The future of self-driving cars

14 Nov 2014

LUTZ Pathfinder pod blueprint

Google's self-driving cars have been driving through America for quite a while now. They have driven a combined 400,000 miles in total with the only reported incident relating to a third party's error. Google's driverless cars are electric Prius models and the technology that goes towards making self-driving vehicles possible is pushing the limits on what can be done at a commercial scale. While other manufacturers have already released some enhancements on pre-existing self-driving features, the Google cars are a step beyond this, creating entirely self-driving cars.

With the tests in America proving successful, the driverless vehicle revolution is making its way to Britain. According to an article in the Telegraph, the city of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire will be welcoming its first trial of driverless pods in 2015. 20 cars have been ordered and should they prove to be a success, the city hopes to increase this number to 100 by 2017.

At first these pods will be taking passengers from the train station to the city centre. They will initially be limited to 12mph and passengers will be able to check their emails and read the news while being taken to their destination. The pods can be booked via a smartphone app and a trip will cost £2. Instigators of the government scheme are hoping to make £1m in the first year of operation, with some of the main aims being to reduce pollution, congestion and stress.

The Verge reports that more and more car manufacturers are now looking into the possibilities of self-driving cars. While many models were tested on closed tracks at first, open roads are now becoming available for them. Google has managed to secure 25 permits to release driverless cars onto public roads in California. Other manufacturers that have successfully applied for a permit are Audi and Daimler AG-Mercedes Benz. These initial tests are essential for further trails, such as that being performed in Milton Keynes. The successes of these further trails will further highlight the possibilities for future commercial driverless cars.

Milton Keynes will be the first British city to test out the potential of these driverless cars. The manufacturers are hoping that this will significantly lower the number of accidents as over 90 per cent of car accidents are caused by human error. With the success of the google scheme, this bodes well for the future of driverless cars to be used en masse. The future of the driverless car looks very promising and the most recent developments in the car industry could be ground-breaking. The incredibly low accident rate certainly suggests that self-driving cars could be the way forward.

Tips for going paperless in your office

06 Nov 2014

business-paperless-web

Ah, the ‘paperless office'. Urban myth, or potential reality? We've been talking about the idea of a paperless office for years, but no matter how hard we try, no matter what kind of ultra-cool new tech comes into the market, we're still cutting down trees and using reams and reams of paper every day. It seems that our love affair with paper is almost as strong as our connection to the internal combustion engine, the electric lightbulb and peanut butter - we just cannot do without them in our lives.

However, there is still the potential to go paperless and for certain industries that could be a real advantage. In particular, any industry or profession that could be considered ‘paper heavy' such as accountancy or finance could save a huge amount of money every year by going paperless. Businesses that are trying to emphasise their green credentials could also benefit, improving their reputation as an environmentally aware organisation that is attempting to minimise the use of consumables.

So what could help the transition over to the paperless office easier? Here are five tips that could benefit your organisation in the long term:

1 - Cloud storage vs filing cabinets

One of the constant gripes about online storage is its accessibility. However, the only way you can ‘access' a filing cabinet is to be standing in front of it! With systems such as the Cloud you can get to your files, data and information from anywhere - all you need is a compatible device and a password. The Cloud is one of the biggest steps forward towards the paperless office, and as security issues are tightened and workers have more confidence in the system its benefits are starting to make a real impact on businesses such as international banking, accountancy and finance.

2 - Everyday reports on e-readers

A report doesn't need to be printed out, especially if reports are a regular feature of your business and need to be distributed to multiple recipients. By providing your regular recipients with e-readers, the reports can effectively be sent directly to each reader as a downloadable file, rather than printing out reams of paper. This is beginning to be adopted in multinational organisations with offices around the world, and is a much more efficient way of distributing information quickly onto devices that recipients are accustomed to using.

3 - Mobile technology

The medical profession in particular has adopted the use of mobile technology in an effort to reduce the use of paper. The traditional clipboards at the foot of each patient's bed are now being replaced by tablets used by medical staff that allow them to instantly access a patient's records. One of the biggest advantages of this is that it eliminates the possibility of making mistakes due to being unable to read a note. It's also more efficient at linking multiple departments together to create a more holistic approach to treatment.

4 - Remote working

Faster Internet connections and a computer-literate workforce mean that remote working or ‘telecommuting' is becoming far more common and much more acceptable. It also means a substantial reduction in the amount of paper used within the office environment, as the vast majority of work is done online. Messages are sent electronically (via email, Skype or instant messaging), reports can be sent as attachments and downloaded without the need for printing off copies, and the use of the Cloud (see #1!) means that accessibility is no longer an issue. Remote working is at the vanguard of the paperless office ideal.

5 - Flexible screen technology

Alongside e-readers is another major advance that could change the way we work; flexible screen technology. Innovative R&D companies such as Plastic Logic are at the forefront in developing flexible plastic screens that are quite literally the same width as a sheet of paper, but with the properties of a tablet or laptop screen. While the frame rate and colour palette is not yet quite at the same level as existing technology, it won't be too long before FST or organic electronics make their mark and bring us a step closer to the paperless office.

