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Category Archives: Engineering

Oracle Team USA Sailboat

This is just incredible…

NTSB Li-Ion Review

NTSB has scheduled their review of the 787 lithium-ion batteries for April 23-24:

The hearing will focus on issues relating to the design, testing and certification of the battery system.

Boeing seems to think they are close to FAA approval of their proposed solution. Its seems like this workshop is entirely untethered from Boeing’s efforts to address the battery problem.

NTSB Li-Ion Review

NTSB has scheduled their review of the 787 lithium-ion batteries for April 23-24:

The hearing will focus on issues relating to the design, testing and certification of the battery system.

Boeing seems to think they are close to FAA approval of their proposed solution. Its seems like this workshop is entirely untethered from Boeing’s efforts to address the battery problem.

Internal Combusion Engine Efficiency

This article is almost (but not quite) saying that increased fuel efficiency in internal combustion engines is a bad thing because it reduces the appeal of alternative fuels and electric cars.

In the view of Mr. Lyons, the former E.P.A. official, the government can promote fledgling alternatives but not make them popular if the underlying technology is too expensive or inadequate to consumers’ needs. And among the technologies making strides are gasoline engines that are getting smaller, lighter and much more fuel efficient, he said.

I don’t see increased efficiency, for any mode of transportation, as a bad thing. Don’t get so hung up on the type of powerplant (gas engine vs. hybrid vs. hydrogen vs. all electric) that you miss the point… increased efficiency, that is ALWAYS a good thing.

LA’s Synchronized Traffic Lights

Los Angeles has synchronized every traffic light in the city:

Without synchronization, it takes an average of 20 minutes to drive five miles on Los Angeles streets; with synchronization, it has fallen to 17.2 minutes, the city says. And the average speed on the city’s streets is now 17.3 miles per hour, up from 15 m.p.h. without synchronized lights.

It doesn’t seem like much gain but these are just the average numbers. I imagine there are parts of the city that have significantly improved.

Oil Shale

Springing off my last post on oil and the link to EnerGeo, I had an older post regarding oil shale bookmarked for sharing. I found the associated chart surprising:


So much of our transportation infrastructure relies heavily on fossil fuels. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is the second-most energy dense chemical (not counting nuclear) on the earth… topped only by Hydrogen. Given it’s availability, it only makes sense that we would harness that energy in as many ways as possible. The obvious downsides are it’s polluting byproducts and finite availability (it has to run our eventually).

I thought I’d share some great sites I’ve found recently exploring matters of fossil fuel energy.

The Oil Drum is curated by some seriously well-credentialed folks from the oil-and-gas industry. They discuss everything from peak-oil to means of exploration and extraction.

EnerGeo Politics is a site that explores the geopolitics of the oil-and-gas industry.

Living in the UAE for the last 4-and-a-half years has made me keenly aware of just how much of the world’s economic production hinges on the oil-and-gas industry. The continued availability of crude oil literally makes the world go round.

ASCE Infrastructure Report Card

ASCE has just released their every-4-year Infrastructure Report Card.
Bottom line :

  • America’s Infrastructure GPA: D+
  • Estimate for Investment needed by 2020: $3.6 Trillion

The New York Times gives their synopsis.
National Review’s Reihan Salam gives his quick thoughts.

I’m downloading the iPad version now.

The Automotive Future

It seems that, as of late, the automobile has gained a reputation as being a form of transportation we must surpass. The automobile isn’t fuel efficient on a per person basis compared to other modes and therefore tends to get viewed as wasteful. However, the level of freedom that the automobile gives to individuals is unsurpassed by any other form of transportation and for that reason I think future transportation developments will center on the automobile.

Virginia Postrel has a great article on the work being done in Silicon Valley to create “robocars” that drive themselves:

Now it finally seems to be happening. Google Inc.’s self- driving cars have covered more than 300,000 miles, most recently wowing the Texas Transportation Forum with a demonstration on the streets of Austin. “The remarkable thing was that it was a little unremarkable,” Coby Chase, director of the Texas Department of Transportation’s government and public affairs division, told the Dallas Morning News after his ride.

This is the right direction. At least it’s a better direction than pushing cycling, mass transit, and rail. These alternative modes of transportation are fine for some functions but simply do not offer the freedom of mobility that is necessary for people functioning in our economy today.

One comment made in the story by Brad Templeton gives an idea of where Google and others are going with robocars:

Today’s experiments, by contrast, put the smarts in the car itself. “The first rule of robocars is you do not change the infrastructure,” Templeton reminds a Singularity audience member who inquires about smart highways.

I do think that making the cars smart and not the infrastructure is the way to go. However, I also think there are some basic infrastructure improvements that can be made that will allow the robocars to truly optimize their function.

I imagine our automobile transportation system will look very similar to that shown in films like iRobot and Minority Report (coincidentally both Spielberg films). In these films the automobile was controlled by the driver until he ventured into a main thoroughfare/highway that had numerous other automobiles moving at high rates of speed. From there the car took over. The cars, now functioning as robocars on these highways, optimized safety and efficiency and speed was greatly increased. Imagine all the freedom of an automobile in terms of individual autonomy but with a lower risk of accident and shorter travel times… that is where we are going.

Our current interstate highways could easily be retrofitted with inert objects in the lanes, below the pavement, that the robocars would use for guidance. These would be “dumb” improvements but would give the robocars so much more to work with in terms of lane alignment. In addition, we’d have to guard the interstate right-of-ways from incursion far more carefully than we do today.

I think that stop-and-go city driving and residential neighborhood driving offer far too many variables to hand over the car to a computer. A human can identify the “child playing basketball in the yard adjacent to the street” scenario as a reason for caution in a way the computer can not… unless I’m drastically underestimating what the computers can do.

Aviation Efficiencies

More on reducing the aviation industries emissions through technological advancements and efficiency.