
HENDO has a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money for this project, and they’ve already surpassed their funding goal with 53 days to go. Check out their video to see this in action:
Not surprisingly, this technology is getting a lot of press…you can read more about it in the New York Times, Business Insider, or Forbes. Note that it only works over special surfaces, and battery life is limited…but these are relatively minor hurdles to overcome when designing products incorporating this technology. That’s what it comes down to, too…the hoverboard is just a marketing gimmick, the company’s goal is to license the core technology. Possibilities…
The DDS from Daymak looks to be an easy way to convert most any bicycle to an electric-assist bike. The wheel contains its own battery, motor, and even solar panels to charge it (~.6 miles range per hour of sunlight). It looks like it’ll only work with V-brake bikes (not disc), though will be available in either a 26″ or 28″ rim size…for about $700 next year. The 250W motor is powered by a 12Ah lithium battery and controlled by a wireless handlebar-mounted controller (with its own solar panels, too). Interesting idea! I could see this being useful for commuters perhaps. The extra mass and rotational inertia will detract serious bicyclists though. Check out the product page here.
With oil consumption facing the dual threats of concern over climate change, and uncertain availability of fossil fuels in the future (BP estimates we’ll exhaust current reserves in 53 years), electric motorcycles like this gorgeous Ego from Energica may become more and more common! Its 11.7kWh battery provides 60-120 miles of range, and the rider can enjoy a massive 144lb-ft of torque (134hp). There’s no gear shifting, which will further enhance reliability and ridability. Regenerative braking is a user-configurable feature (you can even shut that off entirely); a fast charger can give you an 80% charge in 30 minutes. At $25,000 it won’t be cheap, but I can see this being a perfect commuter vehicle in many large metropolitan areas. Test rides are being scheduled now; the bike is making stops in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York later this money (see this link for the schedule and how to reserve a test ride).
Gasoline powered cars still dominate the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, but electric cars are showing big improvement and may be challenging fossil fuel cars in the near future. The Mitsubishi shown here cut 38 seconds off of last year’s electric car time, and was only a few seconds behind the overall winner’s time (but almost a minute slower than the course record set last year by Sebastian Loeb). Will 2015 be the year that an electric race car beats a gasoline one? I can’t wait to find out!
Also in electric car racing news, Formula E has its first race in September of 2014! Another milestone in automotive history as those battery-powered race cars take to the track for a one hour race.