6 - A change of attitude

But what will really go a long way to spreading the idea and encouraging other industries to go paperless will be a change in attitudes. We're embracing technology such as flexible screens, e-readers and remote systems like the Cloud much more readily, but there's still a way to go before we achieve an office environment where printed reports are a thing of the past. Will we ever be truly ‘paperless', though? That, despite the progress we're making, could still be some way away.

Sustainable Masdar City is a breath of fresh air

03 Nov 2014

Centre courtyard and the windtower at the Masdar Institute campus

Located on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi is a city that's not simply a new place to live, but a new place to think. A city where you won't smell smoke from nearby factory chimney stacks, you won't see inconceivably high skyscrapers and you won't hear cars honking and passing by at 100mph. What you will find however, is a habitation that works with nature - not against it.

Its name is Masdar City. The metropolis is a flagship for a low carbon and sustainable lifestyle and has aspirations to become the most sustainable city on Earth. Looking down from above, you'll see a cubed shaped city, but down on street level, you'll find narrowly designed paths no longer than 70 metres which are crafted between terracotta walls of traditional Arabic patterns. These streets provide shade and shut out a strong breeze, reducing temperatures by 20°C Celsius from the surrounding desert.

Driverless electric cars hum quietly in a basement level beneath the feet of pedestrians. Without the need for tracks, the cars are guided by GPS and have the route and speed predetermined - the kind of opportunity that is only possible to a city when built from scratch.

Designed primarily by British architects Fosters + Partners and available to be visited by the public as of now, production of Masdar City began in 2006, with the first buildings being completed around 2010. Slowly but surely, the city is expanding and growing to a planned six square miles and is expected to be completed around 2025. The entire project costs approximately US$18bn and the city hopes to eventually house 90,000 people. It will eventually become headquarters for both Siemens and the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Their respective buildings having been completed, but with employees expected to move in either this year or 2015.

The city is powered by 87,777 solar panels, taking up 22 hectares (or 35 football pitches) that was once simply shifting desert sands. The solar plant is the largest in the Middle East, which incidentally produces more energy than Masdar actually needs, sending the excess energy to Abu Dhabi's power grid.

Close by to the solar panels, a prototype nicknamed Beam Down Project exists as the first and only on our planet. Mirrors beam sunlight up to a tower with its own encompassing mirrors, which in turn shoots down the rays that eventually heats up the water that will drive a giant steam turbine.

Impossible to miss inside the city centre is a 45 metre tall wind tower that works as a giant air-conditioning system. A throwback to a traditional Arabic design which was a common sight in every town, the tower sucks air from above using louvers and pushes down a cool breeze throughout the streets of Masdar, while generators simultaneously emit a fine mist.

Leaving the tap running and exiting the house with the light on are things of the past in Masdar, as movement sensors regulate household energy, effectively cutting usage by 51 per cent for electricity and 55 per cent for water. Additional aspects include walls that are designed with cushions of air to limit heat entering or exciting and systems that can recycle 80 per cent of water systems, the remaining being used to irrigate flora amongst the city.

A Turbulent Path

For all its lust and longing to be the poster child of sustainable living spaces, Masdar still has its doubters. Many have taken Masdar's dreams and desires with a pinch of salt, smiling knowingly when completion targets have been moved further and further back, 2015 turning into 2025 and possibly beyond.

An ambitious project is all well and good, but critics request for the real mission to be bringing sustainability to the rest of oil dependent United Arab Emirates and to cities across the entire world to better control climate change. And then there's the fact that the majority of Masdar's residents are the students and staff of the city's own university, named the Masdar Institute, and that the entire population, buildings and developments are but a fraction of what was planned in the early stages, as hundreds more businesses, parks, schools and mosques are still awaiting construction.

However, regardless of not all visions becoming reality, the point remains that Masdar is increasing awareness of sustainability and the means to assist our planet Earth. Companies such as Neuffer are working tirelessly to manufacture a range of windows with state-of-the-art insulation, likewise with Clorox advancing product packaging and chemically reduced cleaning items. If anything, Masdar City has started an awareness shift that could evolve into a transformation that will benefit all our senses for many generations to come.

Hydrogen: Fuelling the future

24 Oct 2014

Hyundai 2015 Tucson fuel cell

Renewable technology has made great strides to become more sophisticated, with new ways to harness resources becoming available every day. As Europe moves toward reducing carbon emissions, with strict reduction targets to achieve by 2020, the door has been opened for wide adoption of hydrogen technology in particular.

Hydrogen (H2) has been used in industrial applications for more than 100 years, and is playing a key role in the global transition to a low-carbon economy. It is the most commonly occurring chemical element in nature while being particularly environmentally friendly, giving it enormous potential for zero-emission mobility.

The profile of H2 as an environmentally friendly energy carrier is growing due to its large operating range and quick refuelling capabilities. H2 fuelling is seeing a surge in popularity, and there are currently some 200 H2 refuelling stations in operation around the world with concrete plans for 100 more in Japan and another 68 stations in California, both by 2016, plus 400 more within 2023 in Germany. These regions have been pioneers in H2 fuelling, with a number of stations, in many cases supported by a push for further initiatives including pilot programs creating and storing hydrogen for fuelling made from renewable sources including wind power stations.

In the UK, a significant number of the technical challenges to getting H2 into vehicles have been addressed and key industry stakeholders and the UK Government are focusing on how to roll out this new fuel and vehicle technology to the mass market.

Leading the effort in addressing the many challenges and issues to rolling out hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles is UK H2 Mobility, a joint project involving key stakeholders including the industrial gas industry, OEMs, the UK Government and refuelling infrastructure providers. BOC, a member of The Linde Group, is an active member of the UK H2Mobility project and is playing a key role in helping to make a nationwide H2 refuelling network in the UK a reality.

BOC's Hydrogen fuelling station at the Honda of the UK Manufacturing site in Swindon was the first public-access H2 refuelling station to be opened in the UK. This was a result of a collaboration led by BOC, alongside partners including Honda of the UK Manufacturing and economic development company, Forward Swindon. When it was installed in 2011, this was the UK's first full-fledged 700bar H2 filling station and more have begun operation around the country since.

As more major manufacturers introduce hydrogen cars, the potential for more fuel cell cars on the roadways is ripe. This was realised with the introduction of this year's HyFive project, sponsored in part by the Mayor of London's Office, which aims to make greater strides in introducing H2 vehicles in major European cities including the Capital.

The agreement will see the deployment of 110 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles across European locations including Copenhagen, Munich and London, and the development of new clusters of hydrogen refuelling stations. Touted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson as a key development in making hydrogen a more viable option for London motorists, it is hoped that this will enhance the public's knowledge and demonstrate the viability of H2 vehicles.

The Linde Group was one of the participants of HyFive, and we are proud to be a part of this landmark project. With more than a century of working with hydrogen, we have become the largest global provider of hydrogen plants and a leading supplier for fuelling technologies.

Linde is the only industrial gas company with proprietary technologies and in-house development for H2 fuelling systems, such as the easy-to-maintain ionic compressor. In addition, Linde has recently expanded its manufacturing centre in Austria to a serial production capability that is necessary to meet the growing global demand for its novel H2 refuelling and compression technologies.

We firmly advocate hydrogen fuelling and hope that, through projects such as HyFive, Britain can begin to see the wider benefits of H2 fuelling and, hopefully, adapt as readily as continental Europe.

The future is bright for hydrogen fuelling, and the industry is reaching a stage where ‘just' opening a hydrogen refuelling station is no longer ground-breaking. As clean technology companies and auto manufacturers continue to make strides in the hydrogen infrastructure, the mind-set will become more widespread and more hydrogen-powered cars, as well as a need for more fuelling stations, will be apparent on British roadways.

Nick Rolf is business development manager - innovation at BOC, part of The Linde Group

Footwear industry wakes up to waste

23 Oct 2014

trainer

The carbon footprint of the footwear industry is truly massive in size. It is estimated that some 330 million pairs of shoes are sold each year within the UK alone.

Sadly, most of these end up in landfills, with conservative estimates suggesting that the average pair takes more than 50 years to fully decompose. What's more, a slew of nasty chemicals found within the glues, rubbers and even leather materials used to manufacture our shoes is also released into the environment.

As part of a wider problem regarding sustainability found within the fashion world, the footwear industry has been slow on the uptake. However, consumers are beginning to clamour for eco-friendly footwear that is both recyclable and provides healthy working environments for those within the industry. Organic clothing, like this collection from Zalando, is only now becoming popular amongst fashionistas and footwear is just a few steps behind.

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

A number of innovative approaches to this problem are beginning to present themselves - from the simplicity of traditional recycling to more complex creations that employ sustainable design to re-imagine the humble shoe.

Heavy weights such as Gucci, who have created a line of shoes manufactured from bio-plastic; and Nike, who take old shoes and turn them into rubber pellets for running tracks, have both made strides in creating a more sustainable industry.
However, perhaps the most interesting developments on this front have come from smaller manufacturers with big ideas.

LYF (Love Your Footprint) have taken the concept of the shoe back to the drawing board by designing a type of modular shoe that can be taken apart and rebuilt. Using stitching rather than gluing, the LYF shoes are designed for disassembly, allowing consumers to change pieces that are worn out or simply replace the body of the shoes with new fabric as the mood takes them.

Other smaller boutique companies, especially ones in mainland Europe, pride themselves on locally sourced materials, European-based factories and a move away from dangerous chemicals and adhesives. In some cases waste materials such as coconut husks and cork have been used to further the sustainable aspect of these shoes.

Despite the mountains of discarded shoes currently being sent to landfill, the footwear industry is making progress. New ideas and a greater commitment to what happens to footwear when it's no longer wanted is certainly the green way forward.

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